You are here

The Finlandisation of the United States

THIS week, President Donald Trump will visit Europe to call on allies, get in some golf and then meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He will no doubt feel more comfortable with the Russian leader, whom he considers "fine", than with free-loading Nato partners who, he says, treat Americans as "schmucks". If the issue were purely mercantile - European allies do not pay enough for their defence - it might be manageable, even salutary. It is not. Mr Trump's ideological sympathies lie with Mr Putin's autocracy and its democratic veneer. He is in the Putin camp against the Western liberal democracy of, say, Angela Merkel in Germany. Mr Trump's a paid-up member of the growing illiberal authoritarian international movement.

The Finlandisation of Mr Trump's United States is pretty much complete. He won't oppose Mr Putin's Russia under any circumstances. In some way, it's worse than Finlandisation. Mr Trump is not neutral, as Finland was during the Cold War. He leans Moscow, but is still offset to some degree by the honourable Americans of the State Department and the Pentagon.

To fail to see this is to invite disaster. Mr Trump is not an unusual US president with contrarian ideas. He is an off-the-charts repudiation of everything the US has stood for since 1945: representative government, liberty, the rule of law, free trade, a rules-based international order, open societies, pluralism and human rights.

He refuses to see that as freedom and stability spread, undergirded by Nato and the European Union, US prosperity grew. For him, the European Union was "set up to take advantage" of the US - a preposterous charge.

Travelling from Madrid to beautiful Segovia the other day, in a line of traffic full of Spaniards fleeing the capital for the weekend, I gazed out on a wealthy country. Spain was poor and under a dictatorship a little more than four decades ago. That is what the European Union does. It is a transformative peace magnet delivering democratic stability and prosperity to more than a half-billion people. That's why the US has always supported it.

Your feedback is important to us

Tell us what you think. Email us at

A European who visited Mr Trump recently tells me he was shocked by two things: the president's venom against European allies that do not buy enough US goods even as they ask the US to protect them, and his paean to the new xenophobic Italian government that, in his view, is finally getting with the anti-immigrant programme.

There is no talking the president out of his views, this visitor reports, say by mentioning the European contribution to the war in Afghanistan or the fact that the US is the union's biggest trading partner. No, Mr Trump just knows.

If you told him a plane falls out of the sky when it runs out of fuel, and his gut told him otherwise, he would stick to his line. His eyes would glaze over as you tried to persuade him otherwise.

Mr Trump is with Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister from the anti-immigrant League party. He's with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, who is successfully exporting across Europe his illiberal template for a closed democracy that can produce only one election result. This is Europe's new strategic reality.


The Nato summit in Brussels could be a fiasco, like last month's Group of 7 meeting in Canada. Mr Trump might express an indulgent view of Mr Putin's annexation of Crimea. He might say he would not honour Article 5 of the Nato treaty (the obligation of all Nato members to defend one another if one is attacked) for countries that do not pay enough. Or he might just be on his best behaviour.

Whatever he does, European allies have no doubts: He has broken the trust that is the ultimate bond of any alliance. Europe needs to stand up for itself and the values Mr Trump tramples.

The question remains: Why is he in Mr Putin's thrall? He may be compromised, whether by Russian intelligence or money. He is certainly drawn to Mr Putin's bare-chested strongman style. Russia is not taking advantage of the US on trade, Mr Trump believes, but he is convinced China and the European Union are. Russia is anti-Nato and anti-EU, exactly like Mr Trump, and for similar reasons. They both want to disaggregate the union. Why? Because they want to deal with small European nations, and so be better placed to bully them.

These are the sympathies behind Trump's push to get Russia back into the G-7 and his willingness to contemplate recognising Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, even as he would not discuss Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

European peace since 1945 has depended on acceptance of the principle that the presence of national minorities in other countries - in this case, ethnic Russians in Ukraine - is not a pretext for war or annexation. Mr Putin flouted that twice, in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. If Trump blinks, all bets are off.

Jake Sullivan, a former senior foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton and national security adviser to Joe Biden, when asked what he hoped for out of the Helsinki summit, replied: "Nothing."

I agree. Nothing would be good when giveaways on Crimea or a compromised Nato are the alternative. The Finlandised must be grateful for small mercies. NYTIMES

BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to