Trump in Europe: The Great Disruptor

Was US President Donald Trump’s European tour, much feared by European leaders and NATO powers alike, was a success or failure? For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion:

Trumps G7 Meeting

After the fractious G7 meeting in June, Trump derided the Canadian PM Justin Trudetu, as

dishonest and weak

Then threatened to escalate his trade wars. And in an unprecedented move Trump refused to sign a joint statement by Americas allies. So when Donald Trump landed in Brussels for the Nato summit last week, leaders of the other 28 allied nations were bracing themselves. But they couldn’t have been prepared for the full force of the storm that descended. In his first meeting, the US president launched into a furious tirade. He accused Berlin of being totally controlled by Moscow. This is because of its support for a new pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would transport Russian gas straight to northern Germany. He complained that Berlin was paying billions and billions of dollars to the country

we’re supposed to be protecting you against

Then he demanded that Germany contribute more to Europe’s defence. Once again, Western leaders were left wondering if Trump is intent on preserving the postwar alliance or on abandoning it.

Trump and NATO

Many people fear Donald Trump is undermining the stability of NATO and the EU. But his attacks on them have been purely verbal. Tthey don’t threaten the way those bodies work. Trump’s oft-made claim that the US is getting a bad deal from NATO is absurd. That the US funds the alliance is not a bug of the system, it is a feature. Since WWII, America’s strategy has been to:

  • support and defend a free Europe
  • to deter local arms races, and
  • reduce the risk of it being dominated by any one power that may threaten US hegemony.

The US is the biggest defence spender: but that is to its advantage as it is not in US interests for European nations massively to increase their spending.

It’s not NATO that is truly at risk from the US president. Rather it is the one that enforces the global rules-based trading system: the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Trump has challenged its authority by slapping tariffs on trade partners and justifying them on grounds of national security. This leaves the WTO with the choice either of:

  • backing critics who insist that this is just a back-door form of protectionism, or
  • of accepting Trump’s justification and so legitimising a giant loophole in the global trading rules.

Trump and Dictators

When Trump meets the like of Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, he remembers his manners. It seems he plays the tough guy, and dishes out humiliation when he meets his allies democratic leaders (particularly women). Last week, Britain provided the US president with a full-dress banquet at Blenheim Palace. This was followed by tea with the Queen. His itinerary that allowed him to fly around the country pretending there weren’t large crowds gathering to protest their hatred for him. And what did Theresa May get in return? A series of insults calculated to undermine and weaken her. Trump trashed May’s plans for Brexit, telling The Sun that she didn’t listen to his advice on how to negotiate. Her deal, he said, wasn’t probably kill the prospects of an Anglo-American free-trade deal. For good measure, he declared that Boris Johnson would make a great prime minister. Trump displayed appallingly bad manners. Imagine his rage if the roles had been reversed, with May bad-mouthing him in The New York Times before an official visit to Washington.

Trump made it very clear that there is a choice to be made: do you follow EU regulations, or American ones? Free trade with the US and frictionless access to the EU single market are incompatible. For Britain, the answer ought to be clear. Nearly half its trade is with the EU, and less than a fifth with the US. But either way, Trump has shown us that we will not be able to have the best of both worlds.

What do you think? Leave a comment below:

Photo by Brigadier Chastity Crispbread on / CC BY-NC-SA

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