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International Affairs



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As a new and unpredictable administration takes power in Washington, the relationship that the United States will have with its European allies remains unclear. There is understandably concern on both sides of the Atlantic about what this change will mean for the US relationship with NATO and the security guarantees that have been in place for almost 70 years. These concerns are not without foundation: just days before his inauguration, President-elect Trump once again described NATO as ‘obsolete’. Contradictory statements made by Trump and his candidates for Secretary of Defense and State raise further questions about the direction of US security policy, as well as the country's priorities. The Harmel Report was precipitated in part by the approaching 20th anniversary of the alliance in 1969 which caused NATO to rethink and redefine itself in light of changing realities. The incoming Trump administration is raising questions that are again exposing divisions among members of the Alliance which could prompt re-evaluation that could strengthen the institution by reaffirming its relevance in light of a resurgent Russia. Or the result could be to further the pattern whereby the United States pursues policies deemed to be in its own national interest at the expense of Europe, while simultaneously, the European countries develop their own policies, both individually and collectively, that minimize or exclude the United States. This article takes a historical perspective to explore the evolution of the trans-Atlantic relationship to the present and to speculate on what the past might tell us about the future.