Trump’s Bid to Remove NATO Official Could Easily Backfire on the US

NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller meets with officials from the Republic of Korea and the Czech Republic in Brussels for a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Dec. 15, 2016.

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NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller meets with officials from the Republic of Korea and the Czech Republic in Brussels for a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Dec. 15, 2016.

A strong alliance needs strong staff, like Rose Gottemoeller.

A deeply ugly political game playing out in Washington is now reaching across the Atlantic. The Washington Post reported this week that Trump transition officials privately urged NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to remove Rose Gottemoeller from her position as the alliance’s deputy secretary general and said that Stoltenberg had agreed to look into the process for doing that.

Not exactly. The Post also quoted a NATO spokeswoman as saying that Gottemoeller has full support from Stoltenberg and the North Atlantic Council—the permanent representatives of the alliance’s 28 member states. Gottemoeller served her country well in senior positions at the Departments of State and Energy and was an exemplary choice for the NATO spot. The transition team’s move is wrong-headed and could backfire against U.S. interests.

The case against Gottemoeller appears to stem from her work at the State Department, where she managed arms control issues and negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Some Republicans on the Hill fault her for that, because they oppose arms control in general. Some also believe she failed to inform them in a timely manner about tests of a Russian cruise missile that violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, though the process of determining whether a violation had in fact occurred necessarily took time.

The Senate nevertheless handily confirmed Gottemoeller in 2014 to be undersecretary of State for arms control and international security affairs.

The nameless Trump officials may hope that removing Gottemoeller will allow them to put in place someone who is more tolerant of Russian intervention in Europe. Perhaps they want a deputy secretary general who would slow NATO’s accelerated efforts to bolster the alliance’s deterrence and defense capabilities in the Baltic states.

Allies would resist such a dramatic shift in agreed NATO policy. Further, they would regard an attempt to oust Gottemoeller as a heavy-handed breach of alliance protocol—and the Trump administration would likely lose that fight. If the new administration were to succeed in removing her, NATO members would certainly not accept another American nominee for the job. The result would damage alliance cohesion and significantly reduce U.S. influence within NATO’s leadership structure. Is that what Gottemoeller’s opponents intend?

The Post article also suggested that, if the Trump administration could not get Gottemoeller removed, it would freeze her out. Now is not the time to play political games with NATO, as the United States has critical work to do together with the alliance. In addition to managing a trans-Atlantic response to the threat posed by an aggressive Russia, NATO currently deploys almost 6,000 troops alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan. This is all very serious business. And Trump officials would refuse to talk to Gottemoeller? That shows the small-minded and senseless nature of the campaign against her.

The United States is a global power. American citizens working in international organizations the world over contribute to the mission of these institutions and, in so doing, to the security and economic interests of the American people. The Trump team will have to learn to work with these figures, and with the professional civil servants, intelligence officials and uniformed military personnel that help to craft and execute policy within the U.S. government.

These patriotic individuals, abroad and at home, are at the heart of America’s drive to create a safer and more prosperous world. They deserve better than a partisan loyalty test and a shove toward the door.

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