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
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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 defeated.
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