The first scenario described a future situation where President Donald Trump decides to “decommit” U.S. forces from the NATO framework. In the scenario, the President does not officially remove the U S from the legal treaty as there is a question as to whether or not this would require approval from Congress. But, he uses his executive order powers to recall all U.S. federal personnel and military officials from their NATO posts The President is also unable to stop federal funding to the U.S. ’s NATO operations as that, again, would likely require Congressional approval. This would mean that although the U.S. was still a legal, official NATO member-state and its NATO funding continued, NATO’s operational capabilities would be immediately and drastically changed.
A few questions concerning the details of the scenario instantly arose among the participant groups. Most predominantly, how deep would this “de-commitment” go? – Would this mean every-single person under the employ of the U.S. federal government in a NATO position would be removed? Would it mean that those positions and offices would still exist but their offices are left empty, or would the entire operations be closed as well?
Among the groups, there were two approaches to reacting to the scenario:
■ The first was developed by the more experienced group: take the wording of the scenario for granted and react as if the U.S. was removing every U.S. person.
■ The second approach, adopted by the junior group, began with seeking clarification
from the Trump administration about exactly what the “de-commitment” would entail.
But both experienced and junior participants agreed that the most crucial steps would be to analyze the post- ”de-commitment” security infrastructure and determine what capabilities still existed for NATO members (especially Europe and Germany), analyze and prioritize what threats exist, develop an immediate strategy to mitigate the most immediate and urgent security threats, and develop a long-term strategy of defense and security for the post-withdrawal NATO framework.
In their final responses to the scenario, the groups diverged into two camps again over what a long-term strategic approach should be. Although the experienced group focused on setting a framework for meeting the immediate security needs of the other NATO member-states and continuing the most critical NATO operations with as little interruption as possible, their long-term strategy would be to try to get the Trump administration back into NATO cooperation or leave the door open to the U.S. and wait for the next administration to recommit to NATO. They also proposed some ideas they felt would incentivize President Trump to rethink a de-commitment, including negotiating a mass purchase of the F-35 by other NATO member-states, or calling for budget negotiations among NATO member states and develop a tangible plan for all NATO member-states to commit anywhere between 2.5% to 4.5% of their GDP towards NATO funding to appease President Trump’s requests.
However, the younger group questioned how committed the Trump administration or any future administrations would be to reintegrating U S forces back into NATO to the same degree as they were previously. Specifically they argued, ‘Once you’ve broken up, it’s difficult to trust that you won’t break up again.’ Because of this, the younger group decided they would not be against the U.S. returning, but they thought it would be better for the long-term interests of Europe and other NATO members to develop a “NATO Minus” or “Euro Defense Plus” strategy that does not rely on U.S. cooperation. However, the younger groups did recognize that, in real life, there would be discord among the participating states in a NATO-/EURO+ system about priorization of security problems and decisions over which actors and members should shoulder which responsibilities and costs and long debates about these problems would leave the members vulnerable to security contingencies.
■ U.S. “decommitment” or withdrawal from NATO would greatly impact NATO operational capacity and upend current security strategies.
■ The prospect of U.S. withdrawal from NATO to any degree (whether it be full withdrawal from the treaty, decommitment of resources, or any other possibility) has already invigorated debate in Europe about strengthening current EU defense and security infrastructures and developing more robust infrastructures for the future that are less dependent on the U.S.
■ Even though these debates are already underway, they are highly complex and getting the various voices within the EU on the same page on security and defense will be difficult.
■ Time will be the most crucial resource. Although Europe is stepping up in its defense investments, it will be a long time before it has a completely U.S. -independent infrastructure, if ever. Therefore, prioritization of security contingencies is key to deciding where investments will have the highest impact, and increased integration and cooperation and operational coordination will be increasingly tantamount to the functional and successful defense infrastructures would be discord among the participating states in a NATO-/Euro+ system about prioritization of security problems and decisions over which actors and members should shoulder which responsibilities and costs and long debates about these problems would leave.
by Benjamin Cole, University of Cologne