Two weeks ago, the President of the United States of America (US) Donald Trump embarked on his maiden overseas visit since assuming office in January 2017.
After troubles at home over alleged Russian interference in his election as President of the US and continued blunders over policy it was suppose to be a respite for the president.
The visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel was largely successful as it was event free and did not cause much heartburn for US officials but the visit to Europe was different.
Trump lectured NATO allies over their failures to pay more for security but it is understandable because NATO is an alliance of 28 countries but the US accounts for 75% of all of its defence spending.
Even the Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg accepted that other member countries especially large ones like France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Poland would have to shoulder a greater share of spending.
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was formed in the aftermath of the second world war as a vanguard against the expansionist and hegemonic desires of the Soviet Union. It started with 12 members but as the iron curtain was gradually dismantled after the fall of communism more countries joined NATO.
The lynchpin of NATO is Article 5 of its treaty that states an attack on one member state is an attack on all. The last time this article was triggered was after the 11th of September 2001 attacks in the US.
NATO has long formed an integral part of the liberal world order that was championed by the US after world war two that amplified after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Every US President since Harry Truman has steadily reinforced the centrality of NATO to global peace and security and has constantly assured its members that the United States will fulfill its treaty obligations especially Article 5.
However, Donald Trump adopted a different tract on the campaign trail and called NATO “obsolete.”
At that time most people did not pay much attention as many did not expect him to win; now that he has his antipathy to NATO is a cause for serious concern.
Europe is at a historic crossroads. A resurgent Russia has show it is willing to flex its muscles and it did so by annexing Crimea 3 years ago.
The migrant crisis has emboldened hardline right wing nationalists and populists.
The United Kingdom is withdrawing from the European Union (EU). European born terrorists are also wrecking havoc as seen in Paris, Nice, London and Manchester.
And with Trump openly declaring his hostility to NATO and the EU (by supporting Brexit), Europe finds itself boxed in.
While it is common knowledge that Trump made those remarks also with an eye on his political base in the US; it is nonetheless an honest assessment that the US cannot be as generous as its used to as it has to deal with domestic problems like a mountain of public debt, crumbling infrastructure, expensive healthcare and others.
Trump's remarks led to German Chancellor Angela Merkel declaring during a campaign event in a Bavarian beer tent that Europe needs to look after itself.
Her exact words were, “The times in which we could completely rely on others are on the way out.
I’ve experienced that in the last few days … We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands”
Merkel's words had a further compounding effect because Merkel is known to be cerebral, methodical and taciturn. She is not accustomed to outbursts and everything she says is always fully thought through.
For a convinced atlanticist like Merkel to make such an announcement has led to many to speculate that she was either stating the obvious or she was overreacting after a single visit by a tempestuous and erratic President of the US.
However, I believe that Merkel is prescient because by making such a pronouncement, she is compelling Europe to step up to the plate and actually take serious steps to reform itself in order to suvive.
Europeans have for too long been accustomed to the good life. Stringent labour laws that incentivises holidays and not work, generous welfare handouts and farm subsidies, a bloated EU bureaucracy that is unusually invasive while the US pays for its security.
While Trump may have sounded egregious to some, he was actually doing Europe a favour by prodding them to reform and to take more responsibility.
Merkel in making the call has clearly sounded the bugle that Europe and the EU must change if it’s to remain relevant.
The victory of Macron in France has once again sent the supporters of the status quo back into their comfort zone whilst forgetting that 36% of the French electorate actually supported the inflammatory and regressive campaign undertaken by Marine Le Pen.
Closer to home, Asean too must heed the lessons of the EU. Before the migrant crisis and Brexit laid bare the shortcomings of the EU, most of us looked upon the EU as a model for regional integration and supranationalism.
However, the problems faced by the EU must serve, as a lesson to us in Asean and other regional groupings that we must organically achieve integration and it cannot be foisted upon us.
We must take our time to evolve and adjust and achieve greater parity in economic, social and political terms before we seek to entwine ourselves.
As for Europe and the EU, it is their best interests to take both Trump and Merkel seriously as the post world war two order unravels. It is time to build a new one that is more equitable and affordable.
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