NATO general: Trump not serious about abandoning treaty

Rob Gillies
Associated Press

Toronto — A top NATO general said Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump’s suggestion that the United States might abandon its NATO treaty commitments is not serious because the treaty is so binding and important to America and its allies that no president “would dare” change it.

Czech Army Gen. Petr Pavel said Wednesday that NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause is quite clear and NATO will come to the defense, unconditionally, of any fellow member who is attacked.

Pavel, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, made the remarks to The Associated Press ahead of this weekend’s Halifax International Security Forum — the first major national security conference since Trump’s election.

Trump’s mere musing during the presidential campaign that he would review allies’ financial contributions — in this case contributions owed by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — before acting under NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause if they were attacked by Russia could rock the foundations of the security architecture that has underpinned European stability since the end of World War II. Trump has also called NATO “obsolete” and a bad deal for America.

“The continuity of the trans-Atlantic relationship, spanning almost 70 years, is simply so binding that no American president would dare be able to change it, and even not willing, because we understand on sides on both sides of the Atlantic that NATO is as important to European allies as it is to North America and we have a treaty that is binding to all of us,” Pavel said.

“I really think that there is no serious threat there to challenging the principles of NATO.”

U.S. administrations have complained, often bitterly, that many NATO members are not footing their share of the alliance’s bills. The U.S. accounts for more than 70 percent of all NATO defense spending. Only four other allies — Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland — meet the minimum 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense that NATO requires. But Trump’s floating the idea that that spending target would be a prerequisite for the U.S. to defend them is an abrupt break for the most powerful member of NATO, which styles itself as the most successful military alliance in world history.

“Article 5 is quite clear,” Pavel said. “I believe this commitment will be met whatever the situation. I also believe that it is necessary that all European allies do their best to meet their commitments.”

Pavel said it is “absolutely justified” that pressure will be stepped up on members to meet their obligations and said the U.S. is carrying too much of the burden but he took issue with Trump slagging NATO. “I would absolutely not call NATO obsolete. NATO is relevant as ever,” he said.

Pavel said Russia is pursing political objectives through military force and that’s unacceptable in the 21st century.

“We are witnesses to the first illegal change of boundaries since the second World War by force,” he said in reference to Crimea.

Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 from Ukraine following a hastily called referendum, a move that led to crippling Western sanctions. A separatist insurgency also erupted in eastern Ukraine the following month, backed by Russia.

Pavel said he hopes Trump will moderate his remarks now that he’s the president elect.

In its eighth year, the Halifax International Security forum attracts top defense and security officials from Western democracies. About 300 people gather each year in an intimate setting at Halifax’s Westin hotel. Robert Work, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense and Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the U.S. National Security Agency, are among the speakers as are Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as well as Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. Kaine will be honored at a gala dinner on Friday night for leading the Democratic delegation to the forum for the fourth year, a tribute the forum decided to give him before he was named Hillary Clinton’s running mate.

“Issues and conversations related to Mr. Trump’s election are going to be happening the whole weekend,” Forum President Peter Van Praagh said.