US President Donald Trump is incredible. Not for him the niceties of how to deal with fellow world leaders.
After the way Trump behaved with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G7 Summit calling him “meek and mild” and accusing him of “dishonesty” on trade issues, and his subsequent walkout of the signing ceremony for a communiqué has come his broadside against German Chancellor Angelo Merkel at the NATO Summit in Brussels blasting Germany for its dependence on Russian gas.
While the intemperate behaviour against Trudeau ruined the G7 Summit consensus, the latest one against Merkel could well wreck the accord at NATO. France too has been at the receiving end of Trump’s quixotic and seemingly insane barbs and so has the UK.
Merkel has for quite a while had rough brushes with Trump but has no option but to deal with him. The scowl on their faces makes the dislike starkly obvious.
Trump had earlier disturbed a hornet’s nest soon after he assumed office by withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate deal which his predecessor Barack Obama had piloted ever so painstakingly. A few weeks ago, Trump pooh poohed the US-Iran nuclear accord.
The US President’s imposition of tariffs on US imports from China is a different kettle of fish, teaching a lesson or two to the increasingly arrogant China which had been riding high on Xi Jinping’s moves to style itself as a superpower.
All eyes are now on the Brussels NATO Summit for more fireworks by Trump. His calling Merkel as a “captive of Russia” despite the fact that she was one of the architects and remains the staunchest defender of economic sanctions against Russia in response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, has angered many Europeans no end.
The US, whom Trump paints as the victim, is accused of being ‘hoodwinked’ while Germany and other allies are villains “free riding” on US security guarantees while their own economies grow without the burden of adequate defence spending.
Trump has stated several times recently that European allies are “killing us” and has gone so far as to state the European Union (EU) was set up to undermine US interests. This in regard to a Europe that has for decades been a staunch ally of the US is an interesting quirk of fate.
There is indeed a grain of truth in Trump’s rhetoric—NATO member-states are not doing enough to build up military capabilities, having got used to walking on crutches provided by past US regimes. As the strongest economy in Europe, Trump correctly surmises that Germany can afford to pay more for its own defence.
Under Merkel’s leadership, German defence spending has reached a low of 1.18 per cent of GDP, down from 2.39 per cent at the end of the Cold War in 1990. Historically, no other country has benefited from NATO’s security guarantee like Germany.
That the trade war that Trump has initiated against China and to some extent India will, predictably be replicated in Europe is a surmise that is being increasingly made. Trump is flexing his muscles to impress the local youth constituency which he considers crucial in the next elections.
But the Trump administration is actually losing out nationally to the pro-NATO forces that are much stronger as a constituency within the US. What it needs to do is to reinforce its ironclad commitment to European defence and sustain the US’ political support and security presence in Europe for the long-term.
As it is, the credibility of the Trump administration is at a low ebb. Any failure to keep up relations with Europe will jeopardise not only US interests in the world at large but also the Trump administration’s interest nationally.