The Trump victory is already the worst news since the Iraq war. It may prove to be the worst since Yalta
It barely makes sense to talk of the “West” now. On most issues—security, trade, climate change—Donald Trump has nothing in common with the people who run the other advanced industrialised countries. True, America’s institutions are strong and most Americans are still sensible; Donald Trump may find the realities of office are an education. Maybe in four years’ time things will be different. But the damage is already huge and mounting fast.
For a start, Russia brazenly and successfully interfered in an American election campaign. Expect more of that—in upcoming elections in France, Germany and elsewhere. The combination of hacks and leaks, sowing mistrust with invented scandals, has proved remarkably potent. Mr Trump may not feel gratitude to Mr Putin, but Mr Putin is certainly flushed with victory.
Europe was already in a mess. Without American leadership, it will be worse. The temptation to do deals with Vladimir Putin becomes greater when the risk of disapproval and counter-measures from big countries becomes less. A huge responsibility now rests on Angela Merkel. She is now the leader of the free world, Germany Europe’s indispensable nation. Today is a sharp wake-up call to those, particularly in Poland, who think that Atlanticism is a substitute for diplomacy.
For the frontline states, especially Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the election outcome is not just a political drama: it is a matter of national survival. Their political leadership will be tested as never before (which makes a government crisis in Estonia, and post-election uncertainty in Lithuania, particularly ill-timed). Their best hope is tight coordination with their regional allies and with Europe’s two nuclear powers: Britain and France. It is worth remembering that the Nordic five, the Baltic three and Poland combined have a bigger GDP than Russia.
The short-term priority is safeguarding the region against an opportunistic Russian stunt. An early test of strength could destroy NATO’s credibility before President Trump has finished unpacking. The coming months would be a good time for as many allies as possible—including non-NATO Sweden and Finland—to send troops to the Baltic states for exercises.
In the medium term, the big need is to educate the administration about why allies matter. Isolationist rhetoric may have played well on the campaign trail. It won’t solve problems that need other countries’ cooperation. It will be worth reminding Mr Trump that Poland and Estonia already spend 2% of GDP on defence, that others will hit the target soon, and that all the ex-captive nations readily came to America’s aid in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The blame for all this lies not with the American voters, but with European politicians who have repeatedly dodged their responsibilities over the decades since the end of the cold war. A combination of stinginess and self-indulgence has corroded the basis of the Atlantic alliance. The people who cheered Edward Snowden and booed the NSA have some difficult questions to answer now.
The biggest question is about how we run our own countries. Trump-supporting Americans feel the same anger that made British voters opt for Brexit, and which fuels backing for anti-systemic and simplistic parties in other countries. All over Europe, the people who run things (and like me write about them) need to look in the mirror and ask “why don’t people trust us?” Answering that question will not only head off the danger of more Trump-like victories in Europe. It may also make us better able to withstand the threat we face from Russia.