The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year – Armistice Day – a specific day and time that, as King George V decreed when he officially opened the Whitehall Cenotaph on this day in 1920 should, at that eleventh hour mark a time when all locomotion ceases for two minutes and a silence exists in order that we should remember all those who not only lost their lives that we may be free, but also remember all those that had fought during the Great War. It is a day that has endured for 96 years and long may that continue to be so.
The Act of Remembrance that will once again take place at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday evening, led as always by the Royal British Legion and that takes place in front of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, members of the royal family, our senior politicians and importantly, the leaders of our armed forces, is a solemn act that reminds us of the many who gave their lives for us. Just as the Service held at the Cenotaph the following morning has endured as the wider act of national remembrance, so too are the all the very many services and acts of remembrance that will take place up and down the whole nation. We will always remember them.
As has long been the tradition from me, a poem will follow on Sunday morning.
Had this not been Armistice Day I rather suspect that the title of my commentary piece today might well have been ‘That Was The Week That Was’. On Wednesday I provided my initial view of the Trump presidential win and I change nothing that I said then. My thanks to all of you who wrote and appreciated the balanced manner in which I had attempted to come to terms with what had occurred and that essential concluded we are where we are so let’s get on with it and make it work. Two days on, just as I had suspected, I observe that Donald Trump is emerging with a rather more conciliatory voice of reason and tone. He may be independent and a thorn in the side of Democrats and Republicans alike but somehow I doubt that he will live up to the hopes of some that his election as President will see Washington liberated of self-serving politicians. That said, we may expect to see change in the structure of US Government under Donald Trump and that may not be a bad thing.
In the wake of remarks made by the President elect during the campaign in respect of the future of Nato and his view that the European governments must pay a larger share of the cost of defence I note a variety of comments being reported in the press today. For instance, The Times reports that European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said yesterday that Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections underscores the need for an EU-wide army and that the ‘possibility of US disengagement from the Continent means the EU now has no choice but to build up its own security and defence structures. Juncker apparently said that ‘the Americans, to whom we owe much … will not ensure the security of the Europeans in the long term. We have to do this ourselves’. To such remarks all that I can say is rubbish!
The Times goes on to report that the EC High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, echoed the above comments calling for the EC bloc to become a ‘superpower’ and act as the ‘principal global security provider’. Mr. Mogherini said ‘in the hours we are living, there is and will be an increasing demand of Europe from our neighbours and from our partners worldwide’. To that I say, yes there will and that is why NATO exists. Russia would love to see the structure of NATO weakened and so it seems are some of Europe’s ‘yesterdays’ politicians. Donald Trump has no intentions of scrapping NATO as some have suggested and even if he wanted to Congress and the American people would simply not allow it. What he does want though, and rightly so in my view, is that Europe must step up to the plate and increase its spending on defence and pay a larger slice of the act of defending itself and all twenty-eight partner nations.
Meanwhile, I note that Times sister paper ‘The Sun Online’ reports that former Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon along with former Chief of the General Staff, General Lord Dannatt, former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe General Richard Shirreff and House of Commons Defence Select Committee Chair, Julian Lewis MP have all warned that a war with Russia could be imminent if Donald Trump pulls the USA out of NATO once he ascends to the presidency.
Yes, the threat from Russia is very evident but given the better potential of diplomacy being acted out, at least being seemingly attempted by Donald Trump unless President Obama warned him of things that we do not know yet when they met yesterday, we must be careful using words like war. Although, as I have said above, there is in my view no reason to even suspect that Mr. Trump would actually pull the US out of NATO, despite whatever he might have said or implied in the past, I do fully understand the concerns that the highly respected group above are highlighting. We must be aware of all possibilities and better prepare. In the Sun article, ACM Graydon is reported as suggesting that ‘if the US leaves NATO, it would be absolutely disastrous and just what Vladimir Putin would like.’ True enough, there could be no doubt about that, but if we better understand what Trump is really saying and we do spend more on defence, there is in my view no chance that the US would disengage from us or NATO.
In the same ‘Sun’ article Lord Dannatt is reported as suggesting that “from a UK point of view we have to think about increasing our own defence expenditure … we should actually realise that Trump means it and states have to do more about their own role in NATO.” I agree the sentiments Lord Dannatt has expressed and the implication is that European NATO members must, as a matter of priority, now not only bolster their roles within NATO but also pay a much higher price that ‘European wide defence’ and the need for NATO European member states to engage in support of each other demands. Germany for example can no longer sit on the fence of deploying its armed forces in whatever the situation demands. Indeed, as the Times editorial today argues, European governments should all increase their NATO commitments and individual military expenditures in order to convince Mr. Trump not to make good on his threats.
If as I believe that all that the President elect wishes to see is Europe significantly increasing expenditure on defence and playing larger and more effective role in military engagement and international deployment of NATO armed forces what can I say other than to endorse what Trump wishes to see. There is no use Europe attempting to re-invent the wheel by setting up a European Army that would not only be hugely expensive but that would inevitable conflict with NATO.
The message is the same for Britain – in the face of the increased level of threats that we face, we too must step up to the plate and spend more on defence. And, as I said on Monday, we must stop kidding ourselves that we really are spending 2% of GDP on defence when all that we are doing is pushing other spending into the defence budget to make it look as if we are and in doing so, hiding behind antiquated rules of what NATO allows to be placed by members states into defence budgets. There you are Mr. Trump, change that and, as a start, force member states to rather more than just ‘work toward’ spending 2% of GDP on defence and you may bring about the beginnings of change that a great many of us want to see in relation to spending more on defence.
CHW (London – 11th of November 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785