Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, has a point about Europe and NATO. In May, in a speech at the alliance’s headquarters, in Brussels, he told his fellow leaders that “NATO members must finally contribute their fair share.” In July, he repeated the warning in Warsaw. “Europe must do more,” he said.
European leaders may find these demands grating, especially given Trump’s unpopularity among their constituents, but they should heed them. In recent years, Europe has become a dangerous place. In search of domestic support, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to aggression abroad, invading Ukraine and intervening in Syria. Since any one military adventure can provide only a temporary popularity boost, Putin will always need new victims. That makes him an ongoing threat. Just when NATO has once again become necessary for Europe’s security, however, Trump’s election has thrown the future of the U.S. role in the alliance into doubt.
For these reasons, Trump is right: to strengthen NATO and encourage the United States to continue its commitment to European security, the alliance’s European members should contribute more. Just as important for European and Western security, however, is for the United States to lead other multilateral initiatives to defend the interests and values that North America and Europe have in common. Without that leadership, Europe—and the rest of the world—will be a harsher place.
For the two and a half decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the word that candidate Trump used to describe NATO—“obsolete”—was largely accurate. It no longer is. In 2014, Russia put an end to the post–Cold War European peace. It invaded Ukraine, backed pro-Russian politicians in eastern European countries, and has since meddled in elections in the United States and France. This renewed aggression stems from Putin’s need for public support to sustain the kleptocracy over which he presides. During his first two terms as president, from 2000 to 2008,
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