Stephen Hadley Dismay at Trump's Take on Europe

Despite Donald Trump's renewed criticism of NATO, George W. Bush's former national security advisor is optimistic the security alliance will emerge strengthened at the end of a learning process. He is however worried about the Trump administration's posture toward the E.U.
Former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.

Germany may go through a period of uneven foreign policy in the initial stages of the Trump administration, as the insurgent Republic president and his relatively inexperienced policy team find their footing, a former national security advisor to George W. Bush said Wednesday in Berlin.

But Stephen Hadley, who was U.S. national security adviser under President Bush II from 2005 to 2009, said Germany will likely emerge stronger and more secure as NATO is retooled, new relationships are made, and more attention is brought to the challenges posed by terrorism.

In an interview last weekend, Mr. Trump, who will be inaugurated in Washington on Friday, called NATO “obsolete’’ and said European countries must contribute more financially to its support. Like most other European nations, Germany and France contribute only half or less than the 2 percent of GDP recommended by members of the defense alliance.

“Trump’s criticism of NATO is in its substance not really new,’’ Mr. Hadley said at a conference on the trans-Atlantic relationship sponsored by the Christian Democrat and Christian Social Union parties in Berlin. “There has for decades been criticism in Washington that the European partners do not do enough. What is however new is that Trump is talking about possible consequences.’’

Mr. Hadley said he was optimistic that at the end of this learning process there could be a strengthened NATO with more responsibilities and burdens carried by the European partners.

He said he was worried, however, about the new Trump administration’s posture toward the European Union. Mr. Hadley said Mr. Trump views the European Union as an elitist project, which the new president apparently does not hold in high regard.

In his weekend newspaper interview with The Times of London and Germany’s Bild newspaper, Mr. Trump said he welcomed Britain’s decision to leave the E.U. and predicted more European nations would follow. He also bluntly criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, saying it had brought great suffering upon Germans.

Germany’s transatlantic relations with the United States could be “bumpy" amid the transition.

"The Trump election was the result of a political insurgency directed against the establishment,’’ Mr. Hadley said. “That causes also a discontinuity in the foreign policy.’’ He said Germany’s trans-Atlantic relations with the United States could be “bumpy’’ amid the transition to the new administration.

Mr. Hadley, who is now a political consultant in Washington with the former U.S. secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, and the former U.S. Defense Secretary under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Robert Gates, is also a member of The Atlantic Council, a predominantly German-U.S. group focusing on trans-Atlantic relations.

Mr. Hadley’s counterpart in the German chancellery, Christoph Heusgen, who heads foreign policy and is the rough equivalent of national security adviser, also spokes at the conference.

Mr. Heusgen said he met earlier this month with members of Mr. Trump’s transition team in Washington. He said he was distressed by the Trump team’s take on the European Union, which has been a core part of German policy in the post-war period. The career diplomat said he got the impression that members of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy team did not have a “real, deep understanding’’ of how the European Union actually works.

But in his remarks he did not mention or respond to Mr. Trump’s criticism of Ms. Merkel, her refugee policies or the European Union.


Kevin O’Brien is editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. He has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist in Germany, Austria and the United States. He was the Frankurt and Vienna bureau chief at Bloomberg, and wrote for a decade about technology from Berlin for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune. To contact the author: [email protected]