Trump becomes first president to fail to reaffirm U.S. commitment to collective defense in NATO

At the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump pushed aside Duško Marković, the prime minister of Montenegro:


But France’s newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, demonstrated that it is actually possible to make Trump wait his turn and not come first.

 

CNN reports: When President Donald Trump lectured NATO members on their contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance, he demonstrated a lack of understanding about how the group works and potentially alienated the US’ closest allies, analysts said.

The speech comes at a time when Washington’s longstanding partnerships with the UK and Israel have endured friction over intelligence gaffes by the new administration.

“Diplomatically, the speech was inept at best and deliberately insulting at worst,” said Jeff Rathke, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trump’s remarks Thursday, alongside his continued misrepresentation of how the alliance works and his failure to reaffirm US commitment to the group, is likely to further unsettle US allies, sowing doubt about US leadership and possibly making it harder for NATO leaders to convince their people of the need to spend more on defense.

Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO, said that “this was a perfectly scripted event to deliver a very simple message that every president of the United States has delivered at the first possible opportunity, which is that the United States stands firmly behind its commitment to the defense of NATO.”

“We signed a treaty, we uphold it. It was really easy,” Daalder said. “And the fact that he didn’t do it was disturbing and will take a long time to overcome in Europe.”

Trump was making his first visit to the alliance in Brussels, where leaders had carefully scripted his visit, unveiling a memorial to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to mark the only time NATO has invoked Article 5, which holds that all members will defend any one of them that’s attacked.

The NATO-led alliance that came to the United States’ aid in Afghanistan and Iraq sent more than 3,000 soldiers home in body bags.

Against this backdrop, the President accused NATO allies of shortchanging US taxpayers by not meeting the shared target of spending 2% of GDP on defense — a misunderstanding of how the funding system works.

Trump also scored a damaging first, according to Nick Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush, by becoming the first president since the group’s founding to fail to reaffirm the US commitment to collective defense, the principle that glues the alliance together. [Continue reading…]

 

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Montenegro ratifies NATO membership in historic shift to Western alliance

The Guardian reports: Montenegro’s parliament has supported the Balkan country’s membership in Nato in a historic turn toward the west amid protests by Russia and the pro-Russia opposition.

Politicians voted 46-0 to ratify the accession treaty with the western military alliance. They then stood up and applauded the decision.

The parliament has 81 members, but pro-Russia opposition politicians boycotted the session. Several hundred opposition supporters gathered outside the hall before the vote.

Montenegro has a small military of about 2,000 troops, but it is strategically positioned to give Nato full control over the Adriatic Sea. The other Adriatic nations – Albania, Croatia and Italy – are already in the alliance.

Russia has been angered by Nato’s expansion to Montenegro, which is in Moscow’s traditional area of interest. Russia’s foreign ministry denounced the Montenegrin parliament’s ratification of membership on Friday as “a demonstrative act of trampling all democratic norms and principles”. [Continue reading…]

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Erdogan has permanently closed a chapter of Turkey’s modern history

Steven A Cook writes: On Jan. 20, 1921, the Turkish Grand National Assembly passed the Teşkilât-ı Esasîye Kanunu, or the Law on Fundamental Organization. It would be almost three years until Mustafa Kemal — known more commonly as Ataturk, or “Father Turk” — proclaimed the Republic of Turkey, but the legislation was a critical marker of the new order taking shape in Anatolia.

The new country called Turkey, quite unlike the Ottoman Empire, was structured along modern lines. It was to be administered by executive and legislative branches, as well as a Council of Ministers composed of elected representatives of the parliament. What had once been the authority of the sultan, who ruled alone with political and ecclesiastic legitimacy, was placed in the hands of legislators who represented the sovereignty of the people.

More than any other reform, the Law on Fundamental Organization represented a path from dynastic rule to the modern era. And it was this change that was at stake in Turkey’s referendum over the weekend. Much of the attention on Sunday’s vote was focused on the fact that it was a referendum on the power of the Turkish presidency and the polarizing politician who occupies that office, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Yet it was actually much more.

Whether they understood it or not, when Turks voted “Yes”, they were registering their opposition to the Teşkilât-ı Esasîye Kanunu and the version of modernity that Ataturk imagined and represented. Though the opposition is still disputing the final vote tallies, the Turkish public seems to have given Erdogan and the AKP license to reorganize the Turkish state and in the process raze the values on which it was built. Even if they are demoralized in their defeat, Erdogan’s project will arouse significant resistance among the various “No” camps. The predictable result will be the continuation of the purge that has been going on since even before last July’s failed coup including more arrests and the additional delegitimization of Erdogan’s parliamentary opposition. All of this will further destabilize Turkish politics.

Turkey’s Islamists have long venerated the Ottoman period. In doing so, they implicitly expressed thinly veiled contempt for the Turkish Republic. For Necmettin Erbakan, who led the movement from the late 1960s to the emergence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in August 2001, the republic represented cultural abnegation and repressive secularism in service of what he believed was Ataturk’s misbegotten ideas that the country could be made Western and the West would accept it. Rather, he saw Turkey’s natural place not at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels but as a leader of the Muslim world, whose partners should be Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt, Iran, and Indonesia.

When Erbakan’s protégés — among them Erdogan and former President Abdullah Gul — broke with him and created the AKP, they jettisoned the anti-Western rhetoric of the old guard, committed themselves to advancing Turkey’s European Union candidacy, and consciously crafted an image of themselves as the Muslim analogues to Europe’s Christian Democrats. Even so, they retained traditional Islamist ideas about the role of Turkey in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

Thinkers within the AKP — notably former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu — harbored reservations about the compatibility of Western political and social institutions with their predominantly Muslim society. But the AKP leadership never acted upon this idea, choosing instead to undermine aspects of Ataturk’s legacy within the framework of the republic. That is no longer the case.

The AKP and supporters of the “yes” vote argue that the criticism of the constitutional amendments was unfair. They point out that the changes do not undermine a popularly elected parliament and president as well as an independent (at least formally) judiciary. This is all true, but it is also an exceedingly narrow description of the political system that Erdogan envisions. Rather, the powers that would be afforded to the executive presidency are vast, including the ability to appoint judges without input from parliament, issue decrees with the force of law, and dissolve parliament. The president would also have the sole prerogative over all senior appointments in the bureaucracy and exercise exclusive control of the armed forces. The amendments obviate the need for the post of prime minister, which would be abolished. The Grand National Assembly does retain some oversight and legislative powers, but if the president and the majority are from the same political party, the power of the presidency will be unconstrained. With massive imbalances and virtually no checks on the head of state, who will now also be the head of government, the constitutional amendments render the Law on Fundamental Organization and all subsequent efforts to emulate the organizational principles of a modern state moot. It turns out that Erdogan, who would wield power not vested in Turkish leaders since the sultans, is actually a neo-Ottoman. [Continue reading…]

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Estonia: The little spycatcher who could

Michael Weiss writes: Estonia regained its independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and had no time at all to reconstitute its security services from scratch; it took a calculated gamble that grandfathering in many old hands from the ancien régime, the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, wouldn’t result in Swiss cheesing its service with loyalists to the former occupying superpower.

One such transitional figure, a former KGB colonel named Herman Simm, who reinvented himself as a champion of Estonian self-determination, worked his way up to the head of security at the Estonian Defense Ministry. In 2004, when the country joined NATO, Simm established the National Security Authority, a department in the Defense Ministry which gave him access to whatever classified intelligence was shared among the then 26 allied countries. Two years later, Simm was awarded two medals: one from Estonia’s president for “service to the Estonian nation,” and the other from his Russian handler announcing Simm’s promotion to the rank of major-general in the SVR, the branch of Moscow’s own reconstituted KGB in charge of foreign intelligence.

Simm had been a spy who fed reams of sensitive NATO secrets back to Moscow Center. Funnily enough, the one secret that he kept being asked to uncover was the one he was unable to because it didn’t exist: NATO’s invasion plan for Russia.

He was finally arrested in 2008, a year after Russian cyber hackers shut down Estonia’s e-government and digital banking sector for the better part of 24 hours in retaliation for the relocation of a Red Army World War II monument, which precipitated drunken riots in central Tallinn.

NATO subsequently named Simm the “most damaging” foreign operative in Alliance history. It was a grave national embarrassment for a new member-state that had sought membership to protect itself from exactly this type of Kremlin subversion and interference but which had hitherto spent the bulk of the ’90s and early aughts trying to root out the seemingly more urgent threats of gangsterism and organized crime—much of that also emanating from its eastern neighbor. [Continue reading…]

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This is how the next world war starts

David Wood writes: Several times a week, a U.S. Air Force pilot takes off from the Royal Air Force base in Mildenhall, England, and heads for the northernmost edge of NATO territory to gather intelligence on Russia. One of these pilots is 40-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Webster, a veteran of many such expeditions and a hard guy to rattle. On a typical flight, his four-engine, silver and white RC-135 jet will rise gracefully over the old World War II bomber bases in East Anglia. It then flies over the North Sea and Denmark, taking care to remain within international airspace. When Webster reaches the Baltic Sea, the surveillance operation begins in earnest. Behind the cockpit, the fuselage of his plane is crammed with electronic equipment manned by some two dozen intelligence officers and analysts. They sit in swivel chairs, monitoring emissions, radar data and military communications harvested from below that appear on their computer screens or stream through their headphones. Inside the plane, it is chilly. The air smells faintly of jet fuel, rubber and warm wiring. The soft blue carpet helps absorb the distant thrum of the engines, and so it is also surprisingly quiet—at least until the Russians show up.

As the Polish coast fades into the distance, Webster may swing left to avoid passing directly over the heavily armed Russian base at Kaliningrad. This is where, without warning, a Russian SU-27 fighter may materialize as if out of nowhere, right outside the cockpit window, flying so close that Webster can make out the tail markings. No matter how often this happens—and lately, it has been happening a lot—these encounters always give Webster a jolt. For one thing, he and his crew can’t see the planes coming. Although his jet is carrying millions of dollars worth of the most sophisticated listening devices available to man, it lacks a simple radar to spot an incoming plane. So the only way Webster can find out what the Russian jet is doing—how close it’s flying, whether it’s making any sudden moves—is to dispatch a junior airman to crouch on the floor and peer through one of the 135’s three fuselage windows, each the size of a cereal box and inconveniently placed just below knee level.

In normal times, being intercepted isn’t a cause for concern. Russian jets routinely shadow American jets over the Baltic Sea and elsewhere. Americans routinely intercept Russian aircraft along the Alaskan and California coasts. The idea is to identify the plane and perhaps to signal, “You keep an eye on us, we keep an eye on you.” These, however, are far from normal times. Every few weeks, a Russian pilot will get aggressive. Instead of closing in on the RC-135 at around 30 miles per hour and skulking off its wing for a while, a fighter jet will careen directly toward the American plane at 150 miles per hour or more before abruptly going nose-up to bleed off airspeed and avoid a collision. Or it might perform the dreaded “barrel roll”—a hair-raising maneuver in which the Russian jet makes a 360-degree orbit around the 135’s midsection while the two aircraft hurtle along at 400 miles per hour. When this happens, there is only one thing the U.S. pilot can do: pucker up, fly straight and hope his Russian counterpart doesn’t smash into him. “One false move and you may have a half second to react,” one RC-135 pilot told me.

By now, it is widely recognized that Russia is waging a campaign of covert political manipulation across the United States, Europe and the Middle East, fueling fears of a second Cold War. But it’s less understood that in international airspace and waters, Russia and the U.S. are brushing up against each other in perilous ways with alarming frequency. This problem, which began not long after Russia’s seizure of the Crimea in 2014, has accelerated rapidly in the past year. In 2015, according to its air command headquarters, NATO scrambled jets more than 400 times to intercept Russian military aircraft that were flying without having broadcast their required identification code or having filed a flight plan. In 2016, that number had leapt to 780—an average of more than two intercepts a day. There has been a similar increase in Russian jets intercepting US or NATO aircraft, as well as a significant uptick in incidents at sea in which Russian jets run mock attacks against American warships. [Continue reading…]

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Russia backs Afghan Taliban demand to withdraw foreign troops

Bloomberg reports: Russia said it supports the Taliban’s demand for foreign troops to leave Afghanistan as it criticized agreements that allow U.S. and NATO forces to remain for the long term in the war-torn country.

“Of course it’s justified” for the Taliban to oppose the foreign military presence, President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said in an interview in Moscow. “Who’s in favor? Name me one neighboring state that supports it.”

Russia and the U.S. are increasingly at odds over Afghanistan. Officials in Moscow disclosed at the end of last year that they’ve been having contacts with the fundamentalist Islamic movement that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, when it was overthrown in a U.S.-led invasion to destroy terrorist training camps run by Osama Bin Laden. U.S. generals say Russia may be supplying weapons to the Taliban, which is waging an expanding insurgency against the pro-Western Afghan government. Moscow denies the allegation. [Continue reading…]

The Hill reports: The relationship between the U.S. and Russia may be more antagonistic now than it was during the decades-long Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top spokesman said Friday.

Asked by ABC’s “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos if the U.S. and Russia were in a “new Cold War,” Dmitry Peskov said the current situation may be worse, blaming the U.S. for disintegrating cooperation between the two countries.

“New Cold War? Well, maybe even worse. Maybe even worse, taking into account actions of the present presidential administration in Washington,” Peskov told Stephanopoulos. [Continue reading…]

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Trump may really not know how NATO works

Ishaan Tharoor writes: More than two months into his tenure in office, Trump still doesn’t seem to understand how NATO works.

Trump’s ambivalence about the West’s preeminent military alliance is well known. Before entering the White House, he declared NATO “obsolete” and cast doubt on U.S. military commitments to its traditional partners in Europe.

In the interview with [Time magazine’s Michael] Scherer, Trump first insisted the alliance “doesn’t cover terrorism,” then took credit for having “fixed that.” This is false on both counts. Ever since the attacks on 9/11, counterterrorism operations have been NATO’s main preoccupation. The deployment of coalition forces to Afghanistan was the largest military mission in NATO’s history. The alliance had a counterterrorism desk decades before Trump started grumbling. [Continue reading…]

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Russia, an alleged coup and Montenegro’s bid for NATO membership

By Vesko Garcevic, Boston University

Testifying before a congressional committee, FBI Director James Comey has confirmed that his agency is investigating links between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia. The Conversation

While this investigation continues, Americans should be reminded of the signs of Russian interference in democratic processes outside the U.S. – specifically, in the Balkans.

Small but strategic

Recently, British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed concern over Moscow’s apparent involvement in an attempted coup in my home country.

From 2010 to 2015, I was the ambassador to NATO from Montenegro, a young democracy in southeast Europe that is part of the former Yugoslavia. Montenegro was targeted by an apparent coup attempt during its last parliamentary election on Oct. 16, 2016. While Russia has denied involvement, details of the plot shared by a Serbian man arrested at the scene point to what The New York Times called “Russian efforts to sow mayhem.”

Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor has alleged the involvement of two Russian Military Intelligence Service (GRU) agents, Vladimir Popov and Eduard Shirokov. The GRU is the same organization sanctioned by the Obama administration for hacking the Democratic National Committee offices. Shirolov, who has also gone by the name Shishmakov, was posted as the assistant military attache at the Russian Embassy in Poland until 2014 – when Poland threw him out of the country for spying.

[Read more…]

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Germany rejects Trump’s claim it owes NATO and U.S. ‘vast sums’ for defense

The New York Times reports: President Trump criticized Germany on Saturday for paying too little to both NATO and the United States for security support, a day after he held a chilly meeting at the White House with Chancellor Angela Merkel that showcased the two leaders’ disagreements.

“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” Mr. Trump wrote in a post on Twitter as he began his weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

“Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” he continued.

The message was misleading because no nation actually “owes” money to NATO; its direct funding is calculated through a formula and paid by each of the 28 nations that are members.

Mr. Trump may have been referring to the fact that Germany, like most NATO countries, falls short of the alliance’s guideline that each member should allocate 2 percent of its gross domestic product to military spending, but that money is not intended to be paid to NATO or to the United States. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim that Germany owes NATO and the United States “vast sums” of money for defense.

“There is no debt account at NATO,” von der Leyen said in a statement, adding that it was wrong to link the alliance’s target for members to spend 2 percent of their economic output on defense by 2024 solely to NATO.

“Defense spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism,” von der Leyen said.

She said everyone wanted the burden to be shared fairly and for that to happen it was necessary to have a “modern security concept” that included a modern NATO but also a European defense union and investment in the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

The way Trump talks about NATO suggests he has the wrong model in his mind. He seems to view the international organization as an American-run club who members pay fees in order to enjoy services provided by the U.S., but it doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps Trump’s suspicions about getting “ripped off” are further reinforced by the fact that this club (for which the U.S. in reality only pays 22% of the organizational operating costs) is based in Brussels and led by a Norwegian.

For more details on NATO funding, it’s worth reading NATO’s own explanation. If Trump had the slightest interest in educating himself — he clearly doesn’t — he could learn a lot simply by reallocating 30 minutes of his time away from Fox News to Nato.int. On funding, the site even includes a Trump-friendly summary of “highlights” reduced to six bullet points.

(Just in case Trump and the other conspiracy theorists in the White House are perplexed by NATO’s logo which shows “NATO” and beneath that those letters in reverse, OTAN is not a secret code — it stands for Organisation du Traité de l’Atlantique Nord (NATO in French).)

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John McCain: Rand Paul ‘is now working for Vladimir Putin’

The Daily Beast reports: The long-simmering war between Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul boiled over on Wednesday when the Arizona lawmaker directly accused his colleague of working for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While speaking from the Senate floor in support of a bill advancing Montenegro’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), McCain noted objection from his Kentucky colleague, saying that if you oppose the measure, “You are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin… trying to dismember this small country which has already been the subject an attempted coup.”

McCain continued: “If they object, they are now carrying out the desires and ambitions of Vladimir Putin and I do not say that lightly.”

Several moments later, after the 80-year-old senator asked for unanimous consent to move the bill forward, Paul took the mic to raise his objection before dramatically exiting the room.

In response, McCain began railing against Paul, his voice trembling with anger: “I note the senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without justification or any rationale for the action he has just taken. That is really remarkable, that a senator blocking a treaty that is supported by the overwhelming number—perhaps 98, at least, of his colleagues—would come to the floor and object and walk away.”

He then directly connected Paul to the Russian government: “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians.

“So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” [Continue reading…]

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New evidence links the Kremlin to efforts to destabilize Montenegro and slow its path to NATO

John R. Schindler writes: For Vladimir Putin, NATO expansion is a major bugbear and any chance Russia gets to thwart further expansion of the Atlantic Alliance is an opportunity not to be missed. Not to mention that the breakup of Yugoslavia — which the Russian leader has repeatedly held up as an example of what Western governments do to smaller Slavic states — is viewed with shame in the Kremlin. Here, too, Putin wants payback.

Just how serious Moscow is about Montenegro was revealed in a sinister plot that was unmasked last fall, shortly before its execution. In mid-October, Montenegrin authorities arrested some 20 people, most of them citizens of neighboring Serbia, for conspiring to overthrow the government in Podgorica and assassinate Prime Minister Milo Djukanović, the wily politician who ruled Montenegro from 1991 until 2016. Soon it emerged that the plot ringleaders were two Russian nationalists. While Montenegrin officials were careful not to point fingers directly at the Kremlin, questions lingered about what really happened.

The two Russians were quickly expelled from the country. That several of the Serbs and Montenegrins who were arrested for their role in the plot had served with Russian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine — where Moscow’s proxy war has included the use of foreign mercenaries, including Slavic nationalists from Eastern Europe — appeared to be more than a coincidence. Security services in the Balkans and beyond suspected that Russian intelligence was the hidden hand behind the plot, which seemed plausible given the large amounts of cash and the late-model communications gear found in the possession of the coup plotters.

That said, hard evidence of Moscow’s role didn’t appear immediately. While the Kremlin unquestionably wanted to dissuade Montenegro from joining NATO, assaulting the parliament in Podgorica and assassinating the prime minister to install a pro-Russian government seemed like outrageous behavior, even for Putin’s Kremlin — which is hardly squeamish about employing what Russian spies term wetwork against their enemies abroad.

Now, however, there is solid evidence that the Kremlin was directly behind the plot against Montenegro. [Continue reading…]

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Russia plotted to overthrow Montenegro’s government by assassinating PM Djukanovic last year, according to senior British govt. sources

The Telegraph reports: Russia plotted to assassinate the prime minister of a European nation and overthrow its government last year, according to senior Whitehall sources.

An election day coup plot to attack Montenegro’s parliament and kill the pro-Western leader was directed by Russian intelligence officers with the support and blessing of Moscow, to sabotage the country’s plan to join Nato.

The plot was foiled only hours before it was due to be carried out, but would have caused heavy bloodshed and plunged the tiny country into turmoil on the eve of becoming Nato’s 29th member.

The allegation came as Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, criticised Nato as a “Cold War institution” whose expansion had led to unprecedented tensions in Europe over the past 30 years.

The planned Montenegro coup, scheduled for Oct 16 last year, was one of the most blatant recent examples of an increasingly aggressive campaign of interference in Western affairs, Whitehall sources told the Telegraph.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, are understood to have discussed the issue last week at their first face-to-face meeting. [Continue reading…]

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John McCain on the survival of the West

 

Many of those of us who have an interest in and experience of living in non-Western cultures have a distaste for what can sound like sanctimonious and domineering claims about Western superiority.

What is superior about a civilization that built its strength through subjugating others? The failings of the West are easy enough to discern from a passing glance over world history.

Nevertheless, the value of open societies is currently being undermined from within, not by people who are promoting better alternatives but on the contrary mostly by those whose cynicism has festered deep within the only societies they have ever known.

To be concerned about the future of Western democracies does not require overlooking their failings but simply recognizing that if they fail, what will follow will without doubt be much worse.

This isn’t a matter of conjecture. Look at the Middle East and the effects of the withdrawal of American power. This hasn’t opened the doors to self-determination. It has instead led to an ongoing and very bloody power struggle between competing autocratic powers.

What the retreat of the West facilitates both outside and inside the West is the rise of nationalism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia.

When Western power can be superseded by something better — something that better reflects global diversity — then it will indeed be time to dispense with the very concept of the West. But we haven’t got anywhere close to arriving at that point in history.

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Why Sweden is so worried about the Trump administration

Anne Applebaum writes: A winter evening in Stockholm, lights glinting in the harbor, snow falling outside. “And what about us,” I am asked, “up here in the North? What happens to us?” My Swedish companions are journalists, analysts and civil servants, people who care about their country’s national security. Though neither elite nor wealthy, they do share a worldview. They think their country’s prosperity depends on the European Union and its open markets. They also think their safety depends on the United States’ commitment to Europe. And since President Trump took office, they suddenly find themselves staring into an unfathomable abyss.

It’s not party politics that bother them: These are conservatives, by Swedish standards, and Republican presidents have suited them in the past. Trump’s tweeting and bragging don’t bother them that much either, though they find these unseemly. The real problem is deeper: Sweden’s economic and political model depends on Pax Americana, the set of American-written and American-backed rules that have governed transatlantic commerce and politics for 70 years — and they fear Trump will bring Pax Americana crashing down. Nor are they alone: Variations of this conversation are taking place in every European capital and many Asian capitals too.

The Swedes do have specific, parochial concerns, and one of them is Russia. For the past several years, Russia has played games with their air force and navy, buzzing Swedish air space and sending submarines along the coast. Jittery Swedes have brought back civil defense drills, and until November, it looked as though other changes were coming. Once, Swedish neutrality was a useful fiction, both for them and for the United States, because it gave Sweden a role as a negotiator. Now, Swedish support for joining NATO is at an all-time high. But they seem to be late to the party. If the U.S. president feels lukewarm about NATO, then what is the point? [Continue reading…]

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Even as Trump seeks warmer ties with Russia, U.S. deploys troops across Eastern Europe

The Washington Post reports: On a snowy field in southwest Poland, U.S. tanks and troops gathered on Monday to defend against a resurgent Russia that President Trump wants to befriend.

The major new deployments of tanks and other heavy equipment will fan out to nations on the Russian frontier this week, part of the largest infusion of U.S. troops to Europe since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. But the long-planned effort comes at the most unsettled time for U.S.-European relations since World War II, with Trump questioning old alliances and seeking to build bridges to the Kremlin.

When President Barack Obama committed the troops, about 3,500 in all, to Europe last February, then followed up with additional commitments to NATO over the summer, they were a bipartisan expression of support for U.S. allies at a moment of heightened fear about Russia.

Now, however, they are coming despite the White House, not because of it. Eastern European ­nations say they fully trust Washington’s commitments — but the jubilation of the summer has been replaced by concern over Trump’s overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin. NATO leaders acknowledge that the alliance will be rocked if Trump abandons the troop deployments.

The uncertainty has led to an unusual gap between Trump’s rhetoric and that of nearly the entire military establishment underneath him. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s relations with Putin warm unlike those with European leaders

The New York Times reports: President Trump began a new era of diplomacy with Russia on Saturday as he and President Vladimir V. Putin conducted an hourlong telephone call, and vowed to repair relations between the countries after nearly three years of conflict that threatened a new Cold War between East and West.

The two leaders discussed fighting terrorism and expanding economic ties, but barely mentioned the wedge that has been driven between Washington and Moscow since Russia annexed Crimea and sponsored a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Still, although Mr. Trump had previously expressed a willingness to lift sanctions against Russia, the issue did not come up, according to officials on both sides.

The tone of the conversation was reported to be warm, indicating a drastic shift after relations had broken down between Mr. Putin and former President Barack Obama. “The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” the Trump administration said in a statement. “Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call, the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”

In its statement, the Kremlin said: “Donald Trump asked to convey a desire for happiness and prosperity for the Russian people, noting that the people in America relate with sympathy to Russia and its citizens.” Mr. Putin answered that Russians feel the same way about Americans, the statement said. Neither side mentioned the Russian hacking of the American election in their statements.

Over the past two days, Mr. Trump has also had a series of conversations with the United States’ traditional European allies, but those calls were seemingly not as congenial. After a meeting on Friday with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, in which she warned against removing sanctions on Russia, Mr. Trump had on Saturday what appeared to be a businesslike call with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and a testier call with President François Hollande of France.

Mr. Hollande’s office said the French president pressed Mr. Trump not to lift sanctions against Russia and to respect the nuclear agreement with Iran. He asserted the importance of the Paris climate change pact, warned of the consequences of protectionism, and added that democratic values included welcoming refugees — all in reaction to Mr. Trump’s first week of policy moves. Mr. Hollande also emphasized the importance of NATO and the United Nations, both of which Mr. Trump has disparaged. [Continue reading…]

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NATO has our ‘unshakeable commitment’, U.S. defence secretary Mattis vows

The Guardian reports: James Mattis, the new US defence secretary, has reassured his British counterpart that Washington has an “unshakeable commitment” to Nato, despite Donald Trump previously casting the military alliance as obsolete.

During a phone call with Michael Fallon on his first full day in office, Mattis “emphasized the United States’ unshakeable commitment to Nato”, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Ahead of his inauguration, Trump told two European newspapers he had long warned that Nato had “problems.” [Continue reading…]

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