The former Deputy Prime Minister and erstwhile leader of Britain’s struggling Liberal Democrat party Nick Clegg has slammed President-Elect Donald Trump, and used his coming term to call for deeper British integration with the European Union.
Speaking to London Broadcasting Company (LBC) radio host Matt Frei Saturday afternoon, Mr. Clegg called Mr. Trump’s foreign policy and comments on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) “really bad” for Europe. Moving on from his assumption that Mr. Trump’s comments means NATO is now a spent force, Mr. Clegg called for Britain to move closer to the European Union for mutual defence rather than the United States.
The former Deputy Prime Minister’s comments come as Britain’s Conservative government prepares to capitalise upon Mr. Trump’s remarks — in which he inferred the majority of NATO member states fail to meet their treaty obligations in defence spending — by calling on those freeloading members to finally meet the targets.
Criticising President-Elect Trump, Mr. Clegg said: “Let’s be very clear. An isolationist US president is really bad for Europe. Our whole continent’s security is based on the idea that ‘Uncle Sam’ through generations of generosity from American taxpayers and American soldiers [will come to our aid].
“We live in a pretty shaky neighbourhood right now if you look at the belligerence of Putin and what’s going on in Syria and North Africa. If that is withdrawn — in other words is the United States starts saying ‘do you know what, we’re not going to guarantee Europe’s defence’ — then the only option is for Europe to stand on its own two feet and to spend more money on defence.
“[Europe should] get its own act together to safeguard our own security.”
Mr. Clegg’s comments may have ignored the treaty obligations of NATO, as reaffirmed by member states in the 2014 Cardiff declaration, to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. If European nations boost their defence spending as Mr. Clegg suggests, they could once again be afforded the protective guarantees of the United States under President-Elect Trump.
Mr. Trump made remarks on his reluctance to subsidise the defence of NATO members who were unwilling to fund their own militaries during the election campaign. He said: “You can’t forget the bills. [NATO members] have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing.
“Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfil their obligations to us, the answer is yes [they can rely on our support].”
Although the United Kingdom is one of only four other NATO nations besides the United States that meets their obligations and therefore enjoys the full confidence of Mr. Trump as a contributing member, Mr. Clegg insisted the remarks left Britain isolated.
Remarking that Britain is now faced with a choice, Mr. Clegg said: “If we’re now no longer one end of the trans-Atlantic bridge which has always guaranteed Europe’s safety — and let us remember that our whole security has been based on NATO and America’s commitment to NATO and our place at the top table in the European Union. Those are both now disappearing or significantly weakening.
“We then have the choice — we can either then risk doing the whistling-in-the-wind approach of Boris Johnson and end up drifting aimlessly in the mid-Atlantic, or we say okay, as we leave the economic European Union we should actually deepen our commitment and integration to European security arrangements.”
The emergence of a distinct European Army was among the primary reasons for concern about the European Union before Brexit among British voters, and it was widely considered that only now Britain has voted to withdraw from the bloc that European leaders could discuss the matter openly. The British government still opposes an EU army.
Speaking on Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said of his plans to turn the EU into a continental military power: “The Americans, to whom we owe much… will not ensure the security of the Europeans in the long term. We have to do this ourselves.
“That is why we need a new start in the field of European defence, up to the goal of setting up a European army.”
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon will speak in Brussels on Monday to tell other EU states to contribute more toward the NATO alliance. The United States presently funds 72 per cent of all expenditure in NATO – a proportion it sought to reduce even during the Obama presidency during the pivot to the Atlantic.
Follow Oliver Lane on Twitter: Follow @Oliver_Lane or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org