I hope John Le Carré’s writing about this.
It is hard to know what motivates Donald Trump, other than the desire to be King Kong on the Empire State Building. His speeches are so swaggering, the approach so scatter-gun, that the guiding sense is difficult to unscramble. But a few facts have emerged like rocks in a raging sea, and they are: (1) he favours a rapprochement with Russia; (2) he hates and fears China; (3) he dislikes and wants to break up the EU; (4) he has threatened to re-think America’s commitment to NATO. To these may be added, (5) Russia also would like to see the break-up of the EU; (6) Russia would like to see the disintegration of NATO.
In view of all these, it really makes no difference whether, as alleged, the Russians have dirt on Trump and are in a position to blackmail him, because he is not behaving like a man who needs to be blackmailed. He is behaving like a willing partner. Or, perhaps, like a man so entranced by himself that he needs only to have his self-delusion fed. However, it’s clear that he has to shoot down the dossier story (“Fake news!” “Enemies of the people!” “Pile of garbage!”) because it is simply too dangerous, and too shameful, even for a man of his brazenness. Never mind golden showers, this is alleged treason.
Nevertheless, his administration’s links to Russia are proven, and so are both Trump’s and Putin’s hostility to the European Union. That would be bad enough. Conspiracy theorists are much derided, but if this isn’t a conspiracy already it could become one at any moment. Factor in the mutual approval between Trump, Putin and the far-right nationalists trying to get elected in Europe, and you have what looks like a fifth column being prepared in situ. For what? A conflict of ideologies, at the very least.
Add to that the rumblings about pulling out of NATO – now soft-pedalled, but for how long? – and the implication is that Trump would not fire a popgun to stop Europe fragmenting into dictatorships under, probably, Russian influence.
How would getting out of Europe help him? He is not interested in saving money for its own sake, because he is boosting the military budget by 10%. But it would play well at home, with the sort of people who hate foreign aid. And it would free his hands. Because, if you add to the above scenario one in which Trump’s hostility to China is untrammelled by ties to Europe, while Russian ambitions have been directed westwards towards a Europe that has lost its political identity, you are looking at the perfect springboard for an attack on China.
None of the above is fanciful. The pieces are all there on the chessboard, and the opening moves have been made.
What follows is not an argument for NATO, but an argument for facing realities. Trump’s attitude to NATO is, on the face of it, both reasonable and consistent with his isolationism. He has said the European members must pay their way. All American presidents have said that since NATO was formed, but this one has found a new tone. America spends 3.6% of its GDP on NATO; of the other 27 member countries, few (the UK is one) put in even the 2% that is asked for. One might think that “Pay up or lose it” is fair enough if we all want to benefit from the presence of American bases, American bombers and missiles, American troops, American radar, American satellite and listening stations, American nuclear weapons…
Do we? There is a view of NATO which points out that it is an expansionist alliance, that its advance into former Soviet territories in breach of a promise made to Gorbachev by the Western powers in 1989 has hardened Russian attitudes to the West, and maintains that the USA uses Europe as its aircraft carrier. The internet is shy of saying how many US bases there are in Europe, but the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases lists ten in Britain.They are ambiguous entities: accepted but not by all, and both visible and invisible. There is a vitally strategic NSA communications station at Menwith Hill, which is shrouded in secrecy in spite of the fact that its enormous white golf balls can be seen for miles over the Yorkshire Dales. Nobody talks about it, and if you ask you will be genially told that it is an RAF base. And indeed there are RAF personnel there.
The USA has the largest military in the world and aims to keep it, because it may soon not have the largest economy in the world. To imagine that America has been pumping dollars into the North Atlantic alliance as an act of altruism towards a part of the globe of which it is sentimentally fond is…well, sentimentality. Every American base outside America is a bridgehead, and every Supreme Commander of NATO (SACEUR) has been an American.
If America withdraws from NATO, what is going to happen to all those bases, all that hardware, all those weapons? It is inconceivable that any President, and particularly this President, will abandon his bridgeheads. Trump may not want to point his missiles at Russia any more, but he isn’t going to ignore Iran. In any case, it wouldn’t sit with what else is happening. New bases are being constructed or updated for cyber warfare. The “intelligence fusion centre” at Croughton, near Milton Keynes, is one; it hacked Angela Merkel’s phone.
So is America advancing, or retreating into isolation? In Asia it is advancing like a forest fire: China is encircled by newly-built bases off Korea and Japan. So let’s suppose the most important European bases stay (no-one is going to ship Menwith Hill home, if only because it is perfectly located for radio communications; then there is the radar at Fylingdales, incorporated into the US National Missile Defence system). If the smaller ones are repatriated, that leaves a network of military installations across Europe that are essential to US strategic interests but of no benefit to the host countries. No benefit, because the link that bound America to the defence of Europe is broken.
This sort of arrangement is usually only seen in an occupied country. However, that is beside the point. The point is that every military base is a military target. If you leave the target there, but withdraw its protection…
No, no, that can’t happen.
And even if it does, we have our own independent nuclear deterrent.
Forget it. It is not independent. It can’t be used without the guidance system, which is American-controlled.
And Europe, of which Britain is geographically a part, whether Brexiters like it or not, will be in the eye of the storm.
What are Britain’s leaders doing about all this terrifying stuff? Withdrawing from the EU. Kicking and sulking, as they always have, at any mention of a combined European defence force. Protesting anxiously at the possible break-up of NATO without saying anything remotely intelligent about it. Continuing to vow friendship with the strongman in the White House, which will not save Britain because it can’t, but can and will further alienate Britain’s European allies. Continuing to stick the knife into the EU in any way possible: if divide and rule is not an option, then divide and confuse, divide and hurt, divide and perish if necessary, but always divide.
Well, it worked in the past.
It’ll be fine.