The new Cold War: In Trump’s warped mind, the EU is a rival to be destroyed

PUBLISHED: 09:09 18 February 2017 | UPDATED: 09:09 18 February 2017

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

The shifting sands of geopolitics has seen a frost descend on US-EU relations. But if we are to have a new Cold War - between Trump and Europe – he will lose

For several years now the geopolitical talk has been about a second Cold War between Russia and the West. This prospect has been turned on its head by President Trump. Rather than freezing out the dictator in the Kremlin, Trump has chosen to chill with Putin and appears to have designated the EU as the new “evil empire” to be 

As a successful example of cooperation between many nations and peoples, the EU incarnates everything an extreme nationalist like Trump detests. This loathing impels him to make common cause with those seeking to destroy the EU from within and without. Putin is the prime example. The astonishing extent of Trump’s shift to Russia is being exposed by the scandal unfolding in Washington, DC, following the resignation of his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, although the underlying reasons for Trump’s slavish devotion to Putin have yet to be fully revealed. What is already clear is that Trump consistently favours Russia’s corrupt autocrat over the US’s long-standing, democratic European allies. This is despite, or possibly because of, Putin’s aggressive hostility to free Europe.

Like Trump, Russia under Putin is incapable of seeing the world in terms of mutual benefit. Hence when Ukraine chose to sign an Association Agreement with the EU, Russia did not see its largest neighbour being on the path to prosperity as an asset. It saw it as a loss and responded with a brutal military invasion and occupation. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the first clear-cut attempt to change Europe’s borders by force since the Second World War. Such actions should ring alarm bells for the President of the USA – a country that made huge sacrifices during that conflict to defend freedom and democracy, and defeat an expansionist authoritarian dictator.

But Trump is not alarmed because Russia’s zero-sum “for us to win, others must lose” mindset chimes with his own and shows why hosting The Apprentice was the highest public position for which he was qualified. This simplistic mindset is wholly unsuited to the complex world of foreign policy, where finding ways to coexist is a crucial objective.

Trump’s ill-intent towards the EU is also shown by his support for those who seek to sabotage it from within, such as UKIP, and his close advisor Steve Bannon’s links to their far-right counterparts like France’s Front National Amongst the rightists actually in power, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is setting himself up as Trump and Putin’s chief cheerleader in Europe. If this is to be a new Cold War, the Hungarians will soon have to be asked to choose sides. If they would prefer to throw in their lot with the pro-Russian camp they heroically fought to escape from in 1956 and finally shook off in 1989, rather than the EU, then they should unambiguously do so and be wished good luck on the way out.

Trump’s ostentatious rhetorical support for Brexit is expressly designed as a tool to undermine the EU, rather than something that offers any obvious benefit to the
 US. Time will tell whether this translates into any significant practical support for Brexit Britain as Theresa May forlornly hopes.

Less pliable European leaders are being targeted for attack, German Chancellor Angela Merkel prominent amongst them. Her actions in welcoming refugees to Germany stand as an unintended rebuke to Trumpism and her unsought status as an alternative leader of the free world makes her an automatic target for the egotistical President. Some of those close to Trump have been showing a great interest in Greece’s ongoing economic difficulties too, as an issue which could be exploited to generate disintegration in the EU.

One such associate is the business writer and University of Reading academic Ted Malloch, who Trump is reportedly considering nominating as his ambassador to the EU. Malloch’s appointment would be an openly hostile act.

He is in no position to maintain a working relationship with the EU, having clearly declared his aggressive intentions towards it. He was a rabid supporter of Brexit, urges other member states to hold similar referendums and appears to delight in the hope that 
Europe’s main currency, the euro, might collapse.

Ludicrously and crassly, Malloch has compared the EU, the organisation that has underpinned European freedom and democracy for six decades, to the totalitarian USSR, telling BBC News that he wanted the job of US ambassador because “I had in a previous career a diplomatic post where I helped bring down the Soviet Union. So maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming”.

Perhaps fortunately for Europe, Malloch’s claims to have brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union from the comfort of an obscure UN economic posting in Geneva are somewhat contested (see The New European’s interview with Malloch)

Malloch says he regularly advised Trump during his campaign, which would partly explain the President’s attitude towards the EU. Trump is evidently extremely suggestible and handicapped by his short-term attention span. Having a succession of virulently anti-EU voices in his ear, including, briefly, our own Nigel Farage, will only have cemented his pre-existing nationalist prejudices against multilateral cooperation.

Some of Trump’s anti-EU instincts also stem from his lifetime as a confrontational businessman who sees stiffing his counterparts and crushing his competitors as the only way to succeed.

Europe and, until Trump’s election, the US have long been the most reliable beacons of democracy and freedom in the world. They remain the world’s two largest economies. This should lead Trump to see the EU as an obvious ally offering mutual economic and security benefits.

Instead, his warped business instincts cause him to treat it as a competitor to be destroyed. Such an outlook might sometimes work in property development. But attacking your most reliable allies and leaving yourself isolated is not a wise way to operate in world politics.

Unlike his many Democrat and Republican predecessors, it is striking that Trump rarely, if ever, speaks about being part of the “free world” that has always united the US and the EU. In Trump’s eyes, freedom is relegated far behind an obsession with a “clash of civilisations”, to use Samuel Huntington’s horribly misguided characterisation. This involves seeing the world in ugly terms of ethnicity and religion, rather than the struggle it invariably is between those of all faiths and races who seek freedom and those who seek to deny it to them.

Europe does not want a Cold War with the US government. But if the scandal-ridden Trump manages to stay in office long enough to inflict one upon it, the EU must stand firmly for its principles. It will win for the same reasons why the West won the previous Cold War - because those principles of freedom, democracy and tolerance are what most people desire, including the majority of Americans.

Paul Knott is a former diplomat and writer on international affairs. He has written a book about life in the Foreign Office, The Accidental Diplomat

See page 26 for Knott on the defence of Europe

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a Friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish).
  • Become a Patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You or your company will be mentioned in the newspaper each week (should you wish) and you and a guest will be invited to join the editor at a special lunch in London this June to discuss the anniversary of Brexit.

Supporter Options

Latest articles

We will keep marching for the UK’s future in the EU

Why Saturday’s protest needs to be a display of unity for all our sakes

Just how reliant is our economy on workers born overseas?

It is not just construction, technology and retail that relies heavily on overseas workers. Brexit could impact industries across the economy.

Never has the truth about Brexit been more needed

George Osborne is not the only big newspaper appointment to make waves. Our editor-at-large Alastair Campbell explains why he’s joined The New European

Nicola Sturgeon on Scottish independence: If not now, when?

Theresa May is right that now is not the time for a referendum on Scottish independence. But if she disagrees with our timeframe, she must set out her own alternative

London attacks: how do you protect people from terrorism through urban design?

Westminster attack raises spectre of new ‘rings of steel’ to boost security in urban centres

Alastair Campbell joins The New European as editor-at-large

The New European has announced that Alastair Campbell is joining its editorial board as Editor-at-Large.

Bonnie Greer: With Brexit we have turned our back on the world – and our values

Not everyone who voted leave is a racist or a xenophobe but the campaign and its aftermath has attracted some dubious supporters

Brexit timeline: What happens next once Article 50 is triggered?

When Article 50 is triggered on March 29 there is a two-year deadline for Britain and the EU to complete the hugely complex negotiations

Downing Street tussles with Brussels over £50bn divorce bill as PM names date for Article 50

Article 50: The Government and Brussels have squared up after the PM signalled a date to trigger the formal process to quit the EU

Tory MP’s Hard Brexit warning

Tory MP issues a warning to party colleagues of the dangers of Hard Brexit, as he launches a new initiative to build bridges with Europe

Don’t send Ireland back to division

A family story of the close family bonds between Ireland and the UK, and what Brexit might mean for Ireland.

Dear Mr Gove, we appreciate how our values could be deeply irritating to you

For the avoidance of doubt, Michael, we hold you in contempt.

Indy Ref 2 is coming: the UK is no longer fit for purpose

Scottish nationalist Hardeep Singh Kohli is feeling confident about the prospect of independence for his beloved country

Jack Monroe on trolls, mental breakdown and that libel victory over Katie Hopkins

EXCLUSIVE: A libel victory over Katie Hopkins, a suicide attempt and the hope that we might all finally learn to be a little kinder to one another online

No green Brexit: why the implications look sinister for wildlife

The sinister implications of Brexit for wildlife have rather gone under the radar thus far. But it is likely that we will all see the impact soon enough

How spa culture is taking over Europe (and the 5 best places to join in)

There are few ways to relax that are more European than a trip to a spa. But there are also few things more fraught with potential embarrassment. Here, we provide a guide to the etiquette expected

Why we need a second Brexit vote: First law of politics is people can change their minds

People can, and regularly do, change their minds. The public should be given that option once the Brexit deal is done.

Higher education reforms and Brexit have become inextricably linked

The Brexit Bill is not the only one to have suffered a rough ride in the Lords in recent months.


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter