DAVOS, Switzerland – President-elect Donald Trump is using a smart tactical ploy when referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “obsolete,” a top Republican congressman told Business Insider on Tuesday.
Trump has rattled NATO with a recent proclamation that the alliance is “obsolete,” echoing a word he used on the campaign trail. It has garnered attention from corners including the organization itself, which has pushed back, and from Russia, where a top spokesman to President Vladimir Putin said the government agreed with the assessment.
That attention is a good thing, said Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who spoke with Business Insider here at the World Economic Forum. He compared the alliance to outdated versions of military aircraft that have not been upgraded in decades.
“If you had a C-5 in its original configuration, it would be obsolete,” Issa said in an interview. “You refit it, and it becomes current. NATO must evolve, and if you wanted to use the word ‘evolve,’ you could. But do you get anyone’s attention by saying ‘evolve’? Or do you get people’s attention by saying it’s ‘obsolete,’ so it needs real change? ‘Obsolete’ is a provocative word, but it also moves the dialogue.”
Trump commented on NATO most recently in a joint interview with The Times of London and the German publication Bild. Anthony Scaramucci, the New York financier who last week accepted a top post in the White House, clarified here earlier this week that Trump thought certain elements of the alliance needed to change and improve.
Throughout his campaign and in the recent interview, Trump zeroed in on certain members of the alliance he said were not paying their fair share for protection from the US and other countries. Article 5 of NATO stipulates that an attack on one of the group’s members is considered an attack on all.
“The Europeans know they haven’t been paying their fair share in NATO,” Issa said. “This president is saying, ‘You should pay your fair share, and we should make NATO relevant.’ That’s a very positive message.”
Issa added: “Any time you have 140 characters, you’re going to leave out some of the delicate words of diplomacy. ‘Obsolete’ is no different.”
Trump’s words earned a subtle rebuke from another Davos attendee: US Vice President Joe Biden, who said Wednesday in his final major speech in his official role that the “single greatest bulwark for our transatlantic partnership is the unshakable commitment of the United States to all our NATO allies.”
“An attack on one is an attack on all,” Biden said. “That can never be called into question.”