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A Trump’s 2024 Victory Is the Boost Russia’s Putin Is Looking For

“If they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect, OK?”

Pay for play.

This is how former President Donald Trump described the U.S. plan for its future in the world’s premier military alliance, NATO, if he wins in November. He said he would even encourage Putin to attack NATO allies if “they don’t pay their bills.”

These threats come amid devastation in Gaza, Ukraine’s faltering war effort against Russia, and a looming crisis in the South China Sea.

Pointless Death

Rescuers clear debris from a multi-story building heavily damaged following a drone strike, in Odesa on March 3.
Rescuers clear debris from a multi-story building heavily damaged following a drone strike, in Odesa on March 3.

A U.S. withdrawal from NATO could be devastating to global security, with hard-won international order and mutual protection guarantees sacrificed for a global insecurity crisis and arms race—things which preceded both world wars.

This is why the stakes are so high. If Americans elect Trump, we could witness a sundering of allies and partnerships like never before.

Free from thoughts of re-election and with revenge on his mind, Trump could weaken the NATO alliance, opening up Pandora’s Box in the shape of an emboldened Russia and China—ultimately catalyzing a far-right revolution and global conflict.

The Kremlin is already bolstering far-right movements across the continent, including those in the Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and crucially, Germany.

Russia’s calculation is simple. A weaker, fragmented Europe puts Russia in a strong position: politically through normalization and the potential lifting of sanctions; economically through resumption of trade relationships around energy; and militarily in its conquest of Ukraine.

NATO member states must rise to these external and internal challenges by employing both hard and soft power approaches to address the dual threats posed by both Trump and Putin.

For one, in light of Trump’s rhetoric, Europe should forge a powerful European Defense Union alongside its economic and political union, that can function even if America withdraws from NATO. That means creating a unified strategy to mobilize citizen armies and pool resources for mutual defense investments.

In addition to this hard-power approach, the United States and Europe need an even more urgent soft-power strategy to combat the far-right threat leading the march towards NATO’s dissolution by undermining cooperation across the North Atlantic.

Putin is already using soft power—propaganda, fraudulent social media, and other hybrid tools—to sow dissension within Europe and destroy the Western alliance from within. Trump himself is a stark manifestation of the resounding success of the Russian strategy. It’s no secret that the Kremlin has ramped up support for pro-Trump far-right movements across Europe, which are peddling influence by attacking democratic institutions and instigating culture wars, including weaponizing Islamophobia.

Far-right anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, such as the ““great replacement theory,” promoted for instance by Trump’s potential vice presidential pick Vivek Ramaswamy, are gaining ground in the U.S. and Europe—underscored by a record level of distrust in moderate political leadership of several NATO countries.

This is why we also need new soft-power efforts from the U.S. and Europe to revitalize the cultural resilience of our societies so they can resist the toxic ideologies of Islamophobia, antisemitism, white supremacy, and other forms of hate being used to tear us apart.

Crucial to that approach will be moving beyond NATO’s three essential core tasks and expanding NATO’s systemic engagement with civil society actors—like it does for climate change and peace and security specifically for women—to use leaders from outside established political circles to counter dangerous rhetoric. This is happening to some extent, with Pope Francis using his own soft power and moral authority to lead dedicated peace efforts with both Russia and Ukraine.

Yet not enough is being done to directly confront the toxic anti-Muslim narratives being weaponized by Trump and beyond. That’s why the U.S. and Europe should enhance collaboration with figures such as Mohammed Al-Issa, the secretary-general of the world’s largest Islamic NGO, the Muslim World League. Al-Issa is actively countering mainstream dehumanization narratives such as the ‘great replacement theory’ through initiatives and tools, like the Charter of Makkah, which is spearheading Islamic world efforts to bring together diverse religious communities in the West.

This sort of soft power, based on leveraging key strategic alliances, is vital to countering the skyrocketing far-right appeal by building community cohesion, promoting dialogue, and undermining stereotypes. Communities empowered with authentic information will be far more resilient to dangerous disinformation.

Even so, Europe should not wait, but start preparing now for a Trump presidency. And that means both accelerating a soft-power counteroffensive, as well as a hard power strategy to shore up Europe’s unified military capabilities—before it’s too late.

Dr. Maurizio Geri is a former NATO analyst, an Italian Navy lieutenant POLAD reservist, and a GMU postdoctoral researcher/EU Marie Curie Fellow who specializes in EU-NATO technology cooperation in the energy-resources-climate security nexus as well as Russian hybrid warfare.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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