RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This morning, President Trump is in Brussels for a NATO summit, where he has already set off a new round of tension. The transatlantic military alliance includes the U.S., Canada and European countries. It was hailed as the guarantee of a new era when President Harry Truman signed the founding treaty in 1949 following two world wars.
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HARRY TRUMAN: For us, war is not inevitable. We do not believe that there are blind tides of history which sweep men one way or another. In our own time, we have seen brave men overcome obstacles that seemed insurmountable and forces that seemed overwhelming. Men with courage and vision can still determine their own destiny.
MARTIN: The peace that has persisted in Western Europe since the establishment of NATO seemed almost unimaginable at the time. But lately, that alliance has seemed a bit shaky as Trump demands allies pay more to keep the defense pact alive and as he makes overtures to Russia. Many of you had questions about the NATO alliance, and we put them to commentator Cokie Roberts.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: Our first question comes from listener Becky McCabe.
BECKY MCCABE: What's the history between NATO and the U.S. presidents? Has there ever been a big rift between the alliance and the U.S.?
ROBERTS: Not like we're seeing right now with the president tweeting out attacks against NATO. But both Presidents Obama and Bush chided the European nations about the defense spending, and that has increased in the wake of their criticism. But the biggest rift came not with the U.S., but with France when Charles de Gaulle pulled his military out 1966 and demanded that all foreign troops withdraw from France. President Johnson insisted that his secretary of state ask if that edict applied to the 60,000 U.S. troops buried in French soil. It was - not-so-subtle reminder of why NATO was there in the first place.
MARTIN: Right. All right. Speaking of the military, here's our next question from Mike Koeppen.
MIKE KOEPPEN: Why is an American general always commander in chief of NATO?
ROBERTS: Well, it doesn't have to be, but it always has been because it's the biggest military power - the U.S. - and also, a symbol of the commitment to the defense of Europe, which has been extremely important to that continent. There are other officers that are Europeans and Canadians.
MARTIN: Our next listener has a provocative question. His name is John Lund, and he wants to know if the Atlantic alliance has outlived its usefulness.
JOHN LUND: Why do we still need NATO? It was chartered for peace in the North Atlantic but now promotes violence in places like Libya and Eastern Europe. It seems to have lost its way, and the original impetus for its creation is now gone.
ROBERTS: Well, after the Cold War ended, NATO decided to extend its mission from defense to a more proactive role in worldwide peacekeeping and crisis prevention. Its first big success was in Bosnia, where finally, NATO responded to a humanitarian crisis on the European continent. Now it's in Eastern Europe, mainly answering the call of member states worried about Russian expansionism. And I would take issue with the characterization of the Libya role. NATO went in in 2011 at the request of the U.N. when Gadhafi was violently suppressing the opposition and left when they deemed the civil war over. The country was still a mess - Benghazi happened after that - but it was considered a successful mission.
MARTIN: Right. And we should note - I mean, there are NATO troops who are currently operating alongside American troops in war zones - Syria, and Afghanistan, right?
ROBERTS: Absolutely. And Iraq.
ROBERTS: Look; the basic principle we've been operating on since the end of World War II is that we're better off with allies as we try to deal with the chaos in the world. We'll see if President Trump agrees that that's still true.
MARTIN: Commentator Cokie Roberts. You can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and government work by tweeting us with the hashtag #AskCokie. Thanks so much, Cokie.
ROBERTS: Thank you, Rachel.
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