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TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: I’m Tomáš Valášek, director of Carnegie Europe, known to most but not all of you. We haven’t done nameplates today so when we do get into the Q&A shortly can I please ask you to introduce yourself for the benefit of our panel? Let me briefly introduce the panel, if I may, beginning with the vice president for studies for the Washington headquarters of the entire global Carnegie Endowment, Thomas (Tom) Carothers. And of course a man who needs very little introduction at this time but he’ll get one anyway, Pierre Vimont, distinguished scholar at Carnegie Europe and of course before that secretary-general of the European External Action Service, among many other jobs and ambassadorial functions.
The topic is clear; it’s the NATO summit. The informal division of labor which we have discussed with Tom and by email with Pierre is simple; I’m happy to address the issues related to what’s on the agenda of the summit, capitalizing on my four years as ambassador to NATO until April 2017. I’ve asked Tom to come prepared to take questions on how Trump works, how is Trump of 2018 different to the Trump of 2017, which is of course highly relevant both for the NATO and the subsequent Trump-Putin summit, which I suspect we may get to.
I’ll be very glad if Pierre could take on the issue of European reactions to Trump. There may well be some curiosity on the European expansion initiative and some of the other steps undertaken by Paris, which are being read by some as perhaps a response to the uncertainty about the U.S. president’s commitment to NATO.
In terms of how we’ll run the event as such, we could give you the usual ten minutes each but given that there are so many of you in the room and three of us on the panel that would literally suck up half the time allocated, so I thought it might be better to go straight into the Q&A and give you a chance right away to ask us what’s on your mind and then we will make sure that we cover all of your questions, again given that we have limited time - is it one hour? An hour exactly, yes. So unless I don’t see any questions, we’re happy to give a short intro but knowing this crowd, you probably have quite a few on your mind already.
INGRID STEINER: And this all is on the record?
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: It’s, of course, on the record, yes, very much so. Who would like to ask the first question?
INGRID STEINER: Ingrid Steiner from Austrian Kurier. What is the difference between Trump 2017 and 2018?
THOMAS CAROTHERS: I’m happy to say a few words about that. Trump II, as we sort of call him in Washington, or Trump 2.0, is more self-confident, he’s gaining in popularity. His popularity is rising both among Republicans - he now has about a 90% approval rating amongst Republican voters, which is the second-highest of any Republican president since World War Two, exceeded only by President Bush right after September 11th 2001. So he’s very popular with the Republican voters and relatively popular overall; his national approval rating is about 45%, just 1% below his vote total in 2016 so he feels he’s doing well.
He’s changed his advisor team and so the combination of Pompeo at State and Bolton at the NSC is very different from McMaster and Tillerson. He feels he’s now got people who understand him and who work with him, and the old idea of Trump 1.0 that he would be restrained by—quote— the adults in the room are gone. He feels he’s the President, they work for him and they facilitate his agenda, they energize him, they carry out his orders and so he’s feeling that he now has a team that helps him move forward; same on trade.
His team has changed; the evolution and emergence of Navarro as a major voice has also given him a sense that his team is with him and moving forward so he feels he’s on the move in a positive way, he feels he’s found his feet internationally; he’s more self-confident about international trips. Last year there was talk about that he dislikes going outside the U.S. or he’s uncomfortable or this and that. Now he’s more comfortable in these settings and he’s started to have state dinners and summits; he likes doing that and so the Putin summit will be his second try at a big one-on-one summit and he feels this is his natural strength.
It’s what he always felt as president he offers to the world, his ability to negotiate one-on-one.
So for him this is a very important year and he feels he’s going to lead the party to not such a bad showing at the mid-term elections as many people expected, at least in his mind. That’s a bit of a portrait of Trump 2.0.
DAN MICHAELS: What does that mean for the NATO summit? A year ago he was very confrontational, he didn’t endorse Article Five. I am Dan Michaels, Wall Street Journal.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: I think he feels his core messaging is working, that his job as president is to set forward core messages and then let other people work out the details and again and again from the beginning of his run from the presidency on through he’s felt that he delivers messages and he sees which ones take hold and then he continues to just press on them. And he feels his core message to NATO that you need to do more and we’re not going to do business as usual; he feels that’s a winner both with the American public and he also feels he’s starting to get what he wants from NATO allies in terms of increased spending.
So I suspect he goes into this summit thinking: I need to keep pressing this message. So the only question will be in how pointed a fashion he does it and in what confrontational way he does it. My personal view, as we were talking about before, is that he tends to be more confrontational at a distance from people than face-to-face with people. He likes to be confrontational in a tweet, not so much face-to-face and so I suspect the idea that he’s going to come and yell at people face-to-face and deliver a very harsh message is less likely. He does sometimes do so in a formal speech where it’s prepared, he lays out a very tough message. It doesn’t mean he’s necessarily fun and pleasant in the informal meetings; but that’s not where he gets confrontational usually.
It will be in how he frames the meeting, leaving the meeting. Everything that he does he finishes then tries to frame in a narrative of some type. That’s his political method, to give it a framing and so I suspect he’s already picturing he will leave the NATO summit and lay down the line to NATO partners and make clear to them no more business as usual and we’ll repeat the same message, no big surprises there and he’ll feel that’s a successful summit.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: If I may add two cents to that, the trouble and fear at NATO is that he has already done so. Because of a quirk of timing last year’s NATO summit was one of his first international outings. He has already held one very confrontational summit where he laid out in no uncertain terms at an ugly press conference… The NAC debate, I’m being told, behind closed doors was equally abrasive. The brushing aside of the Montenegrin president is now a YouTube legend. So the worry is, will he feel the need for dumbing down? He’s already done that, to some results, and Jens Stoltenberg will run through the numbers when you listen to his speeches very well; three countries spending 2% defense in 2014 is going up to eight now, 87 billion in new spending since 2014, 19 billion in new procurement so not just any spending of all kinds but new weapons, 19 billion to spend on new weapons by the European allies and Canada over the last three years alone, but that doesn’t impress Trump. The feeling is, the United States asks the allies to spend 2% on defense. Some have made it very clear they are not going to do that; only 15 of the 29 have credible plans to get there so there’s good reasons to suspect he will come to town feeling that he’s not getting the outcome and the change that he wanted last year so the fear is, what will he do now that he hadn’t done in 2017 to double down in some ways?
The speculation revolves around sequential cuts of spending on Europe, which has actually gone fairly substantially under his watch. Jens Stoltenberg goes around citing a 40% increase. That actually strikes me as low. The spending on European presence when Trump came to the White House was 3.4 billion. It is now 6.5 billion, nearly doubling. That spending has gone nicely. The fear is, will he touch it, will he make it conditional in any way on more countries reaching the 2% target by 2024 and that’s obviously one of the great anxieties as we’re getting to the summit. The fact that there will be confrontation’s already priced in; that’s expected, that’s where last year’s summit was but now it’s how much worse and what else they will do in addition to that that is on people’s minds.
RIKARD JOZWIAK: It’s a question to you, Mr. Valasek. What actually happens at NATO if Mr Trump—or anyone else for that matter like Mr. Trump—refuses to sign off the final NATO declaration? Because that would be unprecedented. Wait would happen then, can the NATO summit finish without the final declaration?
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: Yes. Pierre may know better than I will if it’s ever happened in history. I suspect it hasn’t but at the end of the day the declaration itself isn’t what makes trains move and budgets happen. The declaration is essentially a snapshot of whatever are the political processes or the key issues of the day at the time of the summit and the consensus, whether it changes a day later on some of the issues.
So if the declaration isn’t approved—and obviously the G7 summit, I suspect, here is the precedent that one worries about—the things that the NATO defense ministers and foreign ministers had agreed already, things like 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons, 30 new battleships they’re going to put on 30 days’ notice; they will still happen but it will obviously be a PR disaster and it will undermine the deterrence message because the ability of the alliance to discourage Russia and anybody else who might be concerned from doing anything foolish relies on the automatic assumption that if not all, then at least the vast majority of NATO member states would be involved from the moment one of them is challenged.
If you see the biggest member state willing to go against the grain in such an important way as to not actually agree with the carefully worded communique, that obviously undermines the message of unity. That will be the biggest impact. In practical terms the things that have been already agreed among the defense ministers would still happen.
DAMON WADE: Damon from AFP. But undermining the message of deterrence—that’s absolutely fundamental to NATO’s effectiveness.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: It is and, as is already, this is a less unified NATO than it was before the arrival of Donald Trump. Let me also deal with the myth of NATO as this well-synchronized machine in which 29, 28, or in the past fewer countries have always sung from one song sheet. Pierre knows far better than I—you’ve been at this game longer than I—we’ve had violent fallings-out over Libya; Iraq 2003; you remember those.
But it’s qualitatively different in that the biggest of the allies doesn’t just have a disagreement with us but actually seems willing to walk away. You’ve never had that qualitatively with George Bush and others. There were disagreements, most vehemently with the Iraq War, but there was never any suggestion in the air that the United States would therefore as a result turn its back on the European allies. The mood in the White House was, we think the European allies are wrong. We obviously thought the United States were wrong, but in the grand scheme of things the alliance still matters and there wasn’t a single inkling or a single indication that therefore the alliance would be abandoned.
The trouble with Donald Trump is people wonder whether he actually believes in the idea of alliances lower-case in the first place. He has changed issues on a number of things; abortion, gay marriage, whatnot; he’s changed party memberships over the years but there’re a few beliefs that he seems to be holding on to fairly consistently over the decades. One is the idea of the United States being ripped off on trade but the other idea, unfortunately for NATO, is the notion that almost any defense commitment the United States enters into is a net drag upon U.S. power and resources and is a lose-lose situation for the United States. He has published a full-page ad that some of you will remember—it’s easy to Google—in 1986 or 7 in New York Times, New York Post and a few other newspapers. This was aimed at the time at Japan and Saudi Arabia rather than European allies but fundamentally the belief expressed in that full-page ad saying, our allies are laughing at us all the way to the bank, is something that he brings to all of his thinking about all of the alliances and that applies to NATO.
So that’s why NATO deterrence has already been weakened because we have never had a U.S. president who didn’t just disagree with us on a substance but seems at the heart less interested in the idea of an alliance in the first place.
Does it render NATO irrelevant? It doesn’t obviously and I don’t just say so as someone who’s close to the alliance and passionate about it. The reality is in security terms the uncertainty whether the United States would come to the aid of European allies is obviously less effective a deterrent than a certainty that it would. But the uncertainty that it might is still better than the certainty that it wouldn’t.
So when you are an adversary and you are making a calculation about whether you escalate a particular point of friction, whatever it is, the fact that you don’t know, the United States may not be committed to NATO but it may well—and if you get it wrong then you’re dealing with the world’s most powerful military, 1.4 million men and women in uniform and then a defense budget the likes of which nobody in the world comes close to. That obviously is a fatal miscalculation. So NATO is still able to deter. The idea that because the president is less than wholeheartedly committed, NATO doesn’t matter just isn’t factually true but it’s obviously a less effective deterrence than would have been the case with a fully committed U.S. president. Pierre, did you want to come in on the history?
PIERRE VIMONT: Just to make two points on the communique. You must remember how the secret was at the G7 in fact—and this goes along the line of what Tomáš was saying—the communique was approved when they were discussing it in the room, the non-confrontational Trump was very much there so it had to do, as you know, with the press conference afterwards of Justin Trudeau so I guess the message is: once you’ve got an agreement on this communique and NATO be careful with your press conferences afterwards.
The second point is that on the substance precisely I think there is not much problem on this communique. The whole issue is about unity, about how they’re able to show unity and what it can sense from Trump’s declaration is that of course he has all this issue about the 2%, whatever, but his main concern seems to be much more the EU and I think there maybe what will be interesting to watch will be the bilateral meetings he could have with Jean-Claude Juncker and others, because this is really where his criticism is appearing for trade reasons, so on and so forth, because maybe he feels more comfortable with economic matters but it looks like this is really his main point of contention with European allies.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: I think as a policy community, I know in the world I like in in Washington all of us are still adapting to the simple fact that’s so obvious I hardly need say it, that for the first time, at least in modern history, the United States has a president who’s a businessperson. Businesspeople don’t have ideological allies or rivals. Business people have people they do business with. Sometimes they have friendly business relations and sometimes they have hostile business relations but he looks at the world the way a real estate developer looks at the world, which is as a series of opportunities and challenges but not a series of long-term relationships that are unchangeable.
Everything is up for question because the question is what’s good for the United States, and he’s puzzled that that’s a surprise to the world or a surprise to the U.S. policy community, that should be the driving question of every encounter. Europe also hasn’t had many businesspeople fundamentally as leaders—maybe Silvio Berlusconi was one—hasn’t had much experience with a political leader who thinks in a fundamentally business way about politics and it’s hard for. . .
We’re still getting used to what seems to him to be obvious and seems to be a natural way to treat U.S. relations with the world. So NATO to him is just another question mark about what’s the cost/benefit analysis of these relationships of the United States. People talk about a lack of a strategic framework; in his mind there is a strategic framework of how the United States relates to the world and it’s just different than other frameworks.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: Brooks first one?
BROOKS TIGNER: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane’s Defence Weekly. I have a question for Mr. Vimont and Carothers. Trump’s ambitious response a few days ago, as we all know in Washington, to the question of Crimea; how do you assess that or what the fall-out of that would be? Do you think it’s wise to use that as a bargaining chip even if he isn’t serious about recognizing but is that necessarily the right kind of statement to make about Crimea given that the EU and NATO both have been unanimously opposed to Crimea? What do you think the impact will be on strategic thinking over at the EU for instance?
PIERRE VIMONT: I think you could have the same remark about many other tweets from President Trump but I think what it really shows; it’s his way of looking at his relationship with Russia and with Putin in particular. I find it quite interesting, if you look at the sequence between the G7 and the Singapore summit and the NATO summit and his meeting with Putin, it seems to me that he might be exactly in the same state of mind; in other words, the Putin meeting is for him much more important in political terms than the NATO summit. Of course looking at this meeting what maybe the U.S. president is looking for is a way of making some sort of breakthrough that we haven’t been able to do up to now.
BROOKS TIGNER: Breakthrough on what?
PIERRE VIMONT: On precisely the Ukrainian—among other things, on the Ukrainian crisis. So far Trump hasn’t been very much involved in this whole process, he has left it to his officials and mostly to the French and the Germans, what we call the Minsk process, without much result at the moment. I think for him it’s typically the kind of issues where diplomats and officials have been struggling for years without any real result. I guess by one way or another he would like to come up with some sort of breakthrough but Crimea is certainly not the right way to proceed; we all agree on this.
But I think this gives a flavor of what he’s looking for; a successful summit with Putin from which he can come out saying that he has done what none of his predecessors were able to do, what the other allies have not been able to do, which is to relaunch some sort of process with Putin. I’m not sure he has any idea about what that process is about. Once again it’s the framing, as Tom was saying, which is important for him.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: Keep in mind, it’s really striking, the difference between his position in the NATO summit and on Russia. On Russia he is deeply at odds with the most significant foreign policy voices within his own party. On NATO that’s not so much the case, although most conservative Republicans wouldn’t go so far as he’s done in sometimes being confrontational with NATO. His basic position is one that has a fair amount of sympathy from many others within the Republican Party on greater burden-sharing and so forth.
On Russia he’s by himself. His questioning of fundamental elements of U.S. policy with respect to Crimea is his own invention so he’s much more off by himself when he goes into the summit with Putin, in a way, than he was with North Korea as well where he was alone within the Republican establishment in his approach to North Korea.
BROOKS TIGNER: If he is moving toward Crimea, this would be a total revocation of EU and NATO policy. You see no fall-out there for the alliance or for strategic thinking at the EU?
PIERRE VIMONT: I’m not sure you’ll get any kind of change there at the end of the day. It’s more about preparation, it’s more about sending the right message about his position which—as Tom was saying—was quite different from the rest of the administration and you had seen, just as we all did, how the White House spokesperson has come out immediately saying that there was no change in U.S. foreign policy.
But I think for Trump that was a way of sending a message to Putin that he’s maybe on his own there and that he wants to have a good, thorough discussion.
GAVIN LEE: Gavin, BBC. Could you give your thoughts, the three of you, on Trump’s thoughts towards Macedonia, is that an issue to him? Yesterday the Brits said that they’re going to double their amount of staff in the Western Balkan countries. They’re obviously aware of perceived security in Russia. So just general thoughts on Trump, where do you stand on that, all concerned?
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: I can take this one. I suspect he has no idea where Macedonia is to begin with. But the question of course more narrowly is will he support or not support the idea of offering NATO accession to Northern Macedonia, of course, as it’s now known. The short answer is, who knows? I had an interesting exchange among a couple of NATO-watchers over the last few days— some of you in fact on Facebook as well. I suspect given the [U.S.] president’s fundamental disinterest and disbelief that security alliances, as the United States has construed them under his predecessors, serve the United States well because he doesn’t really believe they do, I don’t think he’s going to be terribly keen on extending security guarantees to new states. I just don’t see how that really works.
Combined with his desire for the deal with President Putin, I find it virtually impossible to imagine how Georgia and Ukraine, for example, make any progress towards accession on his watch. I think it’s safe to assume that it’s extremely unlikely that will happen—and only fair to say many in Europe would be only too delighted not to see that progress either—so there wouldn’t be a consensus even if President Trump changed his mind.
On Macedonia a different case; if Montenegro is any guide Russia cares but not as much as it does about Georgia and Ukraine. In Montenegro Russia was clearly opportunistic; it saw an opportunity by spending a bit of money on hiring a few local mercenaries and making a run for regime change. It failed, but was there a consequential follow-up and a campaign to really thwart Montenegro’s succession to alliance at any point? Not really so if the suggestion is that President Trump will not honor the pledge or Jens Stoltenberg’s statement that Macedonia will be invited because of the opposition from Russia, I just think that exaggerates the depth of Russian feeling on the issue. To them Georgia and Ukraine are fundamental and Ukraine even more so than Georgia.
Macedonia and the Balkans is something that’s already opportunistic but the bigger problem with the northern that I would worry about if I were prime minister is will the president want to do this not because of Russia; would he extend the security guarantee to yet another state when he believes the ones the United States already has extended don’t serve America well? My sense is I find it hard to imagine but I’ve seen stranger things happen. He may just not care. It may be one of those things that squeaks out of the radar screen literally.
MILAN SCHREUER: Milan Schreuer for the New York Times. In Trump’s view what about NATO is in America’s national security interests? It’s a basic foreign policy question but I think it’s a difficult one to answer.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: No, I think the short answer is I don’t think he fundamentally believes that any alliance, including NATO, serves America’s interest well but also it’s fairly clear that while he is again more comfortable in his own skin, more willing to challenge the establishment and more willing to shake up the status quo he is not completely unchained and there are certain commitments, truths and policies that he respects.
The membership in NATO is something that Washington qualitatively cares much about. Tom is absolutely right to say that the unhappiness about defense spending in NATO is not a Trump phenomenon. Many of you will have been here in 2011 when Bob Gates came to town and said—I paraphrase but only very loosely—that when and if Congress wakes up to the reality that the United States now spends $3 for every $1 that the remaining 28 spend collectively NATO’s future will be dim and dismal. The last three words are an exact quote.
The anger in Washington about the discrepancy in defense spending is widely shared but equally that hasn’t translated into an agreement or a consensus in Washington that the United States should withdraw. On that Trump is completely alone and my sense is even though he fundamentally doesn’t believe in the alliance there are only so many sacred cows that the president is willing to slay at any given time so I’m not terribly worried about the idea of the United States dropping out.
I just frankly can’t see that; maybe I’m simply not imaginative enough. One thing to keep in mind is Tom’s warning that the Trump of 2018 is different from the Trump of 2017 so the usual bias we make towards continuity— if you don’t know what the future will be like we kind of assume it will be like what we know— I’m not sure that applies with Trump but I still find it incredibly difficult to imagine. I imagine he will want to obviously extract more concessions from the allies on the things that matter to him, namely the 2%, but who knows, is the honest answer.
ALEX BARKER: Alex Barker from the Financial Times. I was wondering what you think of the Baltics perspective on this, including, as you’re saying, the security guarantees. Yet they haven’t been testing the Baltics in the way that you might imagine they would. Do you think it might change after Trump’s gone?
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: You’re right and that’s actually the oddity—that the number of air incidents between Russia and NATO countries in the Baltics has decreased dramatically over the last few years. There was a massive spike, a gradual increase really over the last five or six years, particularly since Serdyukov left and the current defense minister came into office; a spike obviously after 2014 but started declining for the past two years or so.
The thinking is, this is partly to do with budgets; it’s really hard to keep up the up-tempo financially that Russia has been engaged in in 2014 and 2015. Also NATO has reinforced air patrols of the Baltic. The lessons that pilots want to draw through these skirmishes, the usual lessons on what are the other side’s responses, how do they engage, which nation is more assertive, which one is weaker, what technology do they use, what can I learn by reading their radar signatures and other things; those lessons have been learned so there’s less military, technical need to be engaged in day-to-day skirmishes.
So you’re right to say there have been fewer of them. The implication of the question is if the backstop of U.S. power is less visible and less guaranteed would Russia increase the tempo. I don’t think so. They have had good reasons for cutting down over the past few years and I don’t think those reasons fundamentally change but Tom may disagree.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: A different way to look at it is, I think Putin’s strategic objective is not some kind of dominion over the Baltics. His strategic objective is divisions between the United States and Europe and divisions within Europe; that’s what serves Russia’s interests, weaknesses and division and fragmentation on the part of the West. He doesn’t have specific tactical objectives of challenging particularly the territory or rights in the Baltics. He’s pursued that, mostly, his positioning to show that Russia is to be reckoned with and NATO better be careful but he’ll enjoy the NATO summit from the perspective that this embodies further division and fragmentation and that’s the principal perspective, I think, from Russia’s point of view.
PIERRE VIMONT: I totally agree. I just wanted to add that since 2015 and so on Russia has maybe been more interested with south and its engagement in Syria and in a few other parts in northern Africa and central Africa and therefore for them this has been really the center of their attention in recent years—where, by the way, there have been interesting discussions with the Americans on Syria and the different zones of influence and control. So maybe Europe has been less important for Putin in the last two or three years.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: Yes, thank you for raising this because that also relates to my earlier point on the money; because Syria cost so much and ended up costing more than Russia planned and even Russia’s defense budget isn’t unlimited; as those of you who follow Russia know, it’s actually decreased by about 10% year on year this year compared to last year. They too live in a fiscal reality that they have to respect so I think that’s also part of the reason why you won’t see much increase given the United States being less shaky, on the comment I made before.
CHRISTIAN SPILLMAN: Trump is very aggressive against some of the allies. Do you believe he will go to a clash with Trudeau and Merkel and do you believe in his mind there’s a kind of willing to punish some of the alliance and play these tricky games of saying to the Germans, okay, we move and we go to Poland because Poland is willing to have some more units based on its territory; could it be these kind of tricky games? That’s joining what you say; this attempted fragmentation and division of NATO. What can the allies, the European Union members expect at this summit of the guy who is coming to insult them? I don’t know; he will be very rude during this summit, I believe. Maybe I’m wrong.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: Do you want to take that one, Pierre? An easy question.
PIERRE VIMONT: I think it may be an exercise in damage limitation to some extent. Once again I’m quite struck by the difference of tone between NATO on one side—maybe because Trump is not very much interested, doesn’t understand the whole bureaucracy, etc.—and his very strong public criticism on the EU. This is where I think he’s the most vocal, admitting more or less openly that he thinks the whole thing should disappear, supporting Brexit, so on and so forth.
This is not an EU summit, or an EU-U.S. summit so maybe there he will keep some of his usual negative remarks for later on. But I think this is where he really has a grudge against, as you were saying, Germany, maybe France here and there. You’ve heard those echoes that when he is with President Macron he says to him, why are you still going on with Europe, you should leave like the others.
This is what is for me the most striking, to have the American allies so openly critical of the EU, which after all, if you look at history back in the 40s, is very much a bilateral construction to a large extent. The EU, when it started in 1957-58, was very much inspired by a lot of American thinking also so this is where it seems to me there is a really very important gap.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: I don’t mean to overstate it; this is a post-modern president; he’s history-free, he’s fact-free, he’s structure-free, he’s protocol-free. This is a post-modern president who’s acting in ways that belie the last 60 years of assumed history of the United States and the world and the way the world is organized and we’re all getting use to that. So when you say he’s rude; rudeness is part of his operating method; disruption. He has been a disruptive candidate from the day he announced he was running for president. Disruption is what has made him successful and so when people keep saying, you’re disruptive, he says, indeed, that’s why I’m successful, I will continue to disrupt until the day I leave the office, is his message and that’s what his supporters are happy about.
They’re also in a post-modern mood of wanting to see a different world and Europe is not in that place. I’m not saying all Americans agree with him; he only has partial support in the United States but this also brings out fundamental differences in U.S. politics and European politics. European politics is so much more traditionally about consensus and civility and continuity and U.S. politics— every presidential race is a disruptive race in which outsiders come to the presidency, challenge through an open primary process, appoint themselves the next candidate, raise their own money and then become president. That’s so different than European politics. It’s not party politics, it’s self-financed entrepreneurial politics so you get leaders into position who are self-financed political entrepreneurs who have no real obligation to the party. If anything the party is at his feet asking to be admitted to the hallways of his supporters so his foreign policy is an extension of this nature of American politics.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: I have 30 seconds on this issue because I want to caution and to strengthen Pierre’s point on the EU. I want to caution against the linear assumption that because this is a NATO summit at NATO presented by the NATO Secretary-General to decide on an agenda drafted by NATO officials that the presidents and prime ministers will speak about NATO. They won’t necessarily. This is now how things work. The heads of state and government are the unruliest bunch of people you’ll ever meet. Any attempt to have an orchestrated debate is just a hopeless cat-herding exercise. The idea that because there are disagreements on NATO this shall be a public falling-out on NATO may or may not be the case. President Trump has spent the last few months thinking about—if it wasn’t Korea and Iran; it was about trade, tariffs, cars. The EU there is identified in his view, and Germany in particular, as a target because of trade surpluses, because of car tariffs. This will not be a lovey-dovey summit, it’ll be a controversial and difficult one with skirmishes but it may well not be about NATO.
This could just as easily be a summit that turns into a debate on the EU but the idea that because he doesn’t like EU unity and he said so—clearly he tweeted the EU was set up to take advantage of the United States, because of that he’s now going to try to play the EU member states against one another by offering U.S. troops to one country as opposed to the other. That assumes that he’s interested in U.S. military presence here in the first place. He isn’t. He’s, I suspect—and again he didn’t say so explicitly but it so naturally, logically follows his oral view of the alliances as a net drag on U.S. power and resources— I suspect he isn’t a big fan of U.S. military presence here.
He made his feelings about military presence overseas pretty clear in the context of the Korea debate where he basically said clearly he wants to bring the boys home. So he will try to divide EU member states but not by offering a division to Poland as opposed to Germany because I think he fundamentally believes U.S. forces shouldn’t be here so that’s not the argument he’s very likely to use.
Teri, next on my list and if I haven’t called anyone, attention please.
TERI SCHULTZ: I wanted to ask about the four 30s process as people haven’t asked about that, in terms of this burden-sharing, just act of desperation to satisfy the Americans because you can’t come up with 30 battalions right now. I’ve talked to numerous people. You can’t come up with 30 battalions to move in 30 days in the next two years. So was that something that the Americans just wanted so badly and the allies just said, yes, yes, we’ll do it, even though it’s not possible to try to take some of the pressure off on the burden sharing aspect?
And on the subject of disruption, don’t you think that because of this, that he doesn’t care about the implications, don’t you think it is possible that he’ll go to Helsinki and say, yes, Crimea? Because it would fit the model; what would make everybody the most upset? To say, yes, I think you can have it, what’s the big deal?
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: On the Crimea question, as I said earlier—and you weren’t here, I’m sorry—I don’t rule anything out because again he seems to be almost relishing shaking up the status quo. This is a very different president than the past ones.
TERI SCHULTZ: And he’s found something that’s so neuralgic, everybody’s writing, oh, he can’t do it, he can’t do it.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: But Tom and Pierre will have their own views on this. Let me quickly take on the four 30s; that’s the idea that NATO should have 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 battleships available at 30 days’ notice. A technical, wonky point but important; this is not just another nice capability and ability for NATO to have; it’s a pretty essential thing. The weakness of the deterrence posture, of the philosophy of how we’re going to defend the eastern countries, as enshrined by the Wales and Warsaw summits, always had a weakness. We put forces forward, the four brigades in the three Baltic states and Poland but there was always the question mark, how in the reasonably short run would they be reinforced given that most of the millions of troops back in Germany, France, Britain, the United States would take a long time to mobilize and be moved in a theatre?
So the four 30s are an essential, indispensable bridge connecting the forward brigades with the lower-readiness, longer-term forces that are available deeper in the rear, in the West. So this is not just nice to have; this is essential. The fact that it’s an unfunded mandate isn’t odd or unusual; that’s frankly how the alliance works. You set out these ambitions that are impossible at first—and honestly, I still remember the feeling in the room when the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe came in and said it is my conclusion that we need to deploy a mechanized brigade in each of the three Baltic states and Poland.
My first reaction, having been immersed in the politics of it: Good luck, impossible! Germany will never say yes, France is only somewhat less outraged than Germany and nobody’s going to find the money. If you told me that Canada would lead one of them and Germany would lead one of them only 18 months later I would have said: you’re dreaming or you’ve had something.
TERI SCHULTZ: But one brigade is different than 30 battalions or four brigades.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: The honest answer is, because these troops are going to be further back and they will not be tested on a day-to-day basis they don’t need to actually be physically moved to Poland and to the Baltic states. Countries are probably signing on with the understanding that they may be able to fudge the commitment a little bit. Whether it’s 30 days or 45, nobody really has any good way of establishing that so I suspect the main point is NATO has a long-standing policy of making these goals and by and large they usually happen, not in their entirety but again, like with the 2% pledge, at the time when it was made only three were spending 2%; it’s eight now. Fifteen have reasonable, credible plans to get there. It’s not going to be 29 for 29 but it’s 15 as opposed to three.
That, I suspect, is what’s going to happen with the four 30s. You always price into the plans the reality that you’re probably not going to get everything you want but NATO has gotten as far as it has gotten by setting the ambitions fairly high and then basically shaming and pressuring the countries on a continuous basis to make sure they do the most they can within the promise.
BROOKS TIGNER: But isn’t that mostly window-dressing, these four 30s? There’s nothing new, these are existing assets, most of them are static anyway so it’s a resignation of what NATO already has so it’s a question of just military mobility in the future.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: Most of them are steady but—actually no, no reason to be cynical, Brooks. You know they are existing forces but these are not going to be 30—the Secretary-General said 30 new battleships. That’s actually inaccurate; they will not be new battleships but the idea is that they will be available at 30 days’ notice, which they are not now, which takes a lot of money, practice, exercise and time to actually achieve the readiness to be available. Shops are fairly used to mobility, they’re constantly out on the sea but mechanized battalions? That requires that you have on hand or reasonably close to hand the ammunition, the provisions, the food and everything else, which is expensive.
BROOKS TIGNER: It’s not going to happen for eight years.
TERI SCHULTZ: Yes, in two years, no.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: No, I’m not saying this to you as a way of saying it will not happen. What I’m saying is the fact that these are existing troops doesn’t mean that when we agree to make them available on 30 days’ notice that essentially our can simply continue doing what you were doing before. The expectation is now that, yes, those existing troops will not be expanded by an additional 30 mechanized battalions but the countries will do two things: they will make investments to make sure they are available on 30 days’ notice, and they should also be—this is the delicate issue—they should also be [unclear] in one shape or form so if it’s clear to the defense planner that I have 30-day—no single country will have all of the 30 mechanized battalions but let’s say these are the two British mechanized battalions that will go into theatre—they should therefore not be deployed in Australasia—just to pick a point on the map.
So they should also be not just physically to do the 30-day deployment, they also need to be actually earmarked and those are pretty important doctrinal and political changes so this is not just window-dressing for something that already exists; NATO is asking the countries to do an awful lot. You’re right to be skeptical whether they’ll deliver 100% of it but they will deliver more than had they not been asked in the first place.
TERI SCHULTZ: But they’ll lift it up to him and say, look, really, we’re sharing the burden, we’re preparing. And he’ll be like [Trump] they will use this as a way to show that they are taking more of the burden.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: I don’t think the four 30s is to impress President Trump. I think the four 30s is to satisfy the military commanders’ legitimate demands to have clarity on how in how in the world do you expect me to fight a conflict and care for the 4,000 people deployed forwards if I don’t have a credible plan to reinforce that quickly? This is not about Trump. This is about making sure the military plans make sense.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: Turning to the summit with Putin, I think it’s important also to think about the North Korea summit and what happened there. The narrative that I suspect Trump wants to walk away from that summit with is we’re now getting along with Russia. In a way again it’s very striking over the last 17 months that he tends to be confrontational and sometimes insulting of allies and tends to be very fulsome and praising of rivals or challengers to the United States.
It’s not because he necessarily likes rivals better than he likes allies. It’s rather his view of how the United States relates to other countries is those who are too close to the United States he views as hangers-on who need to be moved away and those who are in a hostile relationship need to be moved up, so that everybody is at about the same position. So it isn’t that you like these other people better, it’s that you need to move them in a bit and you need to move these people out so the United States has a rounded whole set of potential transactional business partners with whom you then decide what deals you want to make.
Secondly on the North Korea summit, for him it wasn’t that there was a concrete deal that was reached. When he came out of the summit what he said is: “they are no longer a threat because I have overcome the hostility by meeting directly with this leader” — and that’s the key message of the summit. I suspect the Russia summit; he wants to come out of that summit and say, we no longer have a hostile relationship with Russia, President Putin and I have an understanding as two leaders and, as he’s said over and over again over the last two years, there’s no reason we can’t get along with Putin and Russia.
So he’s not going into it thinking, I need a specific deal where I trade a concession on Syria for a concession on Ukraine and some kind of grand bargain; that’s now how he’s thinking. He’s thinking, I’m going to go and show that he and I can sit down and talk. He may say something provocative on Crimea but he’s also said repeatedly the Russians didn’t interfere in the U.S. elections; that’s pretty provocative too but it doesn’t have any real consequence; that’s just something he says. He may say something about Crimea like, as he said, there’re a lot of Russian speakers there, I can understand. If you’re Canadian; there’re a lot of English-speakers in Canada. That makes you wonder whether the United States might therefore have the same right to do to Canada what Russia did to Crimea.
So he doesn’t go into a summit like this thinking in a negotiation tactic that he’s going to come out with this or that kind of deal. He wants to come out of that summit and say, I have overcome the animosity between President Putin and the United States, and that’s what I’m bringing.
I’m not saying that’s a good approach to diplomacy; I’m saying I think that’s what he’ll look for so those who are already trying to calculate what concessions or deals might be made on Syria, as you say, in relationship to Ukraine and NATO, that’s not...Also he doesn’t prepare for the summits; he doesn’t sit down with his advisors and go through different strategic options and plans. He says, I am prepared because I know how to talk to people. Like the North Korea summit; he got there on Sunday evening and the summit was on Tuesday and he came out Monday morning and said to his advisors, we might as well just go and have this. The whole day was planned for preparation and rest and he said, no, let’s just go ahead and have the meeting, I’m me, I’m ready for this meeting, let’s just walk into it.
INGRID STEINER: What is Putin doing?
THOMAS CAROTHERS: First of all, like the North Korean leader, he’s meeting on an equal level with the most powerful person in the world, being taken very seriously and treated respectfully. President Trump will probably say some nice things about him, which he would like to hear. He will probably hope that this is the start of an unravelling of Western unity with respect to sanctions and with respect to the Ukraine issue generally, giving him the space in the Middle East to finish the things he would like to do.
So again I don’t think he has a specific objective as so much positioning himself vis-a-vis the West and showing that the American president was eager to meet with him, said nice things about him and said some provocative things, unlike other Western leaders who’ve tried the approach to Trump of heavy flattery. Western leaders who’ve been moved out of the inner circle have tried to use a lot of flattery with Trump and the Saudis have done this as well. I don’t think we’ll see that from President Putin. It’s hard to imagine him... He’ll, in his characteristic fashion, probably sit back and wait for Trump to come to him in a sense and I suspect Trump will do so.
PIERRE VIMONT: Coming back to what you were saying earlier, Tom, what Putin will win is at least uneasiness among the Europeans and probably divisions and those who are closer to Russia will feel very uncomfortable and somewhat worried. Those who are further away may like this and there have been some European members, some European countries that have been calling for a lifting of the sanctions and for more cooperation with Russia so they will feel that there is there an opportunity for them. So I think one of the results will be divisions among the Europeans on how to act after that summit and I think this is exactly what Putin is looking for.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: 30 seconds on that because I know we’re running out of time. One thing I suspect President Putin will not do is to make any significant concessions. President Putin no longer – a) he has long ago ceased to believe that he wants to be part of the West or that it’s realistic. There was a point when he was open to that and genuinely seemed to entertain the idea. He has walked away long time ago. He also believes the West, in addition to being duplicitous about ostensibly wanting Russia to be part of one community— and particularly the United States— to be irresponsibly reckless in how they manage the global commons. He believes the Syria, Libya, Iraq wars were disasters for which the U.S. is responsible—not my words but his general belief—and therefore if President Trump comes to him and says, well, I don’t believe in military adventures, I’m not going to do the things my predecessors did, rather than engaging in a series of concessions and building a new relationship, I think he’s going to simply say, great, it was in your interest to do that all along, you, the West and particularly you, the United States, have been in the wrong for the past few years so I’m glad you came to your senses.
I think that’ll be it so the idea that when they meet and this summit goes well and they hit it off all sorts of good things follow and flow from that; I don’t see that happening. Exactly as Tom said, President Putin is waiting for Trump to come to him and when those good things are said about the mistakes of the past, as the U.S. president said about Crimea, he’ll pocket those and say, yes, I told you all along
MAIK HUBRICK: Just a short one. Maik Hubrick, ARD German Radio. How much of a problem has Turkey become to the alliance, which is an alliance of values?
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: Yes, that’s been a difficult claim to make, not just because of Turkey but because of all the things we’ve been talking about for the past 55 minutes as well and because of it you haven’t actually seen the alliance, rightly, use those words very often. You can also safely assume that the political part of what NATO has done over the last 20 years—because it’s not just a defense alliance. It was for a significant part of its recent history, about a decade, primarily a political body that served to enhance the goal of Europe whole and free, meaning to consolidate the democratic change in southern and eastern Europe.
There’s very little appetite for that and frankly, I think, a healthy dose of modesty among the EU capitals about whether we can make the claim that we are enlarging a zone of any particular values, given the differences amongst us, which also partly explains the low-key attitude on enlargement. The enlargement fitting is not primarily because of Donald Trump; it predates Donald Trump and has to do with our absorption capacity, but the fact that we now have no common agreement on that just makes it almost impossible to think of so when you push for enlargement in the future.
Turkey specifically: Ironically what happened with the elections is not necessarily the worst outcome. I suspect most, many world leaders at the table would have welcomed a change of government because of the general unease about the direction in which Turkey had been going under President Erdoğan and in particular the constitutional changes which have now taken effect with the election.
Then we would have probably preferred a change of government so that would have been, in the minds of many of us, presumably the ideal outcome. But there was a worse outcome than the one that currently we have which was that President Erdoğan would lose the elections and would refuse to recognize the results and even suspend the constitution and say, hey, this is an extraordinary situation which requires extraordinary measures.
There was the possibility two weeks ago or whatever, before June 24th, that the summit might come with President Erdoğan at the table, who is not regarded by anyone else at the table as being democratically elected. That hasn’t happened. What everyone thinks of how free and fair the elections were; the reality is, as even the opposition leader, the CHP leader said, you don’t win by ten million votes by tampering here and there, that was a fairly clear vote. So Turkey has a leader that’s been elected fairly clearly by the Turkish people and he may not be a leader that the rest of the alliance would have preferred but we respect the outcome so it’s not actually the worst of the scenarios.
THOMAS CAROTHERS: I would just say that Erdoğan has not gotten from Trump what he hoped. Erdogan has not gotten the Trump embrace that he probably hoped for 18 months ago. Among the strongmen in the world who Trump has praised and had friendly ties with, interestingly, Erdoğan has not been one of them. Keep in mind how differently European Union members and the United States view Turkey. For the United States Turkey is a strategic both ally and in some cases problematic country. For the European Union of course Turkey is in a deep relationship with the European Union as a European country so the United States and Europe have always had a hard time seeing Turkey the same way and acting toward it so U.S.-Turkish relations over the last 18 months have gone up and down a bit based on tensions in Syria with the Kurds and so forth. But the United States goes into NATO meetings viewing Turkey simply in terms of its contributions to NATO and the issues that are going on in Syria whereas the European Union is always thinking about Turkey in terms of the inevitable questions of, is Turkey off the map of European expansion, and so forth.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: A bit of self-promotion; we hosted the U.S. Assistant secretary of state for Europe, Wess A. Mitchell, a week ago and when he did get to Turkey it was exactly in terms that Tom describes; he spoke about Turkey as an important ally for not just Syrian operations but also broader NATO defense plans in the East. It is on YouTube, the Carnegie Europe channel, but I think he nicely captured in about two minutes the differences between the U.S. and Europe on Turkey.
TOMÁŠ VALÁŠEK: We’re over time. We’ll stick around for anyone who would like to speak. Great. Many thanks to Tom and Pierre and many thanks to all of you for coming and finding the time.