NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (C) holds the second-day's NATO Defence Ministers Meeting at its headquarters In Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 16, 2017. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)
By calling NATO "the most successful and powerful military alliance in modern history," U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in his debut European trip seems to have made a U-turn from the harsh words made by his boss Donald Trump who said NATO is "obsolete".
However, if Russia is being taken into account, the remarks of U.S. president and defense chief would not sound so contradictory, given the fact that up to 120 U.S. troops were reinforced to Bulgaria, with armed vehicles and heavy equipment on the way, on the same day as Mattis reassured his NATO colleagues in Brussels.
As a legacy of the Cold War, NATO has long been seen as a pillar of the United States to confront Russia while defending its hegemony and superiority on the globe.
The deep-rooted structural division between Russia and the United States together with its European allies leave very limited space for Trump to reach conciliation between Washington and Moscow.
For one thing, though Trump seems interested in enhancing cooperation with Russia in such field as anti-terrorism, his will of cooperation would be surely deterred by decades-old Russia-phobia prevailing in the United States. Just think about the fate of Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, who was forced to resign on Monday for his contacts with Russia.
For another, against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, a strong and reconciled U.S.-Russia relationship would make Washington's European allies like ants on a hot pan, who have long taken "Russia-threat" as common concern and a source of their cohesiveness.
Just seven months ago, NATO decided to deploy four battalions in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland to strengthen its eastern flank. The newly deployed 120 U.S. troops on Wednesday in Bulgaria is just part of it.
By this token, NATO is a bleeding scar of U.S.-Russia relations, which serves as an impenetrable barrier for Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in their way toward reconciliation.
As for Trump, here comes an either-or dilemma: he can't pacify his NATO colleagues while at the same time warming Washington's ties with Moscow. To untie this knot, a lot of compromises and "bad deals in the sense of a business man" is awaiting for him and his administration.