Former President Donald Trump won’t have a seat at the table when NATO leaders meet this week in Washington, but even he, its most senior leader, will soon be one again as officials strategize how to reshape the alliance. Skeptic.

Coalition policymakers have shifted control of key elements of military aid to Ukraine from the US command to the NATO umbrella. They appointed a new NATO secretary general with a reputation for being particularly active with Trump’s unpredictable impulses toward the alliance. They have signed decade-long security pledges with Ukraine and try to provide military aid to Kiev from the vicissitudes of politics. They are raising their defense spending, Trump’s biggest pet peeve when it comes to NATO.

Leaders gathered on Wednesday agreed to support Ukraine “on its irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including NATO membership” — words that have been hotly debated in recent weeks, with President Biden initially resisting the use of the word “irreversible.” .”

Four nations announced Wednesday that F-16 fighter jets donated to Ukraine will be operational later this summer. Coalition leaders called China a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war in Ukraine, its tough language towards Beijing.

But for all the efforts to strengthen the alliance, Trump’s shadow loomed over Washington’s convention center, where the summit would take place. European leaders are quietly wondering whether this will be a farewell to a US president operating across the Atlantic — a bipartisan constant in US foreign policy from World War II to Trump’s arrival in the White House in 2017.

“If we elect him to a second term, I think it says something extraordinary about the direction of our journey in the United States, from a European perspective,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, director of the Center’s Atlantic Security Program. New American Security Think Tank. “So this is Trump-proof for the most immediate four years, but there is growing concern that America will be less committed to Europe in the long term.”

Some European policymakers say they hope Trump will formally withdraw the United States from NATO. Congress passed recently The law would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to join the coalition and withdraw.

But many fear Trump will bring a more transactional approach to the alliance, and some take seriously his vow to see if they meet their defense spending commitments before deciding whether to come to their aid if they are attacked. How to deal with Trump dominates social conversations among NATO policymakers in Washington, with frenzy over whether Biden will drop his re-election bid.

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday downplayed concerns about a second Trump presidency.

“The main criticism of former President Trump, but also other US presidents, was not primarily against NATO, it was against NATO allies not investing enough in NATO — that has changed,” he told reporters. “The clear message has had an impact, because now allies are really moving forward.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I said no,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Karstor told The Washington Post when asked if European leaders were talking about Trump behind closed doors.

While in Washington, several leaders are seizing the opportunity to have quiet conversations with Trump administration foreign policy officials. Keith Kellogg, a retired general who was national security adviser to then-Vice President Mike Pence, said last month that he had received 165 requests from foreign officials since November, and that he had approved 100 of them. Kellogg noted that he was not officially speaking for Trump or the Trump campaign.

Many international policymakers — including Ukrainian leaders, who have the most to lose — are leading their bets against the possibility of Trump’s return to office. Notably, on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky chose the Reagan Institute as the venue to deliver a speech to a roomful of Republican dignitaries and European diplomats.

While careful not to comment directly on the U.S. election, Zelensky urged Biden to allow Ukraine to use U.S. long-range weapons to attack military bases along the Russian border, saying “don’t wait for November or any other event.”

Asked how closely he had been following the US election, Fox News anchor Bret Baier said, “Brett, I think sometimes closer than you are,” to laughter from the crowd.

Ukrainian leaders say they want to stay afloat in the tumultuous US presidential election, mindful of their role in Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. As president, Trump delayed security aid to Ukraine citing evidence of alleged corruption by Kyle Biden.

“We don’t have to fit into every political process. “We have to make sure we survive the political process,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stepanyshina said in an interview.

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NATO policymakers have been deep in discussions for months about how to manage Trump’s resurgence. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Biden administration opposed NATO’s direct role in providing military aid to Kiev, hoping to avoid Russian perceptions that the alliance was directly at war with Moscow.

That reluctance has faded as Ukraine’s early heroics have been tempered by recent Russian battlefield successes. Meanwhile, Trump has risen in the polls and European concerns have grown. NATO policymakers agreed ahead of the summit to establish a new NATO command that would take on many of the coordination roles the Pentagon has provided.

Policymakers quietly acknowledge that Trump-proofing the alliance can only go so far — and Trump isn’t the only leader to question NATO’s policy on Ukraine and Russia. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico have supported similar policies.

Some leaders say a Trump presidency could be good for NATO, especially if it prompts underdeveloped European nations to spend more on their defense.

“What I always say to Europeans is: ‘Stop freaking out about Trump. You’ve done it before, you’ve done it for four years, and guess what? It’s actually not that bad for Europe,'” Rachel Rizzo, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center, told a briefing with reporters. “Some tough rhetoric and tough language certainly ruffled feathers. But Trump’s policies toward Europe have not hurt NATO.

That cost-plus initiative has been endorsed by right-wing leaders in Europe who share many of Trump’s migration-skeptic policies, such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Trump and Duda are “friends. They understand their values. They understand reliability when it comes to security duties,” said Jacek Seivira, head of the National Security Bureau at Duta.

Italy’s ambassador to the US, Mariangela Cappia, said NATO’s core interests would withstand the elections.

“I hope that the NATO summit will really confirm how democratic organizations can choose different paths, but ultimately stand together on principles: in this case, borders cannot be changed through aggression,” he said.

Pro-NATO policymakers hope to manage divided policy visions under incoming Secretary-General Mark Rutte, who as the long-serving Dutch prime minister has met Trump repeatedly and is known for his tact in managing sometimes tense interactions.

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That would put him in the legacy of Stoltenberg, who has earned praise for finding ways to work with him in the Trump era.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on July 10 that he expects the United States to remain an ally regardless of the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. (Video: The Washington Post)

“He made a very conscious decision not to pick a fight with the US president, not to challenge him publicly or privately, not to talk about him,” former NATO assistant secretary Camille Grand said. Policy Fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Oana Lungescu, NATO’s spokeswoman between 2010 and 2023 and now a distinguished fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said Stoltenberg’s team had produced a single, easy-to-read map showing increases in European defense spending. The coalition also looked for ways to credit Trump for pushing allies to spend more.

“Statistics is real – it’s about how you frame it and how you use it [to show] It gets results, he said, and NATO is a success.

Rutte, 57, has battled political coalitions for 14 years as prime minister of the Netherlands and is seen as a skilled and savvy diplomat with an open, pragmatic style. Those who have worked with him say he is deeply committed to the transatlantic relationship and will do whatever it takes to preserve it.

“He believes deeply in the power and strength of US-European cooperation as a force for advancing Western values ​​on the world stage, and he will speak up for that,” said a senior European official who has worked closely with him over the years. to discuss important issues anonymously.

A place that is now popular 2018 communication in the Oval OfficeTrump made off-the-cuff comments about trade, Rutte pointed out when he suggested it would be “positive” if the U.S. and Europe failed to reach a deal.

“No,” Rutte said as Trump continued. “It’s not positive,” Rutte continued, laughing. “We have to work on something.”

Trump shook hands and moved on.

“Europe must move forward regardless of the U.S. election results,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said in an interview. “We have to take more responsibility for Ukraine, because Ukraine is in our backyard.”

Ellen Nakashima and Karen Deung contributed to this report.

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