As the US president arrives in Britain on a working visit, his contempt for European allies poses an increasing threat
Nato summits are generally unremarkable affairs, but this weeks two-day gathering in Brussels will be an exception. European members of the transatlantic alliance are pondering their biggest conundrum since its creation almost 70 years ago: is the US a friend or a foe?
Only 18 months ago, the question would have been dismissed as absurd. But the globally destructive impact of Donald Trumps chaotic presidency has shattered conventional wisdom and left strategic and geopolitical certainties in ruins.
The problem is not only that Trump will again insist on the other 28 Nato members increasing their defence spending, on the specious grounds the US is being ripped off. Its not merely that he has queried the founding treatys article 5 commitment to collective defence, or that he may close US military bases in Germany.
The more fundamental problem is that the US president is questioning the purpose of Nato, despite it having advanced US security and economic interests since 1949, undercut efforts to forge greater European unity that could have challenged US dominance, kept the Soviet Union/Russia at bay, and (mostly) maintained peace in Europe.
Bottom line: Trump simply doesnt buy into, or understand, basic concepts such as collective security, burden-sharing, forward defence and the balance of power. He just doesnt get it.
This myopic, isolationist view, consistent with his America First outlook, reflects Trumps hostility to multilateralism in general. He scorns the UN, and has cut its US funding and boycotted its human rights council in Geneva. He repudiates World Trade Organisation rules, adopting unilateral, protectionist tariffs that spark trade wars and threaten European jobs.
Trump tore up the Paris global climate change treaty, pulled out of the UN-endorsed 2015 Iran nuclear deal so beloved of Europe, and recently urged France to follow Britain in abandoning the EU an organisation he treats with contempt. He singlehandedly wrecked last months G7 summit of leading democracies in Canada, petulantly rejecting its conclusions and insulting his hosts.
More gallingly, Trump treats old friends worse than ostensible enemies, personalising political interactions and resorting to bullying, rudeness and open misogyny. Angela Merkel has been singled out for special abuse. At the G7 meeting, he tossed two Starburst sweets at the Germans chancellor and said: Here, Angela, dont say I never give you anything.