President Donald Trump visited NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday on the fourth leg of his first trip abroad. It provided a welcome opportunity for the new president to follow all of his predecessors since Truman in affirming the US commitment to the central principle of the alliance — that allies regard an attack against one as an attack against all. Unfortunately, Trump failed to do so.
Earlier this week, I wrote in the Financial Times that I hoped President Trump would make two points when he addressed our allies. First, I thought it was essential to affirm — and to affirm in unconditional terms — America’s commitment to NATO’s Article 5. Allies needed to be reassured on this point, because during the campaign Trump had repeatedly cast doubt on his commitment to this collective defense provision. Aides had indicated he would do so, and since he had already admitted that he believes NATO is “no longer obsolete,” embracing Article 5 fully and unconditionally would be the next, logical step.
On Thursday, however, the president was silent on the issue. Instead, he lectured the assembled allied leaders on defense spending, with no mention of the turnaround in spending that was already underway. Nor a word about his commitment to Article 5. The message was clear: Unless NATO countries pay more for defense, don’t count on the United States to be there.
Second, I had hoped Trump would recognize that many NATO countries see Russia as the greatest threat to their security — and for good reason. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Moscow has launched a series of provocations — massing troops on its western borders, deploying nuclear-capable missiles in range of European capitals, and flying nuclear bombers along the Atlantic coasts of the alliance. Russia has also meddled in elections across Europe. And it isn’t just Europe that sees this threat — so does the US military. “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,” said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2015. “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”
Here, too, President Trump failed to reassure our allies. The president mentioned Russia once, and in passing. The focus of his address was on the threats posed by terrorism and immigration — both real concerns, but for many Europeans less severe than the very real threat posed by a newly aggressive Russia.
In the end, Trump’s first NATO meeting was a missed opportunity to unite the alliance. Instead, the nearly seven-decade-old alliance appears to be more divided today than ever.
Daniel Yergin/Wall Street Journal
Just a few years ago, the price of oil was comfortably above $100 a barrel. Now, due to a surge in supply, not least because of the shale revolution in the United States, that price is unthinkable—short of an international crisis. Energy expert Daniel Yergin explains how producers have now been forced to become much more “efficient, focused and innovative.” Companies that worried about turning a profit if oil dipped below $70 a barrel and now seeing returns at $50 a barrel, and at even less. The resulting recalibration in the market, Yergin explains, is causing all sorts of effects in the industry in terms of labor, supplies and equipment.
Patrick Kingsley/The New York Times
Since the failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan last year, there has been a broad crackdown by the government. Patrick Kingsley has traveled across the country, interviewing those affected, and reports his finding in the New York Times. “Tens of thousands of Turks are now living in this kind of limbo — purged from their jobs and fearful that they might soon be arrested,” Kingsley writes. The piece notes how Erdogan still has many strong supporters, even as the vote granting new powers to his presidency passed with only a slim majority. “Mr. Erdogan’s victory showed how divided his country has become,” Kinsley writes. “Many fear that he will crack down harder than ever in order to maintain control.”
Peggy Noonan/Wall Street Journal
“Everyone, get serious,” writes Penny Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, in a full-throated attack on both sides of the political divide. She begins with the Republicans, who need to tell President Trump, “Stop it. Clean up your act. Shut your mouth. Do your job. Stop tweeting. Stop seething. Stop wasting time.” The circus in Washington must be reined in, she says, but this cannot be done simply by the president firing his current staff. “He is the problem,” Noonan says of Trump. Yet Republicans are not the only ones at fault, Noonan says. She also calls for renewed seriousness from Democrats and progressives, who have too often derived glee from the president’s blunders, even as these blunders harm the nation. “History is going to judge us by how we comported ourselves in this murky time,” she wisely advises.
The New York Times
In another innovative piece of reporting, New York Times reporters take us to the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, which is breaking apart and melting at an alarming rate. While Antarctica’s ice sheets are thousands of miles away from America, they have a direct impact on ocean levels closer to home. “A rapid disintegration of Antarctica might, in the worst case, cause the sea to rise so fast that tens of millions of coastal refugees would have to flee inland, potentially straining societies to the breaking point,” the authors explain. Climate scientists are racing against time to measure and track the ice—and to secure funding to continue to do this important research in Antarctica.
Ivo Daalder/Financial Times
My latest piece in the Financial Times looks at President Trump’s trip to Brussels to address NATO. On the campaign trail and now as president, Trump narrowly focused on the defense spending of alliance members, often finding it sorely lacking. Yet, the value of NATO as a military alliance lies not only, or even primarily, in how much every country spends on defense. Its value lies in the essential commitment each makes to all the others to come to their aid if they are attacked — and to demonstrate that commitment as clearly as possible. From stepping up Baltic air patrols to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, US allies have often and robustly demonstrated their commitment to the alliance in recent years.
Pilita Clark/Financial Times
In this long essay for the Financial Times, Pilita Clark comes down firmly in favor of renewable energy as the next great enterprise. “Wind and solar parks are being built at unprecedented rates, threatening the business models of established power companies,” Clark writes. Touring the world from Chile to Australia, India to China, and Germany to the United States, Clark details the most promising finds in the field of renewable energy. She concludes that the uptick in recent years of solar and wind is substantial, and likely here to stay. “Even leaders in the oil and gas sector have been forced to confront an existential question,” Clark writes, “will the 21st century be the last one for fossil fuels?”
Alan Beattie/Financial Times
The demise of globalization, as well as the international liberal order, has been widely predicted. Populism is surging, we are told. Look no further than the three new books by eminent thinkers reviewed by Alan Beattie in the Financial Times. These books are a representative sample of the “End of Globalization” genre, and make for engaging reading in the sense of the foreboding they stir up. But, Beattie says, the impending demise of globalization has been greatly exaggerated. After casting doubt on many of the authors’ main points made in the books, Beattie concludes that “the urge to construct a narrative of doom risks overstating the case, eliding important details and distinctions and even defining globalization in a misleading way.”
Michael Doran/The New York Times
As a candidate for president, Donald Trump was vague in his plans for the Middle East. Trump’s agenda on the campaign trail, Michael Doran writes in the New York Times, “seemed to begin and end with his vow to ‘bomb the hell’ out of the Islamic State.” Now as president, however, Trump has a rare opportunity to flesh out the plans and pursue a “long-term” and “legacy-cementing” accomplishment in the region. Doran writes that a new doctrine will require Trump to shed strategies of the previous two presidents. For example, Trump should reject the idea forwarded by the Obama administration that defeating ISIS is the “preeminent strategic goal.” After all, the defeat of ISIS in the absence of a stable regional coalition will merely give rise to the next iteration of the terrorist group. “Mr. Trump promised us steely-eyed realism,” Doran writes. “Here’s hoping he delivers on that pledge.”
Americans have largely become accustomed to companies using algorithms to track their media and spending habits in order to influence future purchases. Yet another outfit is keeping tabs on Americans’ likes and dislikes as well: Russian spies. In an alarming essay in TIME, Massimo Calabresi details how Russians are collecting troves of data on Americans. Run through complex algorithms, this data allows Russians to target specific groups and people on social media with disinformation. The purpose is nothing short of building the capacity to manipulate US public opinion. Such cyberpropaganda marks a worrying new capability by Moscow to destabilize the West at a moment’s notice.
Carlos Lozada/Washington Post
When H.R. McMaster was named as President Trump’s national security advisor, he was widely praised as a “soldier-scholar.” The latter part of that description came, in part, from the Ph.D. in American History he earned from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. McMaster’s doctoral dissertation became the 1997 book “Dereliction of Duty,” a strong indictment of Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the run-up to the Vietnam War. The president, Lozada writes of McMaster’s characterization of LBJ, was “obsessed with loyalty, focused on his political fortunes at the expense of the nation’s needs, paranoid about dissent and leaks, and willing to consume the credibility of decorated military officers to cover for his duplicity.” It is impossible, Lozada writes, to read the book today without hearing echoes of the current administration.
Why, exactly, has Russia supported political candidates in other countries? Through overt support, as with Marine Le Pen in France, and through more roundabout ways, as with Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States, Russia has clearly meddled in the electoral affairs of other countries. The answer, Natalia Antonova writes in POLITICO, is as much about Russia’s domestic politics as it is about its foreign ambitions. “Putin is less worried about how the West perceives him than he is about shoring up legitimacy at home,” she writes. Exaggerating for a domestic Russian audience the flaws in European countries helps “Putin paint a picture of a continent overrun with migrants, globalists and all sorts of other terrifying dangers.” The Russian president, Antonova concludes, is driven by opportunism. “He doesn’t create Europe’s problems. He just seeks to capitalize on them,” she writes.
Hal Brands/War on the Rocks
A long weekend ahead for many in the United States deserves a long read. At War on the Rocks, Hal Brands provides a long and worthwhile review of American internationalism over the last 70 years, with a specific focus on internationalism’s resilience in the age of Trump. “In foreign policy, as in so many things, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign represented a frontal assault on the established order,” Brands writes. Yet American foreign policy has always balanced nationalism and internationalism, and that balance has routinely been recalibrated by presidents. What is needed now is a sophisticated approach to the latest calibration, Brands concludes, “not the cartoonish, pre-1941 version that Trump often touted on the road to the White House.”