Trump and International Security

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 14 November 2016. © Richard Kemp

Since Donald Trump’s election, media-fuelled panic has engulfed Europe, including over defence and security. We are told that World War III is imminent, that Trump will jump into bed with Putin and pull the US out of NATO. Such fantasies are put about by media cheerleaders for European political elites, terrified that Trump’s election will inspire support for populist candidates in the forthcoming elections in Germany, the Netherlands and France.

In fact, it is the EU, not Donald Trump, that threatens to undermine NATO and the security of the West. In recent days, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, his foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen have suggested that Trump’s election should give greater impetus to a European defence force.

This has been an EU aspiration for many years. Citing Trump is just a cynical pretext for speeding it up. It is already well advanced and has gained greater focus since the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The EU army is a vanity project, seen by many European leaders as a necessary instrument of the ever-closer union they desire. Speaking at a meeting of the European Defence Agency in Brussels the day after Trump’s election, Ms Mogherini suggested that the EU needs ‘the full potential of a super power, in the field of defence and security.’

To the economically atrophied EU, a defence union also has the potential for enormous financial savings. The intention will be to aggregate national military capabilities under what will no doubt be described as rationalization and efficiency. This will bring swingeing cuts to European defence capability. It will also severely reduce flexibility and the redundancy which is so vital to military forces that have any expectation of combat in which attrition and multiple simultaneous threats might occur.

The byzantine EU bureaucracy, combined with timidity in so many European nations, will ensure its army could never be deployed in anger. An EU defence union will also present a direct threat to NATO, competing for funds, building in duplication and confusion, and setting up rival military structures. In her speech, Ms Mogherini even spelt out the need for a single EU headquarters for military missions, which she likened to SHAPE, the NATO command centre.

The German defence minister told reporters on the day Trump was elected that he must treat NATO as an alliance of shared values rather than a business. She said: ‘You can’t say the past doesn’t matter, the values we share don’t matter, but instead try to get as much money out of NATO as possible and whether I can get a good deal out of it.’

This is breath-taking hypocrisy from the defence minister of a nation that spends less than 1.2% of GDP on defence against an agreed NATO minimum target of 2%, while freeloading off the United States’s 73% contribution to NATO’s overall defence spending. How much are ‘the values we share’ worth to her country?

Britain is one of the few European countries that achieve even the minimum 2%, with some spending only half that. This is what Trump was talking about when he said European nations need to pull their weight. Contrary to political and media spin, he has not threatened to take the US out of NATO nor, apparently, will he do so – unless forced into it by the EU’s drive to become a super-state with its own army. European leaders would do well to recognize that they need the US more than the US needs them, and that real, concrete, committed defence from the world’s greatest military power is more beneficial to them than a fantasy army that will have plenty of flags, headquarters and generals but no teeth.

In his insistence that the Europeans contribute more, Trump will have a fight on his hands because they have no intention of doing so. Neither do most European governments have any intention of the serious use of military force ever again. Britain may still be an exception to this, and France less so. Britain’s bilateral defence and intelligence ties with the US are already far closer than any other European state. The UK should now be looking at strengthening these even further, and drawing yet closer to the US in the face of the military impotence that would accompany an EU defence union.

The European media have also made hay with Trump’s non-confrontational approach towards President Putin, spreading fears that this too will undermine international security. This is nonsense. He may find more effective ways to accommodate the Russian president than his predecessor, including resisting provocative and misjudged European Union expansion eastwards, but he is not the sort of man to appease the likes of Putin.

Trump will also make a stronger stand against other threats to the US and the West than Obama has, and it is vital that he does so. He described Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran as ‘the worst deal ever negotiated’ and has vowed to counteract Iran’s violations, if necessary hitting them with tough new sanctions and perhaps tearing up the deal altogether.

Tellingly, since the announcement of Trump’s victory, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already shown how much this worries him. Expect to see Iran’s anti-American provocations curtailed when Trump becomes president. A stronger US stance is urgently hoped for by troubled US allies in the Middle East, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states, all of which fear growing Iranian aggression throughout the region.

There is a conflict between the necessary hard-line approach against Iran and greater cooperation with Russia. US President Barack Obama, in his desperation to achieve and sustain his legacy nuclear deal, prostrated himself to the ayatollahs and left a power vacuum across the Middle East. Both Iran and Russia seized on his pusillanimity. Re-asserting American influence in the region will be one of Trump’s greatest challenges.

A priority is to hammer the Islamic State and their jihadist bedfellows wherever they raise their heads. Trump must, in his words, ‘hit them so hard your head would spin.’ He should also prioritize both practical and moral support to anti-Islamist regimes in the Middle East, such as Sisi’s Egypt.

He needs to do the same at home as well, strongly countering the spreading and corrosive Islamic radicalization in the US. He has said he will crack down on domestic supporters of the Islamic State, shutting radical mosques and revoking the passports of US citizens who travel to fight with them. Not only would this enhance homeland security, it would also help undermine IS’s global appeal, especially if European countries followed his lead.

Time and again, history has shown that only strong leaders, not appeasers, can maintain peace and security. It was the strength of Ronald Reagan with Margaret Thatcher at his shoulder that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had threatened and attacked Western democracies across the globe for decades.

European leaders need to recognize this too. Rather than spreading fear and false propaganda about Donald Trump, they should be praying that he will provide the strength that is so desperately needed today, and working out how best they can support rather than attack him.

Image: Wikimedia Commons