The End of the West As We Know It

Strategic Culture


The End of the West As We Know It

The shock, unbelievable, astonishing election of Donald J. Trump is not only a massive turning point in the history of the United States. It is also the end of an era for the post-WWII American led Global Order and it marks the beginning of the twilight of American global leadership. The repercussions of this presidential election will be felt for years to come and will have profound effects on global politics. Mr. Trump’s «America First» policy and isolationism will lead America to abdicate and eventually lose its role as the World’s Police Man and pre-eminent Superpower status. 

President elect Trump has openly questioned and disparaged the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. There are going to be big tensions and fissures within NATO regarding the arrival of Donald Trump and Trumpism in American foreign policy. Mr. Trump will bring to a head the massive imbalance in NATO funding arrangements. To be fair to Mr. Trump does have a point with regards to the funding of NATO. The United States shoulders well over 50% of the funding of NATO while other European members have been able to shelter under the American/NATO defence umbrella without paying their fair share. This has been glossed over and tolerated by various American administrations both Republican and Democrat. Now however, if Trump sticks to his previous pronouncements on NATO it could mean a big shake up of NATO or perhaps even the Alliance breaking apart. 

The Donald stated at an election rally back in the summer that he would like to: «keep NATO, but I want them (the other European member states) to pay. I don’t want to be taken advantage of». Most starkly, the United States spends 3 percent of gross domestic product on its armed forces while the rest of NATO averages 1.4 percent of GDP even after agreeing formally to a 2 percent target. And the consequences are natural—for example, at the peak of the Afghanistan war the U.S. provided 100,000 troops to the mission while the rest of NATO managed only about 35,000. Trump has capitalised on this imbalance to further propose his America First agenda. Trump is apparently willing to disband NATO as well as key Asian alliances, and to withdraw from the Middle East as well — a «Trexit».

For President elect Trump, everything, including military alliances, is seen through the prism of zero sum business transactions. Commenting further Trump has questioned one of the most sacrosanct principles of NATO, Article 5, that an attack on one member state is an attack on all members: «people aren’t paying their fair share and then the stupid people, they say, ‘but we have a treaty’». Striking a deeply isolationist and quasi-xenophobic tone Mr. Trump lambasted the idea of having to defend far away countries who were not paying their fair dues: «We’re protecting countries that most of the people in this room have never even heard of and we end up in world war three…give me a break». 

The divisions in NATO will now most likely be brought to the fore and could, if not managed carefully, lead to the unravelling of the Atlantic Alliance. It is not just America’s European and North Atlantic alliances, which could fracture during the four years ahead of President Trump. He has previously singled out not just European nations like Germany but also other US allies like Japan and Saudi Arabia, threatening them that if elected America could «walk» if they do not pay the full cost of American soldiers stationed in those countries for their protection. Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt reacted after the Trump NATO comments by stating: «I never thought a serious candidate for US President could be a serious threat against the security of the West. But that’s where we are».

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her statement congratulating Donald Trump on his election contained a veiled warning. Frau Merkel: «Germany & America are connected by values: democracy, freedom, respect for the law and the dignity of human beings independently of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. On the basis of these values, I am offering the future President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, close co-operation». 

France’s President Francois Hollande was even more pointed in his «congratulation» statement declaring that Trump’s victory: «opens a period of uncertainty». Speaking from the Elysee Palace President Hollande said that there was now a greater need for a united Europe, able to wield influence on the international stage and promote its values and interests whenever they are challenged. 

The EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini alluded to a similar theme in her tweet on the election result talking about the need to rediscover «the strength of Europe». Indeed, the election of Donald Trump as President could provide a catalyst for a dramatic rallying around by the Europeans to a separate and unified European defence organization. Trump’s election could have the consequence of speeding up and providing the rapid rationale needed to kick into high gear the push towards a new European Army, outlined by Jean-Claude Junker in the summer, in contrast to NATO.

At risk is a core principle of America’s post-World War II strategy—that trying to stay out of others’ business did not work and, in fact, helped lead to the world wars. Trump rejects this and would prefer that the United States interfered less in other countries affairs. Trump in particular seems to reject the core elements of America’s strengths in the world market and international security system and appears indifferent to or hostile even towards the post-WWII trans-Atlantic American commitment to European defence which could ease the ascension of a European Defence Community on par with NATO and eventual replace NATO as the main defence pillar for European security giving the EU a global military identity and capability. 

If Hillary Clinton had been elected President of the USA then moves towards a common European defence posture might have taken longer and may have been more restrained or perhaps even involve NATO to some extent. NATO would have remained the cornerstone of the United States defence and security apparatus and policy making in Europe and under a Clinton administration with attempts made to strengthen NATO relevance, identity and cohesion with initiatives designed to reinvigorate the alliance. 

One silver lining to a Trump Presidency, which ironically could hasten a divergence between America and Europe and cause deep alarm and division within NATO, is the possibility of détente between Russia and America under the respective leaderships of President Trump and President Putin. President Trump will in all likelihood attempt to foster a new and closer relationship between Washington DC and Moscow, particularly with regards to combating ISIS in the Middle East and stabilising Syria. 

The EU and NATO, particularly the Eastern European countries will probably resist this push for enhanced cooperation and closer relations between America and Russia but it is clear that a Trump administration will place much greater emphasis on taking into account Russian interests rather than seeking confrontation and conflict and will not take great consideration over Western or Eastern European concerns. So, the election of Donald Trump as American President could represent a seismic geopolitical realignment and the end of The West as we have known The West since the end of WWII. NATO may fracture or become obsolete while the United States could move closer to Russia while the European Union moves away from America.

Strategic Culture