Information operations · Information Warfare · NATO · Russia

Trump’s Political Warfare Tool – Belligerent Language

  1. aggressive or warlike behavior.

After reading through mountains of reports about President Trump’s tough talk at the NATO Summit, I realized anyone quoted was a career diplomat or politician.  

I don’t have any personal grudges against diplomats or politicians, I just do not trust the words coming out of their mouths.  A good politician or diplomat, the saying should go, can tell you to go to hell and you would do so cheerfully. In other words, they do not say what they really mean. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of friends who are career diplomats and a few politicians. One on one, they are wicked smart, experienced, and have incredible insight into the big picture. 

As a career soldier, it was my experience that anytime diplomacy failed, soldiers died. In other words, when a diplomat’s words failed I got sent to the war or police action that followed. My career diplomat friends really do not like me saying that, but after 26 years of being sent to multiple war zones, it sure felt that way. 

Now President Trump is using real words and the diplomats and politicians at NATO are not used to being confronted with straight talk. They call it belligerence. Well good, it’s about time.

Germany is being called out for enabling Russia. Most of the countries of NATO have refused to pay their fair share to themselves that they previously committed to paying. No, they are not being asked to give money to NATO, but if they have the capability to produce weapons, facilities, uniforms, weapons platforms, etc, the money will not leave their country. All they are doing is committing to spending 2% of their nation’s budget on their own defense.  Yet after years, some are only at 0.9%.  Their militaries are incapable, their leadership gutted, and now they are being held accountable.  

I do not expect them to like it and neither must President Trump.  His demand of 4% was the first shot in negotiations with the non-cooperative countries of NATO, to be negotiated to a more favorable level.  

Calling Germany “controlled by Russia” exposes one of the weaknesses of Europe and NATO. In the long run, this will force them to find other sources of gas, oil, and other petroleum products and not be totally reliant on Russia.  

Oh, my, he publicly called you out. Harsh words are much better than a Russian invasion, eh?

The leaders attending the NATO summit are being told to put on their big boy pants and, by the way, welcome to the big leagues. Now act like national leaders and make the tough decisions. 

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Trump’s diplomatic belligerence

President Trump isn’t making any friends in Europe, but he could be strengthening alliances.

The president began a midsummer swing across the Atlantic by hurling barbs at Germany and making demands on France. American media were, naturally, appalled. There is, indeed, considerable risk in Trump’s belligerent rhetoric, because the U.S. benefits from a strong NATO and strong relations with European nations.

But recognizing the worth of institutions and alliances does not imply a need to let them avoid accountability. If Trump can strike the right balance, his tough talk to allies is likely to help. In normal parlance, describing someone as being “diplomatic” suggests that they are being polite and restrained. But diplomacy is about getting countries to do what we want them to do, and sometimes belligerent public shaming works. A quiet word behind the scenes has been used by successive American presidents and has been brusquely ignored by our European allies.

Trump, when he talks about international relations, sometimes goes too far. But when he grumbles about allies “taking advantage” of us, he is not wrong. It is true that in NATO and other international institutions America is generally the boss, and it would be folly to demolish or abandon these institutions and this order. But that does not mean they are not in dire need of improvement or that it is not time to try methods of persuasion tougher than those deployed in the past.

The United Nations is off the rails, giving credibility and authority to tyrants and gross abusers of human rights. NATO also has an accountability problem, as most of its members, our allies, fail to contribute nearly enough. They almost all fall short of the target of spending 2 percent of their economy on defense.

When Trump chastises European countries for this free riding, the chattering classes clutch their pearls and wonder how Trump can be so rude. But Trump is right to criticize Germany for its deal with Russia to build a second natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea. The deal enriches Russia and helps pay for its imperial designs, all while Americans protect Germany from, um, Russia.

The Nord Stream II pipeline is a key strategic ploy of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump touched on a secondary concern about the pipeline, stating that the pipeline could make Germany dependent on Russian gas. There’s a bigger problem, though.

Each Russian pipeline multiplies the pressure Putin can apply in his efforts to project power beyond the borders of his backward and crumbling country. A new direct pipeline to Germany circumvents pipelines that go through Poland and Belarus. The new pipeline allows Putin to put pressure on those near neighbors without disrupting trade with Germany. (Likewise, it allows him to pressure Germany individually if he chooses).

In short, by pursuing this pipeline deal with Russia, Germany is undermining the security of the West and empowering Russia. This isn’t some Trump conspiracy theory. The Obama administration was upset about the pipeline deal, too. The difference is that Trump isn’t being polite about our objections.

Trump, in other words, is applying pressure to our allies to hold them accountable, to make the alliances work. Sometimes that involves being a bit brusque.