In a previous commentary on December 13th last year under the title ‘Government Through Twitter Is Damaging and Dangerous’ I expressed concern that Donald Trump was, through the continued use of Twitter, damaging and indeed, undermining the important ‘Office of President’. My views have not changed.
I chose to write that piece on the back of three distinct messages that had emerged from the President-Elect, firstly in response to ill-informed and damaging industrial based remarks suggesting that “F-35 costs were ‘out of control’ and secondly, untimely and unnecessary remarks suggesting ‘that the US Government should cancel development deals with Boeing in respect of designing and building a new Air Force One’.
Thirdly and from a political aspect the most important, I had separately expressed serious concern in respect of the manner in which Donald Trump had warned (through the use of Twitter) that European members of NATO must share a larger burden of the cost of NATO and that the US was no longer prepared to carry the burden of NATO costs that it did. Though I might not have disagreed the sentiment behind the Trump view my concern was again in the ‘manner’ and ‘vehicle’ in which it had been expressed.
Concern about the President-Elect’s damaging and ill-informed remarks in respect of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter costs was primarily based on damage done not only to Lockheed Martin but to all involved on what is, after all, a truly international build programme. Quite apart from serious damage done by Trump’s remarks to share prices of all the various companies involved in the F-35 programme on that particular day and the uncertainty created, the underlying concern was that Trumps views completely ignored involvement and investment made in the F-35 program by companies such as BAE Systems at its facilities in Samlesbury, Lancashire, by Rolls-Royce which developed and builds the LiftFan for the F-35 ‘B’ STOVL’ variant, the massive amount of work that Northrop Grumman performs as a partner on the F-35 program together with work done by Alenia Aermacchi in Italy and so on. I stressed that all of these companies without exception have affordability and efficiency writ large over everything that they do and perform on the F-35 program, just as course as do Lockheed Martin themselves. In its response, LM made very clear its willingness to answer any questions that the President-Elect had about the F-35 program and it is worth remembering that at that time the remarks on both industrial issues had been made, President Elect Donald Trump had not even bothered to converse speak with the senior management of Lockheed Martin. Indeed, neither had he attempted to speak with the senior management of Boeing on the separate Air Force One issue. Subsequently and pleasingly, he has now met with the CEO’s of both companies.
I will not dwell further in relation to the defence industrial issues caused by the earlier Trump tweets although I will come back to them at a later date if necessary. Tweets made by Donald
However, tweets made by Donald Trump is respect of his views about NATO and which in addition to cost burden sharing issues and the need for Europe to pay a higher price for of its own defence which I do not disagree Trump also accused NATO of being ‘obsolete’ and raised the question of over whether America under his leadership would come to the aid of a NATO ally under attack.
The latter remarks were taken very seriously BY NATO in Brussels just as they were by senior members of the EU. In his response, NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg reminded Donald Trump that “the west faces its greatest security challenge in a generation and that this is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the USA”.
Stoltenberg reminded that “the only time NATO has invoked its self-defence clause, that an attack on one is an attack on all, was in support of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This was more than just a symbol. NATO went on to take charge of the operation in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of European soldiers have served in Afghanistan since and that more than 1,000 have paid the ultimate price in an operation that is a direct response to an attack against the United States.”
Important Stoltenberg said that rather than “deepening differences” between the 28 members, now is the time to “nurture what unites us under “strong American leadership”. Most reading this short piece from me today will I am sure agree that whatever faults that NATO may have and what differences of views, doubts and concerns expressed about how NATO has and should have been allowed to expand this above all relationship that we have with the rest of the world remains THE most important. NATO is what it is and it has learned from past mistakes. I agree with those who suggest that NATO and governments must be able to rebuild societies in which their forces are deployed quickly. I agree that NATO should also be a political organisation and that defence, security and politics are and always will be deeply intertwined. NATO’s voice needs to be stronger, we need to take resilience including cyber, terrorist and intelligence threats more seriously, we need to strengthen rather than allow bonds between NATO and EU member states to weaken and most importantly as I have said many times before, we must sell NATO and the whole concept of collective defence to our respective public. Strong military co-operation and collective defence are vital in the world that we live in today. This is no time for the largest and most important member of NATO to send out messages of doubt to our would-be enemies that it has serious doubts about collective defence.
Neither the US nor Europe should be allowed to believe that going it alone is an option. However, if there is one warning that Donald Trump has made on the subject of defence that does carry value it is that Europe must spend more, a lot more on defence. There is and should be no excuse whatsoever for any NATO member state to spend less than 2% of GDP on defence. Given the worsening geo-political situation that we face, given the concerns and the doubts, there is or should not be any excuse in my view for larger NATO members to be spending 3% of their respective GDP on defence as opposed to the previously agreed 2% of GDP. Europe has been rightly warned in this instance by Trump to get its defence budget house in order.
The NATO issue will continue to be of concern until and if Donald Trump chooses to make a more reassuring statement early in his presidency. He is of course right to fire warning shots across NATO’s bows in respect that Europe must do more to properly defend itself. Until he does provide reassurance and fight for NATO being the primary means of collective defence I fear that notions of the EU doing more on its own will cause serious damage to NATO. If that is allowed to occur we should all be very concerned.
The wider point about using Twitter will remain a concern until we see how a President Trump chooses to go about his business in Washington DC. Today it is the US automotive companies, GM and Ford that are licking their wounds from Trump tweets – who knows who it will be tomorrow. All that I can hope is that it should not be about causing further damage or doubts about NATO and collective defence.
CHW (London – 4th January 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785