By David Carlson
Because I was traveling in Europe in the days before the inauguration, I was able to see the Trump presidency from the European perspective. Clearly, the Trump shockwave that most concerned Europeans was his statement that NATO is obsolete.
This statement did more than puzzle Europeans; it clearly alarmed them. To understand that reaction, we need to remind ourselves what NATO is and stands for.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, began in 1949 as a response to the Soviet takeover of Eastern European countries, including East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Georgia, Yugoslavia, Albania, Lithuania and a major part of Eastern Finland.
NATO initially bound Western European Countries, such as Italy, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands and Portugal in an alliance that promised mutual support in the event that any one of them was attacked. In subsequent years, Greece, Turkey, West Germany and Spain joined.
Without a doubt, however, the backbone of the NATO promise was the United States’ commitment to NATO, a commitment that meant that any attack on one of those smaller countries would face the might, even the nuclear might, of our country.
In a real sense, NATO created the Cold War, for it froze Soviet aggression in its tracks. Because of NATO, even Berlin, buried deeply in East Germany, was divided into West and East Berlin, with West Berliners enjoying freedoms that those on the other side of the Berlin Wall could only dream about.
After the Soviet Empire collapsed between 1989-91, 12 Eastern European countries, which had been under Russian control in the Cold War era, applied for membership in NATO. Why? Because they wanted to ensure that they would enjoy the democratic freedoms of the West and never again have to face Russian aggression.
Did this nearly unanimous decision by these eastern European countries embarrass Russia? Absolutely. It was like Russia’s dance partner for 45 years suddenly told Moscow that she has always hated him and wants nothing to do with him in the future. Ouch.
That is what Europeans find so shocking about Trump’s proclamation that NATO is obsolete. Clearly, Trump never heard the alarm bells that sounded across Europe when Putin invaded Crimea in the Ukraine in 2014. Clearly, Trump has never talked with a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Latvian and, most of all a Ukrainian, who feel that Russia is once again an enemy on their doorsteps.
For these small countries that border Russia, NATO is their only hope of independence. These countries know that Russian troops, to be a threat, don’t have to cross their borders, although Putin might do this. These small, Eastern European countries know that to live even in the shadow of Russia is to live in dismal darkness.
So where did Trump get the bizarre idea that NATO is obsolete? There is only one person who knows NATO is far from obsolete but nevertheless wants NATO to disappear. And that person is Vladimir Putin.
If Trump has his way in walking away from NATO, the backbone of that vital organization will be gone. And if Putin even subtly threatens these small nations, such a development would be the biggest betrayal of American promises and values in our history.
Such a decision could even mean that the next president would face something no American, Republican or Democrat, wants — a war with Russia to save Europe.
David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World” available in bookstores or on Amazon.com. Send comments to [email protected].