By Matthew Jamison | Strategic Culture
Over the course of the weekend while campaigning in southern Germany, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, made quite a telling remark which illuminated the changing geopolitical reality of what has been called historically The West. The Chancellor on the stump in Munich ahead of September’s Federal German elections indicated that Europe could no longer rely on «Brexit Britain» and «Trump’s America». While emphasizing the need for friendly relations with the US, Britain and Russia, Frau Merkel added: «We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands». Frau Merkel said that as the traditional Western Alliance is threatened by the new US Presidency and Brexit: «the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days».
As I have written previously since the vote by the UK to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump as US President – the West – the politico/military trans-Atlantic alliance of North American countries such as the US & Canada and European nations along with organizations such as the EU, NATO, the IMF & World Bank, the OSCE, the G7, would never be the same again. What historians, politicians, military brass and journalists have called The West for the last 70 odd years is now under severe strain, if not fracturing before our very eyes. The twin surprises of 2016 – the victory of the Leave Campaign in Britain and the victory of the Trump campaign in America – was the political equivalent of throwing dynamite into the Western Alliance. With Brexit the immediate short term political consequences are becoming evident almost one year on from the June 23rd plebiscite.
The immediate political effect of the victory of the Leave campaign has been to sour beyond belief Britain’s relations with the rest of the 27 members of the European Union. If the result on June 23rd was not bad enough, the Tory Government of Theresa May has gone out of its way to antagonize, offend and irritate the UK’s European partners with what John Major has called «cheap talk». Britain’s standing in the capitals of Europe – already not the greatest – has almost collapsed as the UK Government has made it clear it will be leaving completely and has hurled insult after insult at the European Commission. So a key member of the Western political and security alliance, the UK, is now a busted flush basically when interacting with the many other European members of the West who regard Brexit as a strange British self indulgence at best, at worst a betrayal. The UK has managed to alienate itself from its key European/Western allies who look upon the UK with suspicion and contempt. The rhetoric that was utilized and the prejudices than came to the fore during the Referendum from the Leave campaign were bad enough. So too has been the approach adopted by the British Government since the June 23rd vote.
Despite the empty slogans from the British Government that Brexit Britain will remain a key European partner on trade and security, that simply is not good enough for the EU27, nor is it credible when from one side of the UK mouth this is uttered and then from the other side of the UK mouth all kinds of threats and prejudices come spewing forth. This is why the fundamental truth regarding Brexit is that Britain (which already had a strained relationship and patchy reputation on the continent) will in all likelihood never be completely trusted again. Hence Frau Merkel’s intonement that Brexit Britain cannot be relied upon. Brexit Britain will be forever treated with wariness, kept at arms length, with simmering animosity lurking just beneath the diplomatic politeness of Brussels speak.
On the other side of the Atlantic the election of Donald Trump has created the greatest crisis in trans-Atlantic unity in living memory, far greater than any divisions and disunity that opened over the Iraq War, for it is not just division and disunity over a single issue such as the Iraq War, it is the fact that the Leader nation of the West – the United States – is now led by a man who is not particularly committed to the whole concept of trans-Atlantic alliance management. Now Brexit Britain cannot help and play its traditional role as a Bridge Builder between Europe and America has it has traditionally sought to do at times of tension and potential divergence between Washington DC and Brussels. It has not only been President Trump’s lukewarm attitude to NATO but more significantly his hostility towards the de-facto leader of the European Union Chancellor Merkel and the US-German alliance which is indicative of greater movement in the power structures of the West. Normally, G7 Communiques are sorted out long before the actual Heads of Government summit and are mere formal platitudes summing up conclusions that had already been smoothed out by the diplomatic sherpas of each respective G7 Government. Not so with President Trump’s first G7 summit held in Italy last week. Like a fox in the hen house, Mr. Trump has up ended the normal procedures of doing business within the institutions of the West.
This is why one of the major geopolitical consequences of Brexit and Trump is what Angela Merkel intimated in Bavaria – that Europeans cannot rely for their own leadership and collective defense, security and prosperity – upon the traditional twin pillars of Western stability that of the United States and United Kingdom. The West is splitting apart with the EU27 undoubtedly headed in the direction of more, not less, European integration most significantly on military and defense policy with a more independent and assertive European Union military and foreign policy no longer bound by the wishes of the United States and held up by the blocking tactics of the United Kingdom. It will be interesting to see this more united Europe emerge as a more forceful player on the global stage and with it what the effects will be on the cohesion and efficacy of the Atlantic Alliance.