A Conservative Icon on Donald Trump — and Other Threats to World Peace

A Conservative Icon on Donald Trump — and Other Threats to World Peace

Why you should care

Because this year’s run for the White House is being scrutinized by many — including those beyond America’s borders.

As conservative voices go, Kim Campbell is one of Canada’s most iconic — she was the country’s first female prime minister, after all. But don’t get the former attorney general and justice minister started on Donald Trump, who’s walking out of this week’s Republican National Convention as the GOP’s presidential nominee. Previously, Trump warned that the U.S. should rethink its involvement in NATO because it pays “a lion’s share” to safeguard member nations (a claim that The Washington Post said was “wildly exaggerated”); yesterday he came under attack for suggesting the U.S. might not help defend NATO allies in the Baltics if Russia attacked and he were in the White House.

It was a “reckless and deeply unwise” statement, R. Nicholas Burns, who served as ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush, told Talking Points Memo. Meanwhile, Campbell recently told OZY, “This is not somebody that I would engage in a serious debate about the future of NATO.” In this edited conversation, the former PM discusses who she thinks will become the next U.S. president — and what they might need to do to ensure NATO’s greatest threats don’t morph into an even bigger challenge.

OZY: How does NATO remain important today?

Kim Campbell: Certainly Vladimir Putin’s adventurism — the stealth wars that he is fighting, and the concern that the former Warsaw Pact countries and those that were freed from the Soviet Union have about whether Russia will continue to respect those borders — has meant that NATO has to rethink things. We are seeing those countries become members of NATO. We’re seeing the deployment of forces there. Its utility is still there, and I don’t see a strong sense on the part of NATO members who want to disband it. There are varying degrees of commitment to arming, to meet their responsibilities, and that is an interesting issue, because defense is expensive.

[Trump] does not have any kind of independent basis on which to understand foreign policy — he appears to get his news from the National Enquirer.

Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada

OZY: Following Trump’s earlier comments, Hillary Clinton warned his approach might reverse decades of bipartisan leadership and send a “dangerous signal” to America’s friends and foes. Is this a healthy debate to be having, or does a more important question need to be asked?

K.C.: Well, there might be a healthy debate; Donald Trump is not going to be a participant in it, because he doesn’t know anything. He does not have any kind of independent basis on which to understand foreign policy — he appears to get his news from the National Enquirer.

It is also quite naive. The United States is the largest superpower in the world. It also understands that it needs other forms of engagement and security than military might, particularly in intelligence and cybersecurity issues. That means a lot to its allies. And not to understand the relationship of the United States to its allies and what that means to American security is frighteningly naive and ill-informed and dangerous. Anybody who thinks that it would be good for the United States if you’re overtaken by right-wing, nationalist movements — fed by Russian political engagement and the kinds of disruption that Russia wants to create — is delusional. No country is an island, and alliances are extremely important.

OZY: Does that leave Putin as the greatest threat right now to NATO and its vision for peace?

K.C.: He is the largest. It’s not that there aren’t others — but he is explicitly determined to undermine, and partly because he is still a Soviet KGB person. Incidentally, he was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB who was never promoted any higher because he was considered too reckless. So he’s a great question mark for people.

In a way it’s ridiculous. It is actually in Russia’s interest to have a stable, prosperous Europe, to be a great market. Nobody wants to go to war with Russia. You have to work hard to create that paranoia, because there’s no natural reason for it. Putin has an interest in Soviet irredentism, not because it’s a good thing in any kind of rational way, but because he thinks it feeds the Russian nationalism. And, of course, now he’s censoring the media so he can control the flow of information. It’s a total Soviet playbook. His support for Marine Le Pen’s [National Front] party in France — it’s open! — is not secret. He is supporting these movements, and they are anti-democratic.

OZY: What sorts of decisions might the next president of the United States have to make when exerting influence as a member of NATO?

K.C.: If it’s Trump, all bets are off because he is an ignoramus. He doesn’t understand government at all. He has no experience. I don’t think he will be president. If he is president, I shall be plumping up the pillows in my guest room.

The point is that Hillary Clinton, as a former secretary of state and as somebody who’s been engaged in a variety of capacities — as a member of the Senate, as first lady — she understands what these things are about and she understands that America’s security is guaranteed by patient, painstaking building of alliances and relationships and exerting influence in a whole variety of ways: hard power, soft power, negotiations, treaties, etc. She gets that. And that will continue to be what America needs to do.

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