President Trump’s rhetoric on NATO has the United States’ allies across Europe increasingly concerned about American commitment to the transatlantic military organization in the face of renewed acts of aggression from Moscow. Despite years of leadership by the U.S., Trump has only provided notional support for the Cold War–era alliance that provided a military counterweight to the Soviet Union in Europe. On Monday, another indication of the Trump administration’s apparent disinterest in NATO emerged as Reuters reported Secretary of State Rex Tillerson intends to skip the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels this April.
NATO members are scheduled to meet April 5–6, but Tillerson is expected to forgo the meeting to attend talks planned for April 6–7 at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Skipping the NATO summit is sure to rankle nerves in Brussels, but so too will reports that Tillerson will then travel to Moscow to meet with the Russians as soon as April 12.
“The decisions to skip the NATO meeting and to visit Moscow risked feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers before those of smaller nations that depend on Washington for their security,” two former U.S. officials told Reuters. “Trump has already antagonized and worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as ‘obsolete’ and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.”
The meeting with China is clearly important, particularly for an administration and a president that have threatened—even committed—to upend previous norms of behavior and undo past agreements with the country, but it’s hard to read the decision not to send America’s top diplomat to assure America’s closest allies of its military and security cooperation, as anything other than an intentional slight and an indication of dramatically altered priorities.