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19 juli 2018

NATO: How Europe could close a deal with Trump

In 2014 European NATO members agreed to an increase of their defense spending to 2% of GNP by 2024. This Obama-led deal increased spending so far with $46 billion.

By Leo Wielstra

The actions of the current American president Trump are directed towards a quicker increase. That will be good for our national security, but even better for the American defense industry. And that will be good for his re-election.

Influencing stakeholders

From a negotiation point of view Trump is successfully executing a number of steps. He started influencing his stakeholders at a very early stage. Even before being elected as President he already tweeted his demands. His tweets enabled the European defense ministers to succeed in increasing their Defense budgets. You could call that a positive effect. A potential negative effect was that the EU decided for closer cooperation in the area of defense. A key person in aligning European positions was Michael Barnier, top negotiator for Brexit…

Negotiation tactics

On top Trump is using various tactics to reach his goal of re-election. He clearly expresses his aspiration points: he wants the 2% norm to be reached by 2019, 5 years earlier than agreed. And it should not be 2%, but 4%.

Obviously he supports his claims with threats. Exiting NATO, withdrawal of American troops from Germany, raising import tariffs for European cars.  And he tries to weaken his opponents – isolating the United Kingdom by supporting their hard Brexit strategy; satisfying Turkey and Russia.

Cencesson trading

What could European leaders do to improve their negotiation position? Something that always works with hard-style negotiators is explicit trading of demands. We call that 'concession trading'. Preferably with hard Euro or Dollar values.

OK, Trump wants us to spend 30 billion more on Defense? What do we want from him that is at least worth the same amount? Maybe active support for the Paris climate deal? And the Iran deal? Or perhaps an active role in Syria and North Africa. The political discussion on fugitives can also be costly – look at the 3 billion deal with Turkey last year…


Hard thinking about the European wish list could produce a concession table that our leaders could present to Trump. His wish to retain his position will be deeply rooted for people like Trump. It is likely to be one of his unstated, personal needs. A deal will make him stronger towards the American voters. I don’t think that he cares (or his voters) for what he agrees, as long as he feels winning…

The above clearly requires European leadership to be unified in their wish list. That could be a great task for Federica Mogherini, EU commissioner for Defense. And the recent establishment of the European organisation for Defense and Security provides for a strong platform for doing so. The European approach towards Brexit clearly shows the importance of keeping ranks closed.