Lucas: A Trump presidency will shake to its foundations a US commitment to European security
Putin's goal has always been to rewrite the rules on which European security is based
Editor’s Note: Edward Lucas is a senior editor at The Economist, where he was the Moscow bureau chief from 1998 to 2002. He has covered Central and Eastern Europe for more than 20 years. He is also senior vice-president at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think tank in Warsaw and Washington, DC.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author.
Yikes. That, put crudely, is the reaction of America’s European allies to Donald Trump’s victory. Meanwhile in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin will be popping open the Shampanskoye.
The Republican candidate has long been skeptical about NATO. In 2000, in his book “The America we Deserve,” he advocated allowing east Europeans to settle their age-old conflicts without American intervention.
That view may have been prompted by the war in ex-Yugoslavia. These days, Europe’s security worries focus on the threat from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Mr Trump doesn’t share those worries. During the campaign he hinted that the United States would defend only NATO allies that paid their full share of the defense burden.
Newt Gingrich, a putative secretary of state, went even further, saying that he doubted America should defend Estonia from Russian attack, because the small Baltic nation was in the “suburbs of St Petersburg.” (Note to Professor Gingrich: Estonia’s border is actually a good 50 miles from that Russian city. Estonia is also one of the handful of American allies which does meet NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defense).
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A Trump presidency will shake to its foundations a US commitment to European security that dates back to 1941. Europe still depends on the United States for the bulk of NATO’s military muscle (especially nuclear weapons, heavy armor, air power and logistics) and for intelligence collection and diplomatic heft.
Europeans will now be scrambling to fill that gap. Many may regret they didn’t do it earlier. Senior US officials have been warning them for years of the consequences of spending too little on defense (and of spending that money wrongly).
Mr Putin, by contrast, has received the biggest boost of his 17 years in power. His big goal has always been to rewrite the rules on which European security is based. From a Western point of view, this post-1991 settlement seems set in stone, and unquestionably good. Big countries pursue their national interests with restraint, in a multilateral framework. Small countries get a say in what happens. Disputes are settled in court or over the negotiating table, not by force of arms.
From the Kremlin’s point of view, this security order is intolerable. The rules of the game were written when Russia was weak, following the Soviet collapse. It treats the largest country in the world by landmass – and the biggest in Europe by population – as if it were just another player.
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Russia has long sought a game changer. It has tested Western resolve with its cyber attack on Estonia in 2007, with the war in Georgia in 2008, and with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. It stoked division and mistrust in the Atlantic alliance – not least through sponsoring the NSA defector Edward Snowden – and within Western countries (notably in the US election campaign).
It met little penalty for breaking those rules. And now it faces a US president who does not believe in them either. Game and set to Putin. The match is in his grasp, too.