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The most powerful destabilizing force facing NATO today

Posted December 3, 2019 12:40 a.m. EST

— NATO is having an unhappy birthday.

Champagne corks ought to be popping as leaders of the world's most powerful military alliance meet outside London this week. Founded in 1949 by countries mustering for a fight against Soviet communism, NATO won that victory 30 years ago, when the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded the collapse of the CCCP. It should have all been gravy from there.

But divisions and controversy are now tearing at NATO unity. Turkey is closer than ever to Russia -- the nation that the mutual defense alliance was first set up to counter. French President Emmanuel Macron has declared the "brain death" of the alliance, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — an East German child of the Cold War — responded by giving him a rhetorical clip round the ear.

Normally, the US President might bang heads together. But Donald Trump himself is the most powerful destabilizing force facing NATO today.

It's not just that he berates allies for falling short of defense spending commitments (a fair criticism in many cases), or that he dismisses the threat that many NATO partners still perceive from the Kremlin. It's that Trump sees the historic alliance as a protection racket rather than a multiplier of US global diplomatic and military power. No one knows if he believes in NATO's bedrock principle of mutual self-defense.

NATO is not on life support yet; its institutional foundation is too strong inside US and allied militaries and capitals. But on its 70th birthday, it is soul searching.

'She hasn't had so much fun in 25 years'

This one's a throwback. Trump will be catching up on old times with the UK's Queen Elizabeth II today, as she hosts a reception for NATO leaders at Buckingham Palace. According to the US President, the two get along famously -- despite his controversial July 2018 swerve and halt maneuver in front of the elderly monarch. As a New Yorker, Trump should have known that was a violation of the universal human right to walk in a straight line -- however, royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told CNN that the body block didn't technically infringe on royal protocol.

Dangerous guests

Surely it's not too much to ask.

Boris Johnson just needs his most important visitor this week to be discreet, to come and go with no fuss, and to avoid sticking his nose into Britain's political business. Unfortunately, his guest is Donald Trump.

The US President, who is both immensely unpopular among Britons and a big fan of Johnson, could not be arriving at a worse time for the UK Prime Minister -- just days before a general election.

That tradition where foreign leaders don't interfere in each other's elections that Johnson hopefully referred to the other day? Trump's never heard of it. He's already barged into the campaign, slamming Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and buddying up with Brexit Party boss Nigel Farage — a constant thorn in Johnson's right side.

Trump sees Johnson as a populist-nationalist cousin and will try to accommodate him -- even by keeping his distance this week. But the trip could so easily go pear shaped: Trump always acts in the moment, often without forethought. His temper sometimes betrays his own political best interests. If attacked, he hits back hard, which means that Corbyn -- or another bitter foe, London Mayor Sadiq Khan -- could goad him into an eruption that would be uncomfortable for Johnson. And his foreign policy is always ultimately about satisfying domestic political goals, rather than appeasing his hosts.

Guest or not, Trump will be Trump. Which is why Conservative Party election chiefs can't wait for Air Force One to head home.

'I don't trust anyone at all'

Volodymyr Zelensky sounds like he's at the end of his tether, after being drawn into a US impeachment imbroglio over delayed military aid while his country wars with Russia-backed separatists. "You have to understand. We're at war. If you're our strategic partner, then you can't go blocking anything for us," the Ukrainian President said in an interview with Time magazine, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Gazeta Wyborcza.

Asked whether he trusted Russian President Vladimir Putin as a negotiator, Zelensky responded, "I don't trust anyone at all."

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