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Isolationist Trump stokes NATO defence fears
By Bryan McManus
Brussels (AFP) Nov 10, 2016


EU a peace 'superpower', Mogherini says after Trump win
Brussels (AFP) Nov 10, 2016 - The European Union is becoming a "superpower" indispensible for world peace, the bloc's foreign affairs chief said Thursday as Europe pondered the implications of Donald Trump's upset US election victory.

"In the months and years ahead, actually I can say in the hours we are living, there is and will be an increasing demand of Europe from our neighbours and from our partners worldwide," Federica Mogherini said.

"There is and there will be an increasing demand for a principled global security provider, for a superpower that believes in multilateralism and cooperation," Mogherini said in an address to the European Defence Agency.

Trump's stunning win has shocked a Europe fearful that his "America First" campaign pledge will see Washington downgrade ties with both NATO and the European Union that have underpinned the Western political order since World War II.

The EU has already started pushing ahead with plans for a European army in the wake of another geopolitical shock: key defence player Britain's Brexit vote to leave the bloc.

Some EU states such as France and Germany see Brexit as an opportunity to press ahead with defence cooperation that London has long blocked, and analysts have said the same could be true if Trump were to turn his back on Europe.

"It is up to us. In a changing global landscape, Europe will be more and more an indispensible power," Mogherini said.

"This is the time I believe to take on our responsibilities and to respond to that call (for security) ... and we can do this only as a true union."

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has repeatedly spoken of the need for a "European army" while Mogherini has published an ambitious Global Strategy to turn pledges of increased cooperation into reality.

France and Germany moved quickly after the June Brexit vote to put plans for a an EU military headquarters on the table.

They and Mogherini have been careful, however, to stress they do not intend to duplicate NATO efforts, a no-go area for Washington.

The EU does not have a separate military arm but has mounted several small civil-military missions, for example in central Africa and combatting piracy off the Horn of Africa.

The EDA is a small unit set up to help coordinate efforts to boost overall EU defence capabilities by increasing cooperation among member states.

Donald Trump's "America first" approach has Europe worried he may cut US commitments to NATO just as it mounts its biggest military build-up since the end of the Cold War to counter a more assertive Russia.

Trump caused uproar during the campaign when he suggested Washington would think twice about coming to the aid of an endangered NATO ally if it had not paid its dues.

The fear is that Trump embodies an isolationist tradition -- "avoid entangling alliances" -- which will add to uncertainties as Europe faces challenges new and old from the east, the Middle East and North Africa.

"A Trump administration will increase US isolationist tendencies, which is a further blow to (its global) leadership role," said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive at the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

The United States set up NATO to protect post-war Europe from the Soviet Union and its "all for one, one for all" collective defence guarantee has stood the test of time.

But for many years Washington, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of combined NATO defence spending, has demanded that its 27 allies do more to share the burden.

Trump's harking on this issue during the campaign caused such fears in the Baltic states and former Soviet-ruled eastern European NATO members that US Vice President Joe Biden was sent on a reassurance mission.

"Don't listen to that other fellow -- he knows not of what he speaks. America will never fail to defend our allies," Biden told them.

Now that "other fellow" is set to be the 45th President of the United States of America.

- NATO in shock -

The shock in Europe Wednesday was palpable.

In an unusual series of public statements shortly after Trump's victory was confirmed, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg stressed the continued importance of US global leadership.

"Our alliance has brought together America's closest friends in times of peace and of conflict for almost 70 years. A strong NATO is good for the United States and good for Europe," he said.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda urged Trump to stick by commitments to boost NATO's presence on its eastern flank to ensure allies would not be left in the lurch if Russia attempted another Ukraine-style adventure.

"We sincerely hope that your leadership will open new opportunities for our cooperation based on mutual commitment," Duda said.

The Polish deployment is led by a US battalion and so is especially emblematic.

European Council head Donald Tusk, a former Polish premier, weighed in with a plea that the European Union -- of whose 28 members 22 also belong to NATO -- and the United States work together in defence of shared values.

"I do not believe that any country today can be great in isolation," he added, alluding to Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again."

- EU defence opportunity? -

For some analysts, the fear factor may be overdone -- foreign policy was not a major issue in the election, Trump's focus is domestic and it is much too early to say what he will actually do as president.

Ian Lesser, senior director with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, said the new president "is not so much an isolationist as a rigourous unilateralist ... who may demand a great deal from the allies."

"For him, foreign policy starts with homeland security and works out from there," Lesser said.

A key test will be Russia and whether Trump keeps campaign promises to improve ties strained to breaking point by the Ukraine crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cited those promises when congratulating Trump, insisting: "Russia is ready and wants to restore fully-fledged relations with the US."

Where that would leave Europe, and especially NATO's eastern allies, is a major uncertainty.

But it is perhaps also an opportunity, in the same way that Britain's shock vote to quit the EU has cleared the way for France and Germany to press the sort of increased military cooperation London has resisted for years.

"It is the moment to realise that what is being done (to boost Europe's own defence capabilities) is not entirely useless, that there is a good reason for it," an EU diplomat said.


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