This comment by Rideau Institute President Peggy Mason first appeared in the Open Canada online forum, Seven Foreign Policy Wishes for the Trump Administration (OpenCanada.org, 16 Nov 2016).
President-elect Donald Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and “outmoded” and has warned its members to stop freeloading or the U.S. will no longer “protect” them.
NATO governments face huge challenges, from climate change and economic fragility to migration flows and a global terrorist threat that no amount of military firepower can quell. Surely it is obvious the problem is not that Canada or Spain is spending too little on defence.
No, the elephant in the room is the staggering amount of military spending by the U.S. – at $600 billion per year, more than the next seven largest military economies combined, including upgraded “tactical” nuclear weapons slated for Europe that will have lower explosive yields and greater accuracy. Critics point out this creates the “illusion of usability” at the very time when the President-elect has reportedly asked: “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?”
Trump’s solution to ISIS is yet more bombing, at least in Iraq. He favours an entirely different approach in Syria, since he can apparently accept dominance by a Putin-backed Assad there, but he cannot tolerate Iranian influence in Iraq.
Trump has also said he does not think the U.S. should be the world’s policeman.
However half-baked and ill-informed these Trump pronouncements are, they will nonetheless force a conversation on the rest of us. How Western leaders respond will be central to limiting the damage a Trump presidency can wreak.
This is a hugely important moment for Justin Trudeau. He must take his lead from Angela Merkel in Germany and situate his responses to specific issues within a guiding framework of core principles. Absent this framework, an ad hoc or “pragmatic” approach will further unnerve Canadians, the majority of whom found the American election result quite shocking. It also will leave Trudeau utterly vulnerable to U.S. whim and pressure.
Crucial guidance can be found in a central provision of the UN Charter: the equal right to security of all states. This is the mindset change that is so urgently needed to replace the absurdly childish and morally bankrupt “good guys/bad guys,” “with us or against us” approach to terrorism instigated by George W. Bush, which has proven to be such a gift to violent extremists everywhere.
Once you allow the possibility that “the other” has legitimate concerns, the only way forward is the enlightened, constructive UN-centred multilateralism that Trudeau channeled so effectively in his “Canada is back” pronouncements. Now is the time for our prime minister to demonstrate the strength of those convictions; our southern neighbours will be watching.
Click Seven Foreign Policy Wishes for the Trump Administration (OpenCanada.org, 16 Nov 2016) to read all of the commentaries.
For an UPDATE to our October 23rd blog, click on RI President Honoured for Work on Nuclear Disarmament.