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Why John Bolton Is Certain Trump Really Wants to Blow Up NATO

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The hawkish former national security adviser on Trump’s real plans.

So you don’t think Trump would stop threatening allies if they just met the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense?

For many of these allies — take Germany in particular — it’s not just saying, “OK, well, we’ll start spending more on defense.” The commitment that all this turns on — at the NATO summit at Cardiff, Wales, in 2014 — was that over a 10-year period, all NATO members would end up spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product or more on defense, and that hasn’t happened. Spending has increased in recent years. And a good part of the reason for that is Trump.

But again, looking at Germany, the second-biggest economy in NATO — it is still clobbering along at 1.2, 1.3 percent, somewhere in there. What Trump says is, Look, number one, Europeans pay billions of dollars to Russia each year for natural gas. Number two, he says, the Europeans screw us in trade negotiations. And then number three, they don’t spend enough to meet their NATO commitments. So even if people started increasing on that, I don’t think that would change his mind.

Congress has enacted new restrictions that could limit a president’s ability to leave NATO. Would that tie Trump’s hands?

Well, it’s never been definitively adjudicated, whether a president can unilaterally withdraw from the treaty, but it has happened repeatedly throughout American history. I myself have participated in several examples: George W. Bush withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Trump withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and from the Open Skies treaty with Russia. Congress doesn’t like it, but I think the constitutional logic is, it’s entirely in the president’s hands. So this statute won’t restrain him.

I think if it were tested in court, it would be declared unconstitutional. But even if I’m totally wrong, and Trump announces that he’s withdrawing from NATO, somebody sues under that statute, and you litigate it for two or three years — imagine the damage that’s done to NATO, while Trump is openly attacking it.

What are the implications that would come with Trump pulling the U.S. out of NATO? What would that mean for the country and the world?

It would mean the end of NATO. We are the leader of NATO, and what would survive would be remnants of some European Union kind of structure, but it would have implications beyond Europe and North America. I think it would be catastrophic for U.S. credibility around the world. If we’re willing to throw NATO over the side, there is no American alliance that is secure. A lot of people, for instance, say Trump would be so much better for Israel than Biden has been. Well, if Trump is willing to knife NATO, what makes anybody think he wouldn’t knife Israel if it suited his purposes?