The election of Donald J. Trump as President of America last Tuesday was a revolutionary event. Unless he totally abandons the policies and persona that got him election, which seems unlikely, 2016 could well be remembered along with the likes of 1917, 1929 and 1989 as a transformative year in human history. The implications of having an American President who doesn’t fully conform (or at least pretend to conform) to liberal-democratic principles are vast. America is, by some margin, the most powerful liberal-democratic state in the world. She spends significantly more on defence than the other 27 NATO members combined, and much of the liberal-democratic world has become reliant to some extent on America for protection. As a result there isn’t a country on the planet that isn’t profoundly affected by political developments in America. If America sneezes the rest of the free world gets flu. And America might be about to deliver a monumental sneeze.
The implications of a Trump Presidency are so enormous that I can’t possibly hope to address them all in one article. I lack both the time and the ability to do so. As a result I want to focus on one impact of Trump’s election, which has been to severely weaken the case for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. I should confess at this point that I’m a strident unionist, for emotional as well as economic reasons. I’ve always felt that the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK was strong, if somewhat weakened by June’s Brexit vote, but now it’s become overwhelming. And primarily because of an issue what barely featured in the 2014 referendum campaign, the security of the British Isles.
The security of Western Europe is less assured than at any time since the fall of the USSR, and probably for quite some time before that. Western Europe has relied on America for defence since 1945 and, if Trump follows through on his campaign rhetoric, this can no longer be relied upon. During a New York Times interview, published on 20 July, Trump wouldn’t commit to defending NATO members who hadn’t ‘fulfilled their obligations to us’. Certainly it’s true that NATO’s European members have become dangerously complacent, with only four NATO members other than the United States spending the recommended 2% of GDP on defence (Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia). When we combine this with Trump’s personal warmth towards Russian President Putin, and other authoritarian leaders, it’s far from clear that Europe can continue to rely on American protection. As a result European states need to be able to defend themselves, and the regional order, and most are not clearly able to do so.
So what does this have to do with Scotland? Scotland at present forms part, in many ways a crucial part, of one of the only liberal-democratic European states which does have a potent military, and therefore is able to uphold the regional order. The United Kingdom. Of the states of liberal-democratic Europe the most powerful militaries are possessed by Britain and France, who are also the only states in this region to be nuclear armed. As a result by virtue of forming part of the UK Scotland is effectively protected, and is also able to play an important role in defending the liberal-democratic order across Europe. If America retreats from the defence of Europe the strain will have to be taken, initially at least, by Britain, France and to some extent Germany. And considering the serious possibility that Le Pen could win next year’s French Presidential election, France can’t be considered completely reliable. The only plausible alternative, some form of European Union army, seems too weak and unlikely (and the risk of the EU imploding is not insubstantial). Thus the disintegration of the UK would be a disaster not just for the British Isles, but for the security of Europe as a whole.
The stakes in world politics have got dramatically higher over the past week. The first duty of any Government is the security of its people, and for the first time in an era this is seriously threatened in liberal-democratic Europe. The British union has been extremely successful from a security point of view. Britain has been kept safe from invasion and ground conflict, and therefore somewhat shielded from the butchery which has taken place on the European continent. This protection has been brought by the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish standing together as Britons, and now would be a particularly foolish moment to throw this security away.
If you found this piece interesting you might like to follow me on Twitter @JBickertonUK.