What it means for U.S. allies when Trump shares information with Russia


As reports circulate that Trump revealed classified information in a recent meeting with Sergei Lavrov, Stephanie Carvin details what those outside the U.S., especially within ‘Five Eyes’ allied states, need to know.

United States President Donald Trump may have given highly classified, sensitive information about the Islamic State to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in Washington last week.

However, even while revelations unfold and are yet to be confirmed, the story itself—first published by the Washington Post—raises serious issues with important national security implications for the U.S., Canada and the rest of the West.

Here are three things you need to know:

1. In-fighting within the U.S. is trouble for its allies.

The incident in question suggests that the feud between Trump and the U.S. intelligence community (IC) is ongoing. As I have written before, this is very bad news for U.S. and Canadian security. In brief, if the leadership of the U.S. IC is distracted by bureaucratic in-fighting, it means that they are not focused on gathering threat-related information that helps keep America, and by extension Canada, safe.

The reason for this is that Canada is a member of the so-called “Five-Eyes” group of nations that have high levels of intelligence sharing and coordination. Other than Canada and the U.S., this also includes the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. In this relationship, Canada is mostly an intelligence consumer rather than an intelligence producer. As such, any disruption in the U.S. IC will affect the threat-related information available to Canada, potentially putting our country at risk.

2. This can only deepen the West’s distrust of Trump.

Although Canada may consume more than it produces, this story of information-sharing reaffirms that national security leaders in Canada (as well as other U.S. allies) are likely thinking very carefully before sharing highly classified and extremely sensitive information with the U.S. Certainly, it is even possible that authorities have already thought through these risks when Trump was elected last November. However, this story can only play into suspicions that Trump is an unreliable ally with questionable ties to foreign regimes, including Russia.

3. It’s in Russia’s interest to disrupt Western intelligence sharing.

Finally, and most importantly, if there are doubts among national security leaders in Western capitals around the globe (but especially in Five-Eyes countries) as to the viability or security of intelligence-sharing arrangements, there is a significant risk that these networks will be damaged, possibly permanently. In this sense, beyond the chance that Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving highly classified U.S. and allied information, Trump (Putin’s “useful idiot”) is disrupting one of the most powerful weapons we have against the Russian leader—a united intelligence network aimed at understanding and undermining his strategic aims.

Where will the situation go from here? It is doubtful that this incident will be the final straw for Congressional Republicans who seem to have concluded they are better off siding with Trump under almost any circumstance. If that is the case, U.S. allies should not expect any effective checks on Trump’s power for some time yet. As such, they, including Canada, will be facing some difficult choices ahead. Although the situation continues to unfold, for allies, it will likely seem very, very, bleak.

Stephanie Carvin is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

This article was first published by Open Canada on 16 May 2017. It is republished with permission.