The head of Nato gave a blunt warning on the dangers to European security of American isolationism yesterday as Boris Johnson snubbed an emergency Brussels meeting called to respond to Donald Trump’s victory.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, said that US co-operation with Europe was “indispensable” at a time of heightened tension with Russia.
He was responding to Mr Trump’s threat during the presidential campaign to renege on Nato’s Article 5 commitment — that an attack on one is an attack on all — if a member state was not meeting the alliance’s goal of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence.
France appeared keen to play down the sense of crisis, and its foreign minister joined Mr Johnson, the foreign secretary, in avoiding last night’s gathering in Brussels. The Hungarian foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, also refused to attend, calling the meeting a “hysterical” response.
Mr Stoltenberg’s deep fears over Mr Trump’s apparent closeness to President Putin and his seeming ambivalence towards Nato were revealed in an article for The Observer. “We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation,” the Nato chief wrote. “This is no time to question the partnership between Europe and the United States . . . Going it alone is not an option.”
He added: “In these uncertain times we need strong American leadership, and we need Europeans to shoulder their fair share of the burden. But above all we need to rrecognizethe value of the partnership between Europe and America. It remains indispensable.”
Mr Johnson’s snub of the emergency dinner of foreign ministers, which he dismissed as a “whinge-o-rama”, was condemned as short-sighted by the Centre for European Reform think tank. Ian Bond, the group’s director of foreign policy, said that Mr Johnson was creating the suspicion that Britain’s aim was to work with Mr Trump to harm the EU. This in turn could damage Britain’s Brexit negotiations.
A Foreign Office spokesman said that Mr Johnson would attend today’s long-planned foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss Turkey and Syria. “We do not see the need for an additional meeting because the US election timetable is long established,” the spokesman said.
Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative, said last night’s meeting agreed “to continue working on the strengths of the trans-Atlantic relationship” and push European values. Mr Johnson was represented by Ivan Rogers, British ambassador to the EU.
Asked about the absence of Mr Johnson, Ms Mogherini said: “A couple of minsters did not come for political reasons, one in particular . . . I guess it is only normal for a country that has decided to leave the European Union not to be so interested in our discussions about the future of our relations with the United States.”
Foreign and defence ministers will today discuss EU plans to boost defence co-operation — a move that Britain has long blocked — including a controversial European military headquarters.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, told the radio station Europe 1: “Let’s stop talking about disarray [after the Trump victory]. Isn’t this a chance for Europe to pull itself together?”
“The Europeans have to strengthen their ability for strategic autonomy in the field of defence, and that they have an industrial policy.”
Britain has traditionally led opposition to stronger European defence initiatives, arguing that these could weaken Nato, to the annoyance of some EU member states. Sir Michael Fallon, defence secretary, is set to continue that tradition today after Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, said last week that his goal was a European army.
“Loose talk of an EU army risks undermining Nato and we will go on opposing this, backed up by many other member states,” Sir Michael said. “In the face of growing security threats European countries must focus on increasing their defence spending and strengthening our collective defence through Nato, not on creating new armies or command headquarters.”
Crispin Blunt, Tory chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said that Mr Trump was “entirely right” that other EU nations should be spending more on defence to save Nato.
“The Trump election is a big wake-up call now for the European powers as to whether they are prepared to get serious about defence,” he told the BBC.
“First of all moving towards the Nato goal of 2 per cent [of GDP] on defence expenditure, where they’re only spending about half. And also around defence integration. If both of those things work, there’s a substantial amount more hard power in the defence of the liberal international order.”
General Lord Dannatt, former head of the army, called for increased defence spending across Europe. “Within the framework of Nato, there is a chance for Britain to take a bit of a lead here,” he told The Andrew Marr Show. “We are spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence but I think we should up that a little bit, to 2.25 to 2.5 per cent, and show we are taking our own defence as part of Europe seriously.”
Me too, says Silvio
Silvio Berlusconi has claimed that his career as a mogul-turned-prime minister is a precedent for Donald Trump and warned that the populism unleashed by the US president-elect is set to bring down Italy’s government.
The former Italian leader said there were “obvious similarities” between Mr Trump’s rise and his decision to enter politics after becoming Italy’s richest man.
“[Trump] is also an entrepreneur who decided to devote his talents and energies to his country,” Mr Berlusconi told Corriere della Sera. adding they both shared a taste for tax cuts and limits on migration.
Mr Berlusconi opposes proposals by Matteo Renzi, the Italian leader, to reduce the power of the senate. These will go to a referendum on December 4, with polls indicating that Mr Renzi will lose.
Source: The Times