Are Europe and NATO Right to Be Scared of a Trump-Putin Détente?

Just days before the US presidential election, NATO leaders were set for a big push to bolster the organization’s military presence in the eastern states, in the full expectation that the next president would be President Hillary Clinton.
1. In the last week of October, the alliance announced that as of 2017 an additional four battle groups with 4,000 rapid response troops were to be posted to northeastern Poland and the Baltics.
2. On Oct. 26, NATO Secretary General Jena Stollenberg called this a “measured response” to what the alliance believed are 330,000 Russian troops near Moscow.
“This month alone,” he said,” Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and suspended a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the US. “And Russian continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine with military and financial support for the separatists.”
3. On that day too, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the US would contribute 900 troops with artillery, tanks and explosives experts to NATO’s east European build-up against Russia. “They will lead British and Romanian troops on a deterrence mission against Russia,” he said.
4. In early October, the Polish General Roman Olko, claimed a “Russian invasion” of the Baltics was inevitable “in the nearest future.”
5. It was also announced that alliance policy regarding Syria was on ice until a new US president is sworn in next January.
Although officials in European capitals or NATO headquarters in Brussels did not say this out loud, the alliance was clearly gearing up for a grand US-Russian confrontation after Clinton’s takeover of the White House.
The few voices that advised a more cautious estimate of the Russian threat fell on deaf ears.
Donald Trump’s election was therefore a bolt from the blue that left NATO leaders reeling. Suddenly, they had to turn their thinking around in consideration of a US president who advocated détente between West and East, rather than a military showdown.
He also had no great opinion of the Western Alliance.
During his campaign, the president-elect called NATO “obsolete,” and questioned whether the US should be committed to the defense of countries that fail to spend enough on their militaries. He suggested a softer stance against Russia and urged the 28 NATO allies to focus more on fighting terrorism.
They were again taken aback when Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone conversation on Nov. 14, that relations between their countries were “unsatisfactory” and vowed to work together to improve them.
Moscow said the two leaders discussed combining efforts in the fight against terrorism, talked about “a settlement of the crisis in Syria” and agreed that their aides would begin working on a face-to-face meeting between them.
If President-elect Trump could "persuade NATO to slow down its expansion or withdraw its forces from Russia’s borders, this would lead to a kind of détente in Europe," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview on Nov. 11. But, unfortunately, Russia now sees "NATO’s muscles … getting bigger and bigger and closer and closer to Russian borders."
If Trump is heading for détente with Putin, he will at some point halt NATO’s pre-election push towards Russia’s borders and turn the juggernaut around. The alliance was first designed as the West’s bulwark against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. To become relevant to 21st century asymmetrical warfare and the incoming president’s orientation, Trump has made it clear that NATO will have to reinvent itself.

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