Flattering Trump is no substitute for close EU partners

InFacts, 30.05.2019
David H.A. Hannay, miembro de la Cámara de los Lores y ex embajador británico (UE-ONU)

After several days of raking over the ashes of the European Parliament elections and being subjected to the sighting shots in the forthcoming Conservative leadership election, it is perhaps time to focus on a different, but not entirely disconnected, issue: next week’s state visit to the UK of Donald Trump. What light does it shed on the relationship between our two countries?

When answering this question, it would help if the usual obsession with the trivial aspects – who sits next to whom at the state banquet, who sees and who does not see the president, how many times the word “special” is mentioned in public statements – were not allowed to dominate. Because, Brexit or no Brexit, where that relationship now stands and is prospectively heading does matter a lot to us; and – never forget this – more to us than it does to the US.

If we look at the whole range of the Trump administration’s international policy decisions over the last two and a half years, it is hard to identify a single one which has been of benefit to the UK, or on which the UK has been consulted and had some influence before they were announced. If true, that is a sobering assessment to reach.

So let us look at the detail.

  • Climate change: the US decision to pull out of the Paris accords clearly weakens what was already an inadequate response to a challenge of increasing concern to all Europe’s electorates, as was shown by the increased votes for green parties in the recent elections.
  • Stopping Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability: the US decision to withdraw from the JCPOA (commonly referred to as the “Iran nuclear deal”), which aimed to roll back Iran’s nuclear potential, not only increases the risk of hostilities and of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but weakens one of the pillars of international peace and security – the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  • Israel/Palestine: the US decisions to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory reduces even further the chances of a negotiated two-states solution and increases the risk of turmoil on Europe’s doorstep.
  • NATO: however justified the insistence on a larger European contribution to defence spending may be, pressing it in terms that put in question the deterrent effect of the alliance on potential aggressors merely weakens the security of its European members, ourselves included.
  • Trade policy: the US administration’s mercantilist approach, its flouting of WTO rules, and its undermining of that organisation’s dispute settlement procedures put at risk the whole rules-based international trading system which has contributed so much to global prosperity in recent decades.

The full list is longer. And what is perhaps most striking is that on every one of these issues the UK’s policies and interests are more closely in harmony with those of other European countries than they are with those of the Trump administration. An odd moment, you might think, to be distancing ourselves from EU policy making, which the UK has done so much to shape over the past 40 years.

What conclusions should be drawn so far as the UK’s future foreign policy is concerned? We should certainly not slip into that knee-jerk anti-Americanism which was so prevalent at times during the Cold War. But nor can we afford to assume that we will always want to follow a US lead, particularly when US policy is formulated so erratically and with so little concern for the interests of its allies. And we will need to practise more, not less, close working together with other European countries and with like-minded countries around the world.

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