Donald Trump has been criticized for declaring NATO obsolete. In my view, the truth of Trump’s statement depends on what he meant by “obsolete.”
If Trump meant that NATO is no longer useful, I think he is wrong. If Trump meant, as he seemed to, that NATO needs to be revised and restructured, I think he is right.
I’m not the only one. Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post reports that French Air Force Gen. Denis Mercier, the senior NATO commander based in the U.S., agrees with that Trump NATO is obsolete in the second sense described above.
Mercier acknowledges that NATO has “some structures that are obsolete.” He cites aspects of the NATO bureaucracy that are duplicative and could be streamlined.
Is this part of what Trump was complaining about? I don’t know. He seemed mostly to be complaining about members not paying their fair share.
However, it may be worth noting that Mercier holds the position with NATO formerly held by James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. Perhaps Mattis has told Trump that aspects of NATO are obsolete and that this is part of what Trump had in mind.
Mercier is clear that he does not consider NATO’s role as a bulwark against Russian aggression to be obsolete. Like Trump, he favors talking with Russia, but adds “we always talk better with Russia when we are strong.”
I doubt that Trump disagrees with this comment. But whether the president-elect appreciates (or will come to appreciate) the Russian threat the way Mercier, and for that matter Mattis, does remains to be seen.