President Donald Trump has made no secret of his animosity toward NATO, the 70-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. Trump has dismissed the alliance as “obsolete” and has reportedly told aides privately that he wants the United States to withdraw from NATO. But, Trump made a statement today that appeared to endorse NATO after all.
That statement, according to New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, was elicited by French President Emmanuel Macron, who used a “toddler reverse psychology trick” on Trump to get it.
In a contentious, one-on-one exchange with Macron in front of press and media, Trump declared that NATO served a “great purpose,” according to The New York Times. He also defended the other 28 NATO leaders from an earlier Macron remark, in which the French leader described what he called the “brain death” of the NATO alliance.
Trump blasted Macron’s statement as “very insulting” and a “very, very nasty statement essentially to 28 countries.”
But why would Trump, who last year told Macron and other leaders of western democracies that NATO was “as bad as NAFTA,” and that the alliance was “too costly” for the United States, suddenly defend the longtime, post-World War II defense treaty?
According to Chait, the answer lies in Macron’s use of child psychology on Trump.
In Chait’s analysis, Macron’s “brain death” statement about NATO was calculated to produce a reaction from Trump, who would be “enraged” that any NATO leader other than himself would raise objections to the alliance.
Macron, according to Chait, maneuvered Trump into doing something that he wanted — issuing an endorsement of NATO — by acting as if he wanted Trump to do the opposite.
The “toddler reverse psychology trick” is one “most parents learn to use,” Chait wrote in his New York Magazine online column today. “It usually stops working around the age of five.”
Trump’s endorsement of NATO extended only as far as his direct response to Macron, however. When asked whether he would commit the United States to defending another NATO country that was “delinquent” in its payments, Trump refused to make a commitment, according to ABC News, reporting via Twitter.
Instead, Trump said only that the question was “very interesting.”
The “very heart of NATO’s founding treaty” is the “principle of collective defense,” according to the official NATO website. Spelled out in Article 5 of the NATO agreement, the principle means that an attack on one of the allies is considered an attack on all.
Under Article 5, each NATO country commits to defend any other NATO country that comes under attack. Though the alliance was founded in 1949, the “collective defense” principle was not invoked until 2001, when NATO countries committed to defending the U.S. following the September 11 terrorist attacks.