The NATO alliance is in a state of high tension heading into the Brussels summit next week.

In some ways, of course, we’ve been here before. When I was the Supreme Allied Commander, we had controversy and disagreements aplenty over Afghanistan and Libya, for example, and reports of the decline of NATO have been constant over the decades, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But things have shifted. As I told Stars and Stripes, the obvious personal antipathy of President Trump toward the alliance in general, and for some of the key leaders in particular (Germany’s Angela Merkel, the U.K.’s Theresa May, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, to name a few), stands out. Trump’s continually uninformed commentary about nations failing to “pay their dues” (most recently via official letter) and his musings about whether the U.S. should even stay in the alliance, are setting an uneasy stage for the summit.

Now, the president has a point. There are nations that need to step up and meet their 2 percent GDP spending commitment to NATO. But publicly shaming our allies, which is essentially what these letters have done, does not help. It’s fair for a president to criticize in private, but as I told the team at Morning Joe, this president needs to be publicly stating the value of the NATO alliance and encouraging further cooperation and collaboration, rather than demeaning it.

The summit should be about a handful of difficult challenges facing the alliance. These include the seemingly endless mission in Afghanistan; protecting the alliance members in the Baltics from Russian cyberattacks; a plan for approaching the rapidly opening Arctic Ocean; and NATO’s role in the Middle East. For more of my thoughts on this, see my latest in Bloomberg.

Instead, the fear is that Trump will conduct another slash-and-burn mission at the NATO summit, then follow it up with a warm engagement with Putin a few days later in Helsinki. This would follow the pattern he established several weeks ago when he trashed the G-7 gathering in Canada and then all but hugged North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore, setting mouths agog and tongues wagging.

This personal animosity between the alliance’s most important national leaders comes at an especially infelicitous time, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia applying pressure around NATO’s periphery, as they use “hybrid warfare” techniques to destabilize the Baltic and Black Sea nations, and employ cyber operations to undermine democracy as far away as the U.S.

As I discussed on NPR’s Morning Edition, America’s partners are particularly concerned about a surprise Trump “giveaway” during his meeting with Putin. Announcing a withdrawal of significant Americans troops from Europe, cutting defense funds to U.S. European Command, or stopping exercises with NATO’s easternmost members, which Russia protests as “provocative,” would please Putin but ultimately prove unwise.

President Trump’s obsession over defense spending by our allies is certainly worthy of discussion — as it has been for years. But if that is the end of the conversation, the trip to Brussels will be a missed opportunity and the meeting with Putin will only reinforce the appearance that this administration undervalues and misunderstands the importance of our transatlantic alliance.

As always, thanks for reading.

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