Finlandization. Noun. The process whereby a country is induced to favor, or refrain from opposing, the interests of a more powerful country, despite not being politically allied to it.
It is entirely fitting that the Trump-Putin summit will occur in Helsinki. Plucky Finland, which had fought the Red Army to a draw in 1940, thereafter accepted a quasi-vassal role. It remained a free-market democracy, but it entered into a “treaty of friendship” with the Soviet Union, compromising its principles and even its sovereignty so as not to provoke the bear next door.
President Trump, for reasons we can only guess at, seems bent on the Finlandization of Europe — and even the United States. It is an unlikely development because, whereas Finland was much weaker than Russia, the United States is much stronger. Yet Trump — who was elected with Russian help and continues to question the consensus judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election — appears determined to subordinate U.S. foreign policy to the Kremlin’s imperatives.
His animosity toward U.S. allies was barely veiled during his first year in office, when he was restrained by the “Axis of Adults.” But now secretary of state Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and economic adviser Gary Cohn are gone, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is on the way out, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is marginalized. There are no longer real restraints on the president’s Trumpiness.
At a rally in North Dakota last Wednesday, he summed up his worldview in a sentence: “Sometimes our worst enemies are our so-called friends and allies.” Not quite. In the real world, our worst enemies are . . . our enemies. But Trump is acting in accordance with an inverse logic of his own where good is bad and up is down.
At June’s Group of Seven summit in Canada, Trump seethed, “We’re like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing. And that ends.” This was his justification for a trade war with our allies — a trade war with a cost to U.S. companies that grows by the day. Only Trump can square this assertion with his oft-repeated boast that the U.S. economy is now “the greatest economy in the history of America .” If we are being robbed blind, how can we be richer than ever? Luckily Trump’s intellect is capacious enough not to be encumbered by the foolish consistency that is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Convinced that America is being ripped off, Trump, according to Axios, told the other G-7 leaders that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA.” This is true but not in the way that he means, given that both NAFTA and NATO are great boons to the United States. According to Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer, the situation became so tense that Trump tossed two Starbursts on a table and then told German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Here Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything.”
Trump is being modest, for he does give Merkel and the other European leaders something on a regular basis: the back of his hand. Trump says the European Union “was set up to take advantage of the United States,” and, according to my Post colleague Josh Rogin, he even tried to entice Emmanuel Macron into pulling France out of the E.U. As history and strategy, this is bonkers. The United States encouraged European integration from the start; its origins lie in the Organization for European Economic Cooperation created in 1948 to disperse Marshall Plan aid. U.S. presidents for decades have seen “a Europe united and strong” (to borrow John F. Kennedy’s 1963 phrase) as a bulwark against Russian power.
But then Trump prefers to appease rather than confront Russia. He won’t rule out recognizing Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea; he reportedly told the G-7 that “Crimea probably should belong to Russia because everyone there speaks Russian.” The Baltic states, with substantial Russian-speaking minorities, better watch out.
Trump is said to be interested in reaching a deal over Syria in which Russia would promise to curb Iranian power in return for a pullout of U.S. troops — even though the Russian-backed Assad regime is now attacking rebels within the “deconfliction zones” in southwestern Syria that Trump and Putin announced last year. Pulling U.S. troops out of Syria would hand the entire country over to Russia and Iran.
That is only the beginning of the concessions to his friend Vlad that Trump is contemplating. The Post reports that Trump has ordered the Pentagon to study the removal of U.S. troops from Germany — a country that Trump views as an enemy because it sells cars that Americans love to buy. The U.S. troop presence in Germany has signaled since 1945 our commitment to protecting Europe from Russia. A pullout now would open the door to Finlandization. If you want to see what that could look like, watch the Norwegian TV series “Occupied.”
I have never believed that Trump is a Manchurian candidate — a Russian mole — but it’s hard to know how he would be acting differently if he were. If the Atlantic alliance survives his presidency in its current form, it will be a miracle.