WHAT TRUMP IS REALLY ASKING NATO

Today, US President Donald Trump heads to the annual NATO summit in Brussels, and his counterparts are bracing for a storm. Trump, breaking with seven decades of US policy, has questioned the value of an alliance that is overwhelmingly supported by American cash and troops. What exactly, he wonders, is the US getting by paying for all of this?


Leaving aside Trump’s impetuous style – the question isn’t really a new one. After all, what is the continuing relevance of an alliance that was born more less when Trump was? For 42 years after its founding in 1949, NATO had a clear and singular mission: to defend Western Europe from Soviet expansionism. Full stop.

Then the USSR collapsed, and the alliance struggled to refashion itself, variously as

A Western security umbrella for former Soviet bloc countries eager to escape Moscow’s sphere of influence for good (this, of course, greatly annoyed Russia)

A counter-terrorism alliance (9/11 was the only event that has ever triggered NATO’s collective defense clause)

A vehicle for US-led multilateral military action in places such as the Balkans in the 1990s (clearly successful) and, later, Libya during the Arab Spring (perhaps less so).

Each of those missions had its merits and drawbacks, but neither individually nor collectively did they constitute a coherent vision for NATO’s continued existence. Instead, US belief in the alliance’s worthiness as an instrument of US power carried it along. Trump’s break with that assumption has thrown the question of the alliance’s purpose into sharper relief than ever before.

What are some possible ways to revive NATO’s purpose? Perhaps there is a (back to the) future option for NATO as a bulwark against fresh Kremlin efforts to assert Russian influence along the former Soviet fringes. Perhaps NATO could be refashioned as a cyber-power alliance that can focus on the coming conflicts of the 21st century. Or is it enough that NATO, along with other institutions like the EU, has kept an unprecedented peace at the heart of a continent that, until 1945, had seen centuries of nationalistic and sectarian bloodletting?

As Trump arrives in Brussels, his NATO counterparts will not only need to have good answers about what they are prepared to pay – but also what they, as members, are prepared to do to make the alliance worthwhile and relevant in the 21st century.

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

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An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

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Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.