Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage and Maggie Haberman

For 74 years, the NATO has been America’s most important military alliance. Presidents of both parties have seen NATO as a force multiplier enhancing the influence of the United States by uniting countries on both sides of the Atlantic in a vow to defend one another.

Donald Trump has made it clear that he sees NATO as a drain on U.S. resources by freeloaders. He has held that view for at least a quarter-century.

In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump wrote that “pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually.” As president, he repeatedly threatened a U.S. withdrawal from the alliance.

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Yet as he runs to regain the White House, Trump has said precious little about his intentions. His campaign website contains a single cryptic sentence: “We have to finish the process we began under my administration of fundamentally reevaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.” He and his team refuse to elaborate.

That vague line has generated enormous uncertainty and anxiety among European allies and American supporters of the country’s traditional foreign policy role.

European ambassadors and think tank officials have been making pilgrimages to associates of Trump to inquire about his intentions. At least one ambassador, Finland’s Mikko Hautala, has reached out directly to Trump and sought to convince him of his country’s value to NATO as a new member, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

In interviews over the past several months, more than a half-dozen current and former European diplomats — speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from Trump should he win — said alarm was rising on Embassy Row and among their home governments that Trump’s return could mean not just the abandonment of Ukraine but a broader U.S. retreat from the continent and a gutting of the Atlantic alliance.

“There is great fear in Europe that a second Trump presidency would result in an actual pullout of the United States from NATO,” said James Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who was NATO’s supreme allied commander from 2009 to 2013. “That would be an enormous strategic and historic failure on the part of our nation.”

Formed after World War II to keep the peace in Europe and act as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, NATO evolved into an instrument through which the U.S. works with allies on military issues around the world. Its original purpose — the heart of which is the collective-defense provision, known as Article V, that states that an armed attack on any member “shall be considered an attack against them all” — lives on, especially for newer members like Poland and the Baltic States that were once dominated by the Soviet Union and continue to fear Russia.

The interviews with current and former diplomats revealed that European officials were mostly out of ideas for how to deal with Trump other than returning to a previous playbook of flattery and transactional tributes.

Smaller countries that are more vulnerable to Russian attacks are expected to try to buy their way into Trump’s good graces by increasing their orders of U.S. weapons or — as Poland did during his term — by performing grand acts of adulation, including offering to name a military base Fort Trump in return for his placing a permanent presence there.

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