Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The threat of an isolationist America makes this a terrible moment to contemplate Brexit

On 21 March something astonishing happened. Something which has a strong impact on the wisdom of a British EU exit. Donald Trump, the foul tonged demagogue who is leading the race to become the Republican Presidential candidate, questioned America’s commitment to NATO. This is close to unprecedented. Since 1949 NATO, which most significantly guarantees American protection to major European countries, has been vital to the defence of Europe.

NATO is an uneven alliance certainly, and I sympathise with those in America who conclude that European countries are the chief benefactors whilst they bear most of the cost. It must be particularly gaoling that, for as long as I can remember, a significant body of Europeans have responded not with gratitude, but with arrogance. Western European leftists boast of their nation’s welfare provision and quality of life, whilst frequently deriding America for its inequality, militarism and patriotism. But one of the chief reasons why Western European states have such generous welfare provision, and such non-militaristic cultures, is that they reside under the cloak of American protection. American leaders have, to their credit, put up with this hypocrisy. Democrat and Republican Presidents have stuck firmly to NATO, believing that it is one of the foundation blocks of liberty and democracy in Europe, and thus also strengthens American security and trade. This however, might be about to change. European nations might be forced to stand, to a greater extent, on their own two feet.

In an interview with the Washington Post editorial board, extracts of which were published on 21 March, the republican frontrunner Donald Trump challenged America’s current position as the world policeman. He asserted that ‘Nato is costing us a fortune, and yes, we're protecting Europe, but we're spending a lot of money’, and accused America’s allies such as Germany, of ‘not doing anything’ over Ukraine. Trump went on to state that America is ‘reimbursed a fraction’ of what it spends defending South Korea, and argued that the United States does not benefit from its current degree of involvement in the Asia-Pacific region. Trump followed these comments by stating, in an interview with Bloomberg, that ‘I think NATO may be obsolete’ and added ‘We’re paying too much’. These remarks, whilst as so often with Trump falling short of concrete proposals, are worrying. Coupled with Trump’s stated admiration for Vladimir Putin, they suggest that NATO could be a much less reliable alliance under a Trump Presidency.

In 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the US spent $610bn on defence. This was vastly more than any other country, including Russia, which spent $84.5bn. The highest spending European nations, France, Britain and Germany, spent $62.3bn, $60.5bn and $46.5bn respectively. In short, without American assistance, European defence would be precarious, and would require close military and political coordination. Otherwise nations in Eastern Europe would be vulnerable to Russian aggression, and this could have a knock-on effect in terms of undermining liberal-democratic Government across the continent. Fortunately a useful framework for encouraging and codifying such cooperation exists in the European Union.

The EU is a value based organisation, which promotes economic and political cooperation between liberal-democratic Governments. In doing so it helps to promote the continuation of liberal-democratic Government, and develops greater mutual understanding and cooperation. With a Trump Presidency now a serious possibility, we have to consider the implications of an increasingly isolationist America on European security. Without American support, to stay safe, European countries would need to stick closely together. As such this would be a particularly foolish moment for the UK to leave the European Union.