Before Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016, there were fears that he would tear apart NATO due to his hostility toward international institutions. Prior to November 2016, former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that a Trump presidency would result in Europe and the West in general becoming more dangerous due to Trump’s purported foreign policy of “American retreat.”
NATO Members are Increasing Spending
However, Trump is close to completing his term as US President and NATO remains intact. Indeed, during his first meeting with former British prime minister Theresa May in 2017, Trump softened his tone toward the alliance. He has consistently said throughout his presidency that NATO members must meet the alliance’s two percent defense spending target, and that is not an unreasonable request, especially when you consider the fact that Greece, with its massive budget deficit, has met all of its NATO targets since 2006. Bloomberg reported that alliance members have upped their military spending by about $130 billion from 2016 to 2020.
Trump is Right to Demand That NATO Members Meet Their Defense Budget Requirements
Because Germany failed to meet its own NATO spending target, Trump pulled 12,000 troops out of the country in July, so that American forces could focus more on rotational developments in Eastern Europe. This shows that he was the first US president since NATO was founded to dish out consequences to member states that failed to pay their defense bills.
While there is nothing wrong with that, such a move no doubt strained America’s relationship with Germany, and because the US President has also fought trade wars with the EU, he has failed to win widespread support for his pledge to reform NATO spending.
This is the legacy that incoming president Joe Biden will inherit from Trump. Diplomats and officials hinted prior to the 2020 election that they would hold a March summit with the former vice president, on the condition that he wins the presidential race. Therefore, many NATO officials are warmer to the idea of a Biden presidency as opposed to a second Trump administration.
Biden Will Lead a More Multilateral Administration
Biden is likely to adopt a more multilateral approach to foreign relations than the current US President. Not only will he be more enthusiastic about NATO in general, but he will use his position of power to ensure that the US rejoins numerous global institutions that his country quit under Trump’s presidency, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).
He will also sign the US back up to numerous initiatives that the Trump administration pulled America out of, such as the 2015 Iran Deal (should Tehran comply with it again), and the Paris Climate Agreement. As Trump is the only Western leader who opposes these initiatives and institutions, many European leaders will no doubt feel relieved that the world’s most powerful nation is on their side again regarding climate change and multilateralism.
The incoming president’s view of international relations will impact NATO. Biden is keen to have a meeting with his NATO allies to show that America “is back.” Also, the former vice president may want to expand the alliance further.
Biden Likely to Work to Restore Strong US-Germany Ties
German Chancellor Angela Merkel enjoyed a far warmer relationship with George W. Bush and Barack Obama than she has with Trump so far, and Biden is likely to restrengthen the ties between Germany and America. He may well reverse Trump’s decision to move US troops out of Berlin as a sign of goodwill toward Merkel.
Despite this, he should insist that NATO states meet their defense bills by 2024, but he will use more carrot than stick to achieve this aim, whereas Trump adopted the opposite approach.
It is safe to conclude that Biden’s rhetoric about NATO will be more positive than Trump’s, but Trump was always right to argue that the alliance’s members must meet their defense targets. It will be interesting to see how the incoming president will communicate this to America’s closest allies, and how he goes about achieving this goal.