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The long shadow of Donald Trump

US President Biden has just pledged unwavering loyalty to his allies in Europe. But will he still be in office in the autumn? Before the start of the NATO anniversary summit in Washington, concerns about Trump's re-election are growing.

Ralf Borchard

Many Europeans felt it was a stroke of luck that Joe Biden was US President when Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine began. Biden reacted immediately, held NATO together, spoke on the phone with the most important heads of state and government, and finally promised Ukraine extensive support. Since then, the US President has repeatedly warned that without decisive resistance, Russia will not stop in Ukraine, Putin will continue and endanger Europe and the USA, indeed the entire free world.

The uncertain variable Trump

Donald Trump is completely different, and is ahead in most polls ahead of the US presidential election in November. Trump not only claims that he can end the Russian war of aggression within 24 hours. He also threatens European allies with an end to NATO's obligation to provide assistance. Trump's principle: a country that spends too little money on defense would no longer be defended by the USA in the event of a Russian attack.

Instead, he would “encourage Russia to do whatever the hell it wants,” Trump said in a campaign speech. Turning to the Europeans, he added: “You have to pay your bills!”

According to Mark Esper, who served as Secretary of Defense under Trump for a year and a half, he would make good on many of his threats in a second term. If Trump returns to office, he will stop US aid to Ukraine, Esper told CNN. That would lead to a collapse of all Western aid, he said. If you take out the largest block by far from a tower of building blocks, everything would collapse.

An end to NATO as we know it?

Donald Trump's threats hang like a dark cloud over the Washington summit. “Article 5 is the cornerstone of NATO,” says Elisabeth Braw of the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. If the USA no longer adhered to the principle that an attack on one NATO country means an attack on all and that we defend ourselves together, the central value of the alliance would be lost, says Braw.

“NATO would simply no longer be the NATO we know,” said Braw. Trump would not even have to announce his withdrawal from the alliance – even a significant reduction in US contributions would hit NATO hard.

All eyes on Biden

What makes the cloud over the Washington summit even darker is the unresolved situation in Joe Biden's Democratic Party. Since the TV debate, which was disastrous for Biden, it is unclear whether the 81-year-old president can remain his party's candidate. Biden is also under special observation at the NATO summit. Every move, every sentence of the US president will be examined with the question: Is Biden still fit enough for the office?

A weakened Joe Biden as host, Trump as an invisible guest in the background – not good conditions for an anniversary summit. Can NATO send a signal of unity and strength on its 75th anniversary? Put together an effective new aid package for Ukraine? Reach agreement on future “burden sharing” – i.e. the question of who pays how much militarily? It will be difficult for NATO's leading power, the USA, to make the Washington summit a success.

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