Trump state visit: Cancelling would be counter productive. We need to offer a guiding hand to the Trump administration and secure commitment to NATO.
The Queen has met unpleasant characters in her line of duty and there is uproar about her next official guest. We shouldn’t have any illusions about who Donald Trump is, or what he represents. Trump is a narcissistic, authoritarian, bigoted demagogue. It’s not easy to find individuals with no redeeming characteristics at all, but Trump quite nearly manages it. From my perspective perhaps his best feature is that, as I argued previously, he clearly isn’t a conservative so I don’t feel an obligation to apologise for his behaviour.
Yet whilst I hold a higher opinion of many tropical diseases than Trump, our Prime Minister is absolutely right to attempt to befriend him. The decisions Trump makes will have a dramatic impact on our national security, and it’s imperative that our Government does everything it can to gain influence in Washington. In this context it was a real coup by Theresa May’s team that she was the first foreign leader to meet Trump, and from a British perspective the meeting was a success. May succeeded in establishing a personal relationship with Trump, and as part of these efforts Trump was offered, and accepted, an invitation to visit the UK on a state visit later in the year.
The state visit invitation initially sparked murmurs of disapproval, but after Trump signed an executive order banning almost all citizens from seven Muslim countries from visiting America, this developed into a crescendo. A petition saying Trump should not be offered a state visit currently has just over a million signatures, and doubtless this will rise significantly, whilst 20,000 people signed up on Facebook to attend a demonstration outside Downing Street.
The calls to rescind the invitation are understandable. There’s nothing to be gained from deigning the ban’s true nature. It’s not a Muslim ban, as it only targets seven countries, but it is quite clearly a ban aimed at Muslims. Specifically, Muslims from countries which are not strong enough, or wealthy enough, that the administration is worried about offending them.
Considering that Trump has previously suggested that he wants to ban all Muslims from America, and that his chosen National Security Advisor has described Islam as a ‘cancer’, this should not surprise us. But it should still appal us. Thousands of people from some of the world’s poorest countries, many of them refugees, have had their lives uprooted for no reason other than their faith. We’ve reached the ironic point where Iraqi soldiers, fighting on the frontline against ISIS, are banned from America whilst Wahhabi fundamentalist clerics from Saudi Arabia are not.
But despite this it would be an act of madness to withdraw Trump’s state visit invitation. From a British, and indeed European, perspective the most dangerous element of Trump’s world view is his dubious commitment to NATO. The NATO alliance has played a critical role in defending and enhancing democratic Europe since 1949. But it is hardly an alliance of equals. According to NATO’s own figures members of the alliance spent a total of $900,473 million on defence in 2015. However $665,688 million of this was accounted for by one country, the United States. NATO’s primary function has been to tie the United States to the defence of democratic Europe.
Trump is the first President since NATO was formed to have raised serious doubts about America’s commitment to the alliance. During the election campaign Trump commented that he might not defend other NATO members which hadn’t ‘fulfilled their obligations to us’. He followed this up by suggesting that NATO might be obsolete in an interview earlier this month, whilst he has long maintained a clear admiration for NATO’s most likely adversary, Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. Considering the importance of America to the alliance Britain’s top foreign policy priority, and that of most European states, should be to persuade Trump to commit fully to NATO.
So far May has had some success in attaining this objective. During a joint press conference during her recent Washington trip she stated that Trump had told her he is ‘100% behind NATO’, and Trump did not demur. As such cancelling Trump’s state visit, a snub which would indicate that the British Government is disassociating itself from the Trump administration, would be a dangerous act which would undermine our national security. We would dramatically reduce our influence in Washington, including over the American position on NATO.
If European militaries, including our own, were stronger then perhaps we could afford to take a more high-handed position. But they are not. At present only four European NATO members, including by a narrow margin the UK, spend the recommended 2% of GDP on defence. Meanwhile according to NATO’s own figures in 2015 fifteen NATO members, including the likes of Spain and Italy, spent less than 1% of their GDP in this area. The blunt truth is that Europe has failed to properly maintain its own defences, on the assumption that we would always live behind a cloak of American protection. And this assumption is starting to look distinctly dubious.
The weakness of Europe means that, regrettably, we are required to stay on the right side of the Trump administration. We need to at least attempt to persuade him to commit fully to the NATO alliance, and as part of this a state visit is a small price to pay.
The alternative, that America ceases to honour the mutual defence clause of the NATO alliance, would be exceptionally dangerous. It would significantly increase the probability of a rival power, most likely Russia, intervening militarily in a NATO state. Lots of people, particularly on the Left, are taking what they see at the morally principled position on Trump coming to the UK on a state visit. If they are successful I can only hope that their moral principles extend, if needed, to manning trenches in the Baltic States.
James is a liberal-conservative blogger. He graduated from Oxford University in 2014, and has a years previous experience of working in Westminster. You can follow him on Twitter at @JBickertonUK
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty