Donald Trump’s latest warning that, if elected president, he may cut his country’s commitment to Nato has caused deep alarm among America’s allies and dismay in the US foreign policy establishment – and understandably so.
They strike at the central underpinning of the alliance in its near 70 years of existence, that an attack on one member is an attack on all and that the US, in practice Nato’s guarantor power, would come to the aid of the victim of aggression.
His remarks came in an interview with the New York Times that also highlights his long-held mercantilist views on trade. They do not break dramatic new ground. But they are his most forceful on the subject yet, and will surely feature in his acceptance speech wrapping up the Republican convention in Cleveland.
As such, they will be music to the ears of adversaries like Vladimir Putin – above all Mr Trump’s refusal to provide an unconditional assurance the US would come to the defense of the Baltic states, Nato’s newest members and under mounting pressure from Russia.
For Mr Trump, in defense as in trade, what matters most is America’s economic interest. On both fronts, US partners were taking advantage of a generosity that America could no longer afford. That applied to trade agreements like Nafta (“If I don’t get a change, I’ll pull out in a split second,” he told the Times) but also to the umbrella of Nato protection – in other words, US protection – in time of crisis.