Donald Trump has been irritating the US's NATO partners. Germany's defense minister went to Washington to meet with her counterpart, but the US's commitment to the alliance remains unsure, DW's Miodrag Soric writes.
Where is the United States heading? This is the key question on the minds of the European politicians who have visited Washington in recent days and weeks, including the German defense minister,Ursula von der Leyen, who met her US counterpart, James Mattis, at the Pentagon on Friday. Neither of them seems keen to let the political gulf between the European Union and the US widen following Donald Trump's election. They emphasized the policy issues that they have in common: the importance of NATO, the war on terror, the relationship with Russia, cybersecurity.
Not even someone like Mattis can openly contradict a president who describes NATO as "obsolete" one day and "important" the next or declares that he does not want to let people from certain Muslim states travel to the US anymore. Even in this administration, the boss is always right.
There are two opposing, competing poles in Trump's cabinet. Mattis and the new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, are on one side; they want to continue with current US policy. On the other side are those planning a radical change: The president's chief adviser, Steve Bannon, and national security adviser, Michael Flynn, are calling for a better relationship with Russia so that the countries can work together to defeat the "Islamic State" (IS).
The rivalry between the two camps is intentional: It gives Trump more scope for decision-making. However, as a result, cabinet colleagues and European allies are also left in the dark as to what he is really planning. The president is keeping all his options open.
Money for defense
By not showing his cards, Trump is putting pressure on US allies to increase their defense spending. The United States has been demanding this of European nations for years, but with limited success. Trump wants to see more commitment from allies - and rightly so. Why should US taxpayers fund 72 percent of NATO's budget in the long term while those of all European members combined pay for the remainder? Not even Germany, one of the world's leading exporters, has a good answer for this.
But Germany's government must also ask itself whether it can rely on guarantees of security from a US president who says one thing today and another tomorrow. What if Trump really is counting on the Kremlin to be his partner in the fight against IS? The new man in the White House thinks pragmatically; he believes he is pursuing US interests in a fast-changing world.
Germany and other members should do the same: putEurope's interests at the heart of their policy. And that means more money for defense.
Show of strength
Much closer cooperation is required between European members. Then, whether President Trump decides for or against NATO, Germany and other European members would ultimately be better off, as they would carry more weight in issues of defense policy. Strength is a language that Trump, too, understands and respects.
A stronger Europe would ultimately impress Moscow, as well. Until now, Russian President Vladimir Putin has only taken the European Union seriously on economic issues. When it comes to global security, he calls the White House.
If NATO wants to continue to exist and remain relevant, Germany must be prepared to pay for this - and so must the other European members.
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