Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, editor emeritus of World Policy Journal and member of the board of contributors of USA Today, is the author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.” Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman.
World must help President-elect Trump, writes David A. Andelman
We have a narrow window to avoid catastrophe
The reflexive reaction in a host of Western capitals of the news that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States was panic – a disintegration of the NATO alliance, a pillar of Western security for three quarters of a century; a blanket license to Vladimir Putin to begin reassembling his beloved Soviet Union. And initial events seemed only too calculated to fuel that paranoia.
At 11:30am in Moscow (3:30am EST), barely an hour after the Associated Press flashed the word of Trump’s victory, Vladimir Putin wired his congratulations to the president-elect, urging “a constructive dialogue based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and genuine understanding of each other’s positions.”
Of course, there was just the flash of the sword buried in his conclusion, couched as much as an edict as a plea: “This would be in the interests of both peoples and of the entire international community.” After all, who better to look after these interests than the absolute ruler of Russia?
Not so fast, Mr Putin. Perhaps the whole international community doesn’t share that perspective. Other Western leaders were more circumspect with France’s President Francois Hollande warning of a “period of incertitude.”
The world that is so deeply dependent on the US and its judicious use of its power and glory must come together to help its newest leader understand fully the consequences of the words he has tossed out so cavalierly in the course of his campaign – before they harden into action.
Shaky NATO alliance?
Highest on the agenda for much of Europe, east and west, is the need for NATO leaders to help the president-elect understand the consequences for America’s own immediate security of a shaky Atlantic alliance.
The viability of such an alliance and its willingness to come to the aid of any single member cannot stand on the feeble foundation of the size of a nation’s checkbook.
The guidelines prescribing that a NATO member should commit 2% of its GDP to military spending must not be the basis on which to decide whether it is worthy of American protection, as the president-elect has suggested.
With Putin’s Russia constantly on the hunt, poking at the fringes of the alliance periphery for a vulnerable target, NATO must adhere unflinchingly to the d’Artagnan philosophy of one-for-all-and-all-for-one.
Russia has hardly been reluctant to use any weapon in its arsenal to work its will in what it sees as its increasingly broadening sphere of influence.
Whether it’s ground troops in Georgia or Crimea, cut-off of critical gas supplies to Ukraine or Germany, Putin’s arsenal is broad, deep and adroit. Europe must help make Donald Trump aware of Putin’s iron hand he hides all too often in a velvet glove – a reality that Russia’s neighbors have come to learn only the hard way.
Those nations with the most to fear at the hands of an unrestrained Russia – from Georgia to Ukraine, Latvia to Poland and Germany – need to help Donald Trump understand just what a pact with the devil could mean if Putin believes that a resilient Trump would provide him unrestrained license for new and destabilizing adventures.
Certainly, Putin could be a worthy partner of the United States in seeking resolution of a host of international crises, most immediately attempts to dismember ISIS and restore a measure of humanity to Syria. Trump must understand, however, that Putin is not above using a proffered hand of friendship to win free movement for his self-serving goals in the Middle East.
Iran nuclear deal at stake
But Russia is hardly the only challenge to NATO looming in the early days of the Trump administration.
Europe must urgently help America’s new leader understand the consequences of tearing up the Iranian nuclear accord – a promise that Trump has made on innumerable occasions during the campaign in the belief he can negotiate “a better deal.”
America’s European allies know precisely what went into wringing the existing deal out of an intransigent Iranian clerical government.
It is an agreement that poses a potentially existential threat not only to the United States and Iran, but every nation within potential range of an Iranian nuclear weapon and the reach of nuclear blackmail.
Iran has made it quite clear it has no interest in reopening these fraught talks and that an end to the agreement would mean an immediate dash to build an Iranian bomb – something that intelligence officials are confident could be accomplished in a year.
‘Narrow window to avoid catastrophe’
Of course, the mullahs in Teheran need to understand the consequences of their quietly (or noisily) abandoning any effort at a condominium and embarking on a mad rush toward a bomb.
The world is not about to come tumbling down – not yet. But we have a very narrow window of opportunity if we are to avoid irreversible catastrophe.
At the same, of course, it can hardly be excluded that Donald Trump should be allowed a degree of freedom to grope his own way to an understanding of the stakes involved and the toughness and discipline of those on whom he may be staking America’s security. But a bit of appreciation can go a long way and America’s closest partners must play an important and immediate role.