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FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump listens to questions from reporters in the lobby at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo - RTX2YEZW

Will President Trump play by international rules?

Sam Kiley

If there is one certainty that is emerging from Donald Trump it is that what you hear or read may not be what you get. At least that is the hope of those who believe that the world is better off with rules to govern the behaviour of nations.

Mr Trump is outside these rules. He’s been dismissive of the United Nations Security Council’s re-affirmation of the illegality of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. International law is clear. The settlements are illegal.

If the President-elect comes into office and endorses illegal construction of Jewish homes on Palestinian land then he’ll be endorsing an international “crime” – and begin to undermine the very fabric of international order (such as it is).

But he didn’t get bogged down in this whole issue in his recent interview with The Times.

Michael Gove chose not to put him under pressure on key areas of foreign policy or even to question whether Mr Trump really understood the implications of what he was saying.

Recent Senate confirmation hearings, especially for Defense Secretary and director of the CIA, strongly indicated that General James Mattis and Mike Pompeo do comprehend the importance of international law, the recognised norms of diplomatic behaviour and of even trusting at least some of the advice that flows from what Mr Trump calls “intelligence”.

Chiefly, General Mattis is completely out of sync with his boss on the North Atlantic Treating Organisation (NATO). The general, a former Supreme Allied Commander of the organisation, is a fan of the alliance but (like Trump and the British) also believes that all member states should cough up the 2% of their GDP to spend on defence – as NATO asks.

But there is something more troubling. Mr Trump believes NATO, the bedrock of the West’s defence structure for the last 60 years, is “obsolete”. “NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago,” he said.

“Number two – the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. “I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days.

“And then they started saying Trump is right – and now – it was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, they have a whole division devoted now to terror, which is good,” he told The Times.

This is music to the ears of Vladimir Putin. In the days when Putin was a KGB officer, “useful idiots” in the West campaigned for closer ties to Russia, undermined historical fact with defence of the Soviet system of oppression, and generally unwittingly served the Soviet global agenda.

In Mr Trump, Mr Putin may have found he has a “useful idiot”. The US President-elect sees the greatest threat to world stability as ISIS – the so called Islamic State (IS).

But his is not a view shared by experts and intelligence officials in Europe. Russia has invaded Ukraine and seized territory there. Moscow has done the same to Georgia and stands accused of trying to orchestrate a coup in Montenegro.

It’s accused of fiddling with the US election process and planning the same in France and Germany this year. IS’ so-called caliphate is seen as a tactical problem. Russia is (once more) seen as a strategic threat.

Mr Putin, understandably, hates NATO. He is also allergic to a successful European Union with its ambitions to absorb areas that Russia has traditionally dominated. Frictions within both organisations are exactly what Mr Putin wants to see and so far his hopes are being echoed in Trump Tower.

America’s European allies will be hoping that when Trump moves to the White House he may develop a taste for playing by the rules of international relations. If not, in their view, the world will be hurtling back into chaos.

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