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Trump, NATO, and American global leadership

The remarks made by Trump, who is widely expected to run for president as the Republican Party candidate, regarding NATO once again underscored how fragile America's claim to global leadership is. Trump threatened to pressure certain NATO member countries to increase their military spending or face consequences. By stating that Russia could do whatever it wants with these countries, Trump escalated his anti-NATO rhetoric to new heights during his presidency. Trump's longstanding questioning of the concept of collective defense by the United States and his failure to protect a NATO member country practically spells the end of this military alliance. The loss of the deterrent effect of NATO's Article 5-based collective defense concept would not only undermine the alliance's guarantees but also signify the end of America's leadership within the Western alliance. As America engages in a global power struggle with Russia and China, it will become increasingly difficult for the country to conduct this struggle within the Western alliance without establishing unity.


During Trump's presidency, his policies of both questioning and terminating international alliances and agreements resulted in American foreign policy moving in a unilateral direction. As a manifestation of the discomfort with the binding effect of international agreements, Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and renegotiated NAFTA. Trump's skepticism towards the NATO alliance, along with his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, furthered this unilateral approach. While this policy strengthened the argument that America would not adhere to agreements, it also reflected Trump's desire to gain political credit by achieving these agreements through his own efforts. Ultimately, this policy, which reinforced the notion that America would not adhere to agreements, prompted many countries to wait out the Trump era and spurred others to embark on new initiatives.


Trump, who could not accept that the United States, the leader that established the NATO alliance, also bore the financial burden, argued that Europeans should provide more funding to reduce America's "burden." While Trump partially succeeded in pressuring NATO countries to fulfill the 2% defense spending commitment, his mentioning of the United States leaving NATO in private meetings exacerbated distrust in American leadership. As a result, discussions began on Europe's ability to defend itself without America. Leaders like French President Macron, who stated that NATO was weak in terms of these new initiatives, did not succeed in pleasing Trump beyond trying to keep him satisfied. Trump openly expressed his dislike for German Chancellor Merkel, causing turmoil within the alliance.


Biden, who objected to Trump's unilateral approach by defining American leadership as being part of a multilateral foreign policy with the Western alliance and maintaining a rules-based international system, attempted to revive international alliances like NATO and return to international agreements. While Biden was largely successful in revitalizing NATO, largely due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he failed to persuade the American public to commit to global leadership. The American public, who have long been unhappy with the costs of global leadership, do not want to pay the price. Furthermore, the narrative of a "rules-based international system" frequently emphasized by the Biden administration has not prevented its erosion. We saw the clearest example of this after the ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Israel in Gaza following October 7. The Biden administration not only turned a blind eye to Israel's disregard for international rules and norms but also actively supported it. The failure of the Biden administration to lead international efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue and hinder efforts in that direction highlights the deterioration of America's claim to global leadership.


Biden, who sees American leadership as part of a multilateral foreign policy with the Western alliance and maintains a rules-based international system, will compete against Trump, who defines American leadership through unilateral policies and prioritizes America as the primary country. We know that the American public has long been dissatisfied with the cost of global leadership. One reason why the aid to Ukraine from Congress has not yet been granted is this. On the other hand, there is a significant portion of the public that believes in maintaining America's global superiority and that this can be achieved through economic superiority rather than military means. Regardless of who emerges victorious in the November elections, establishing America's claim to global leadership will not be easy.


If Trump wins, many countries, including those in the Western alliance, will strengthen their pursuit of independent foreign policies from America. If Biden wins again, these countries will demand that America fulfill the requirements of its global leadership. One of the biggest obstacles to Washington strengthening the international system will be its insistence on Israel's privileged position despite committing war crimes. Trump's victory may mean that America will abandon its claim to global leadership. If Biden wins, it means that the claim to global leadership will continue, but there is no guarantee that it will be fulfilled, as the Biden administration does not seem willing to bear the political cost of convincing the American public of global leadership. The outcome of the November elections will either mean giving up on the claim to global leadership or continuing it in a slow and difficult manner.

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