Brexit + Trumpery + NATO + Russian reaction = ?
A troubling and unexpected question appeared on the political agenda of continental Europe (UK +EU) when President-elect Trump started talking policy 24 hours after his election. The question was whether NATO was safe in the hands of the new leader of the Western world?
The Baltic states, next to Russia, fretted immediately that NATO could be degraded into a weaker military alliance. Their alarm was Trump’s campaign statements that the alliance was ‘obsolete’ and that the US would not necessarily defend them in a war with Russia.
Another alarming outburst from Trump was a flush of anger about NATO members not all paying their club membership fees. The implication was that if they did not, the US, which pays 70% of spending, would pick up its arsenal and sail back home.
But Nato’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg tried to calm the mood down when he warned against any such reaction. He told US president-elect Donald Trump: “Going it alone is not an option, either for Europe or for the United States.”
This reassurance was quickly followed by outgoing President Obama telling reporters that Mr Trump had “expressed a great interest” in maintaining the US commitment to NATO. Presumably, the President-elect did this in private.
This nervous round of assertion follow by counter-assertion is a psychological gift to a Russia that is continuously pressing and probing into NATO’s eastern front. How to react in communication terms against these jabs? There are five principles of public relations to follow. The first is for all the communication players to send the same set of messages to Putin but to allow timing and scripts to differ in an agreed way among the 28 sending states.
The second rule is to plan which NATO member will send which message and when. Message impacts are always weakened when a message symphony becomes a cacophony. The third principle is to scan the message boundary between NATO and Russia for the latter’s replies. The fourth is to amend your messaging in the light of what Russia is saying in reply to you.
Finally, always liaise with the NATO political and military leadership: communications are not a stand-alone activity because they serve political and military strategy.