He’s only had a few weeks in charge, but President Trump has left a trail of shaken and stirred world leaders in his wake.
How gratifying that Theresa May was not one of them. Her triumphant meeting with Trump was a master class in how diplomacy should be done.
May skillfully won Trump’s commitment to NATO by giving him the opportunity to denounce it, and by almost putting praise for NATO in his mouth. “Mr. President” she said, “I think you said, you confirmed that you’re 100 percent behind NATO.”
Trump had the chance to interject, to object, or to reject; he instead nodded in agreement. May had secured, in public, Trump’s NATO commitment.
This much was widely noted. What came next is only just being understood: “I’ve agreed to continue my efforts to encourage my fellow European leaders to deliver on their commitments to spend two percent of their GDP on defence so that the burden is more fairly shared.”
This was a veiled threat that NATO members need to get their act together. Most recently, General James Mattis restated that Europe needs to ramp up its spending.
This is a god-send for the EU. With hysteria sweeping the Euro-elite because of Brexit, with fear of Russia at frenzy proportions, and with desperate attempts still taking place to subdue the Greek tragedy and stop it infecting the rest of the continent (Greece could easily be the next state to leave the EU), the Rump EU has the perfect opportunity to integrate further.
The last NATO summit in Wales stated at least 11 times that NATO wished for the EU to pool defence sovereignty further. The EU Treaties give it all of the needed legal power to integrate forces. Article 20 TEU gives states the right to initiate enhanced cooperation, Article 24 covers the “progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence”.
This “might” is nullified later by Article 42, stating clearly “This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council….decides”. Now, with US pressure, all of the excuses are in place. A combined Euroforce will meet 2% of GDP, though fundamentally erode the sovereign capabilities of participating states.
If the EU can take this massive step forwards, it will likely lead to either a two-speed Europe or more states leaving. A defence integration project will be done under the banner of “war has irreversibly been defeated; our rival armies now march in unison”, ignorant of the fact that while three armies may have become one, this one army is far more threatening to external forces than the original three; and one, large, united force in the wrong hands is worse than 1 out of 3 smaller forces. Additionally, in this era of social disobedience, just how useful are large armies against swathes of disenchanted citizens, unhappy at job losses and the changes thrust upon them by a distant political elite?
Britain needs to be ready. The Rump EU is likely to create ‘national champion’ defence players, seeking to challenge American hegemony. Yet their very creation will weaken the EU by destroying national industries for the sake of economies of scale when forming the trans-European business. It will thus make the EU stronger at the top, but weaker at the bottom. How should the UK react to this? Answer: cooperate on projects the UK needs, but don’t entangle too deeply. Our interests lie both sides of the Atlantic.
Secondly, as peripheral EU states become more disenchanted, NATO may find a new lease of life as the only guarantor of unity. NATO can thus be saved and strengthened at the expense of the EU, playing into both UK and American hands, as well as helping Eastern European states stand on their own feet.
The alternative is to stop free riders by charging. Why shouldn’t the UK and US charge Eastern Europe for the provision of defence? Such a move would help stretched budgets and keep the US involved in Europe.
If the EU carries on with more power accruing to the centre, with more migration destroying social cohesion, and with fewer opportunities in the face of technological change, widespread social unrest cannot be far away. The UK must be prepared, for we know where that can lead…