News & Politics

Trump Lets Germany Have It with Both Barrels

President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

The inscription on the Great Seal of the United States reads “Novus ordo seclorum,” translated sometimes as “A New Age Now Begins.” Judging by this interview Donald Trump gave the German daily Bild, that adage will almost certainly take on a new meaning as Donald Trump reshapes the world.

Trump sounds like he wants to upend more than 70 years of post-World War II U.S. foreign policy. What he might replace it with is so far unknown. But you can bet that after reading what Trump had to say about Europe, about NATO, and about Germany, the lights will be burning late all across the continent as governments look to adjust to the new American reality.


U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations.

Quoted in German from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent whether the EU breaks up or stays together, according to Bild.

Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he will stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world. On Russia, he suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.”

“It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump was quoted as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

While those comments expanded on doubts Trump raised about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.”

In contrast, Trump praised Britons for voting last year to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders to come in and “destroy it.” The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Bild cited Trump as saying.

“If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he was quoted as saying.

While Trump blamed Brexit on an influx of refugees he said that Britain was forced to accept, the U.K.’s number of asylum applications in 2015 was a fraction of the 890,000 refugees who arrived in Germany that year at the peak of Europe’s migrant crisis.

NATO has been an alliance looking for a reason to exist for a couple of decades. Its uneven performance in Afghanistan (only four NATO countries contributed combat troops) showed that as a military alliance, it needs an upgrade. It is heavily dependent on American troops and equipment and Trump isn’t the only politician who has called into question its continued existence.

A newly aggressive Russia poses a threat to the smaller nations of eastern Europe but wouldn’t be much of a problem if Putin lost his mind and went to war with NATO. Our superiority in technology and weapons systems would make short work of the Russian army and Putin knows it. Putin is looking to win without going to war, which would be possible if the U.S. withdrew from NATO and the alliance disbanded.

So if Trump believes NATO is “obsolete,” perhaps he should propose a new mission for the alliance that would invigorate its members and give purpose to its armies.

Trump’s dismissive tone toward Merkel will also raise some eyebrows across the continent. A change in government that put the socialists in charge would make things infinitely worse for the German people. Trump’s lukewarm attitude toward Merkel and her reelection effort does not bode well for our relations with Germany in the future.

Foreign policy experts are asking if Trump knows what he’s doing. That has yet to be determined. But it’s certain that there’s a new force in the world and Trump’s unpredictability will keep governments guessing.