President Donald Trump travelled to Europe to attend a two-day North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit in Brussels beginning on July 11, then from there he travelled to Britain and then onto Helsinki where he had a meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin before travelling back home. This was his second tour of Europe since assuming his office.
Even before he arrived in Brussels, he started berating the European Union (EU) and complaining about intractable problems he was having with NATO and crisis faced by the British government and then Putin. His ire was particularly directed at British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He thought Putin was the easiest of all the problems he was facing in Europe. He described Putin as a competitor rather than a foe. He accused the EU of taking advantage of the USA and further added that US spending on NATO helped Europe more than the USA. The EU Council President Donald Tusk snapped back at Trump claiming that Europe spent on defence more than Russia and as much as China. Then he pointedly remarked to appreciate his (Trump) allies and he (Trump) did not have many left.
The NATO summit opened in a crisis atmosphere as Trump started the day with a tirade against major NATO members for not sharing the burden due to them and his special venom was directed against Germany not only for not stepping up its defence expenditure but also for entering into a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, a country considered to be an enemy of Germany and other European countries. The German Defence Minister Ursula van der Leyen dismissed Trump's assertion and said that Germany was just diversifying its energy supply sources.
But Trump is a travelling salesman for the US armament and energy industries to boost US arms and energy (gas) exports to European countries. He was singularly focused on narrowing the trade gap between the EU and the USA by enhanced exports of energy (gas) and armament. He knows NATO is a racket and he never questioned why it exists despite his threats to leave NATO. His push for increased defence expenditure by European countries and his tirade against Germany's gas supply deal with Russia are directed to achieve his trade policy objectives. His push for Europe to increase its contribution to NATO is to push them to buy US arms and energy (gas).
NATO was created as a hot war instrument against the Warsaw Pact. But with the cessation of the Cold War with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, its continued existence as a security apparatus has become anomalous. However, the massive NATO bureaucracy with its all financial and other privileges has also created a huge vested interest in its continuance.
As one security analyst has described, NATO owes its existence now primarily to manage the risk it created by its own existence. As such it has become an instrument for maintaining the US global dominance.
But NATO singularly proved to be an ineffective instrument to achieve that objective if one looks at record of performance of its missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. In effect these countries are not only failed states and their state machines are corrupt to the core but also completely ruined. In essence, the USA needs NATO more than Europe needs it. Europe is quite capable of designing its own security architecture. However, Trump wants to cleverly pitch his strategy to sell more arms (Trump needs to remember that the UK, France and Germany also have their arms industry and they are competitors of the USA in the global arms market) and energy (a very expensive proposition for Europe to buy gas from the USA) to Europe. They do understand that but Europe also has economic interests in the USA and that is the principal glue that keeps them to ensure not to rock the boat.
The conflict within NATO is far broader than squabbling over budgetary contribution from member countries. The continuing declining US economic power (the USA accounted for half of world gross domestic product in 1945 but now that figure stands at 18 per cent) has given rise to struggle for gaining strategic advantage among leading NATO countries (most of them are also EU members) at the expense of the USA. That struggle is further compounded by very serious disputes over market shares - something very reminiscent of the pre-WW I global economic and political environment. No wonder Trump signed a 20-page communique outlining NATO's more activist global agenda but he refused to do so at the G7 Summit held in Quebec City last month.
Buoyed by his apparent success in Brussels he arrived in London on a scaled-down working visit from a state visit. As he sat down for a dinner with his host British Prime Minister Theresa May at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, rumours were whirling around that the President had given an interview to The Sun, a tabloid. The interview was full of pot shots aimed at the Prime Minister on her handling of Brexit and very warm words for his friend Boris Johnson, the former British Foreign Secretary, even suggesting he (Johnson) would "make a great prime minister''. More alarmingly, he even suggested a soft Brexit would kill any future trade deal with the USA. This was a terrible blow to May as she was using the dinner to advance the case for a separate trade deal with the USA. While Trump backtracked on his comments later at a press conference (despite the interview was recorded), the damage was already done. Then he went on to have tea with the Queen.
The next target for Trump's special attention was London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Starting with a racist rant against immigrants, Trump went on blaming the mayor for abetting "terrorism'' and doing a terrible job on terrorism. He was further irked by Khan because he refused to ban the flying of 20ft blimp depicting Trump as an indignant, orange infant in a nappy. After having a weekend of golf in Scotland, Trump flew out to Helsinki to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two presidents were scheduled to meet at 1.20 pm local time but the meeting was delayed by about an hour due to the late arrival of Putin in Helsinki. They had a two-hour meeting and a working lunch with their aides. At the press conference that followed the meeting, Trump did not criticise Putin and Putin denied meddling in US domestic politics and presented Trump with a football from the World Cup. Both expressed confidence that the US and Russia were entering a new period of better relations and cooperation on global problems. Trump arrived back home amid accusations of pandering to Putin from the Democrats and a small section of the Republicans but attracted a broad-based support within his own party in his dealing with the Russians. There was also the accusation of treason against him in his dealing with Putin. But in his usual fashion he once again backtracked on his comments on Russia's involvement in the 2016 Presidential election by saying he "misspoke''. These are nothing but symptoms of an empire in chaos in its declining days.
Muhammad Mahmood is an independent economic and political analyst.
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