I see that Presidents Trump and Macron will meet, ahead of the 3-4 December top-level NATO Summit ~ when heads of government, including Prime Minister Trudeau, meet ~ in London. As I have discussed, a few days back, President Macron has described NATO as being “brain dead” and the implication is that it is so because America, in the person of President Donald J Trump, has lost the strategic plot.
A few years back I wondered when we, including Canada, might feel the impact of Donald Trump’s dissatisfaction with NATO’s, including Canada’s, niggardly approach to defence burden-sharing. My guess is that the time is fast approaching. I suspect that Chancellor Angela Merkel is the person most in President Trump’s sights because I’m surmising that his most senior advisors have given him a briefing note that highlight’s German’s high economic capacity and very low defence spending … that’s just the sort of things that gets his dander up.
As I mentioned a few days ago, burden-sharing is not the only issue in President Trump’s mind. He also wants at least some NATO allies, and he will likely single out Canada and the United Kingdom because we are part of the Five Eyes family, in demanding that we join the United States in trying to exile Huawei from the emerging (maybe global) 5G network.
I think it is pretty clear that President Trump doesn’t care too much for or about Europe. His preoccupation is China. He sees, as we all do, that Xi Jinping has altered course in a quite fundamental way: he has broken with Deng Xiaoping’s doctrine ~ “hide your strength and bide your time” ~ he seems to think that China’s time is now, perhaps that it’s now or never, and that China’s strength needs to be in full view. From President Trump’s perspective, China appears to be America’s and, therefore, the US-led West‘s biggest problem, it may be, in his view, the only real problem.
Europeans see things differently. They have fair to almost good relations with China. They are worried about China’s rise and by China’s policies and politics … worried but not frightened. America, in contrast, is frightened because China’s rise, which has been inevitable and inexorable since the late 1970s (when Deng dissolved the Mao Zedong regime and loosened the social and economic policies which had stunted China’s growth for more than a generation) came, as it had to, at the relative expense of American power and influence. America remains the only real global economic and military superpower but it is no longer a solitary hyperpower. China is now a major regional power in East Asia and it is expanding its power around the world. Trump’s America is worried.
Europe is worried about Putin’s Russia which continues to practice adventurous opportunism (or opportunistic adventurism) in and around Europe, especially, in 2019, in the volatile Middle East. President Trump seems unworried. My guess is that the people around Donald Trump agree, privately, that Russia is a problem ~ almost certainly a bigger threat to global peace than China ~ but it is a problem that can be swatted aside, militarily, if it ever oversteps the boundaries … and I agree with that assessment. China, on the other hand, is a more complex strategic problem for which there is no simple, easy military solution.
All of this:
- President Trumps neo-isolationist grand strategy;
- Donald J Trump’s obvious disdain for his allies, including Canada; and
- America’s ill-conceived trade war against China, which might make things even worse …
… all come at the worst possible time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He has a totally different agenda. But we can all see that Canada’s agenda is looked upon with sneering contempt in Washington ~ most certainly in the White House but also, it appears to me, in the Congress and in the Pentagon, too.
We have, it seems to me, not been weaker on the global stage since the mid-1930s. Despite the love affair which the global media had with Prime Minister Trudeau in 2015/16, the bloom is off the rose. He might still be a B-list celebrity in some circles (perhaps in Paris, San Francisco and Wellington) but he’s not a star in any of the big league fora that actually matter ~ the G7, G20, NATO, etc.
I believe that Chrystia Freeland is the weakest foreign minister that Canada has had since poor old Howard Green in the early 1960s. She may be tough on Russia but that doesn’t make up for the fact that she is a lightweight. And Prime Minister Trudeau is, quite simply and very clearly, out of his depth. He is an even lighter lightweight than is Ms Freeland and he is facing a domestic situation which requires bold, imaginative leadership and which will not disappear just because some serious foreign policy problems suddenly arrive on the scene. Neither his vital political base in Québec nor a dissatisfied West is going to moderate its views just because President Trump wants more burden-sharing, including, I’m guessing serious reforms to Canada’s defence procurement
system muddle which seems, to many, to be aimed at deferring, not aiding, the refurbishment of our armed forces.
So, President Trump will, I expect, publicly chastise Canada (and Germany, especially) and some other NATO
shirkers allies for not even trying to pull their weight ~ and the media (less the CBC and the Star) will jump on this to Justin Trudeau’s discomfort. At the same time, President Trump will try to pressure Prime Minister Trudeau into making a decision he doesn’t want to make about Huawei and Canada’s 5G system. Meanwhile, Trudeau’s Canada must face the fact that a recession is very possible in the next year or two, and while some economists, but not most, say that defence spending can be a good way to apply some Keynesian stimulus, few would argue, I think, that Trudeau and Morneau are thoughtful Keynesians. Canada is likely to have little to say in London, on 3-4 December. And even if we do, Presidents Trump and Macron are likely to suck all the political oxygen out of the room. It’s not known what measures President Trump might threaten if Canada does not do as he says … but he rarely operates without a pair of very visible, very threatening raised fists, and Pierre Trudeau’s quip about Canada being like a mouse sharing a bed with an American elephant was and still is, true.
There are some things Canada can do:
- First, and obviously, reform the defence procurement system which, too often, masquerades as being about defence and acts as a way to defer spending anything on the military;
- Second, get totally political about some projects and buy the F35 fighter* just because that would give Donald Trump an immediate “win;” and
- Third, commit to raising defence spending in the near to mid-term by significant and measurable increments. (I believe that should not happen until the defence command and control superstructure is reformed and that is far from impossible, even if too many admirals and generals would object.)
I doubt that Prime Minister Trudeau is inclined to want to do anything of the sort … I think he wants to do nothing at all re Canada’s national defence because he believes it’s a waste of money that he would rather spend elsewhere.
* I need to reiterate that I do not know which fighter is best for Canada ~ but neither do Justin Trudeau and/or General Jonathan Vance. Sometimes crass, craven political self-interest is an acceptable reason for making big policy decisions.