The upcoming U.S. elections are a crossroads for American security guarantees to Europe.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a maximalist both in political background and campaign rhetoric, is likely to maintain the status quo of U.S. NATO assistance and possibly increase allied presence along NATO’s eastern flank to deter Russian aggression. Surrounded by a team of hawkish foreign policy advisors and partnered with a traditionally pro-NATO Congress, the former Secretary of State should face few obstacles to advancing deterrence and responding decisively in the event of a crisis. In contrast, Republican nominee Donald Trump vacillates between two dangerous extremes: hair-trigger impulsivity and sycophantic flattery of Vladimir Putin. The former is an unfortunate personality quirk with the potential to spark international incidents without warning while the latter is actively encouraged by Trump’s entourage. The candidate and his core team of advisors share deep economic and personal interests in Russia and appear to prioritize the country over established U.S. allies. While Clinton presents NATO’s borders as inviolable, Trump indicates that anything is negotiable, putting the onus on NATO members to prove their worth rather than on Russia to justify its actions. The Kremlin appears to have received the message. When discussing the candidates, the Russian media primarily praises Trump and derides Clinton for their respective security policies likely because Trump’s enables Putin to more easily carry out his aggressive foreign policy objectives while they believe Clinton’s are more likely to tie their hands. For NATO members along the eastern border with Russia, a future with President Clinton is the preferable option. However, as the race is yet to be decided both these states and NATO as an entity must plan for the expected security implications of President Trump.
Download: Baltics in the Balance? The Race for the American Presidency and the Risks for European Security (PDF)