The absolutely crucial point about NATO is that it functions on the basis of credible guarantee. The point of NATO is to deter war, by convincing hostile powers like Russia that the US would 100 percent defend its NATO allies. But since there’s no formal legal way to force the United States to defend its allies, this deterrence hinges on the idea that the American leadership is deeply committed to upholding its word and agreements in Europe.
This is why, historically, there has been an ironclad, bipartisan commitment to NATO allies. For NATO to work, everyone needs to understand that America’s commitment to its allies is not a partisan football, hinging on who happens to win an election in any given year. It is a fundamental, unchanging part of American grand strategy, one that is and always will be a core American commitment.
With a few stray words, Trump has done serious damage to perception. He has made it seem that US commitment to NATO is much weaker than it is, that it could be overturned with any one election.
He goes on:
But note that Trump also refused to say unequivocally that he wouldn’t abide by the NATO treaty. “I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do,” he said.
But the entire point of NATO is that Putin needs to know what America will do. If he knows the US will defend the Baltics, then he will likely back off. If he knows the US won’t defend the Baltics, then we can have the break up of NATO — which would be quite bad, but wouldn’t immediately risk World War III.
The nightmare scenario, though, is that Putin’s confidence in NATO is undermined even though the United States, under either Trump or Clinton, remains committed to defending its treaty allies. That’s the scenario under which misperceptions potentially escalate into an actual war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
Matt Yglesias rips apart his comments, Donald Trump's New York Times interview reveals a dangerously lazy mind at work. Which completely fits with the idea that he's going to delegate *everything* to his VP.