On the 9th of November 2016 the world was shocked to realise that businessman and television personality Donald Trump was to be the President of the United States of America.
What are some of the longer term considerations countries like the United Kingdom have to make on the planning of events such as the election of Donald Trump to the White House, and what is to emerge for the UK over the longer term as a result from one of the most historically significant political events in history? Here I present some brief considerations as a result of the 2016 US presidency election with focus upon the three areas which are at the core of the UK / US ‘special relationship’; namely that of foreign policy, security and defence.
Donald Trump is known to be a controversial character. He’s unpredictable, outspoken and often comes across as uncontrollable to many including those within his very own Republican party. For Britain this could potentially present issues with the potential alignment with US foreign policy due to the difficulty such traits present for the planning and execution of a foreign policy stance.
The question is: how great is Downing Street’s appetite for giving up its relatively ‘stiff upper lip’ and approach to align with the potentially difficult stance the US may take to certain world events going forwards?
How would scenarios such as those we’ve seen with Russian military operations in Syria, the testing of nuclear weapons by North Korea and the willingness to continue developing a nuclear weapons arsenal by Iran play out with Donald Trump in the Oval Office?
Therefore, the ultimate question for Britain is how Downing Street and Whitehall capitalise on future developments? In relation to security policy Britain can shape its position around its capabilities as opposed to primarily examine likely outcomes to world events, as described above.
This is largely due to the British intelligence services being highly valued by allies and respected amongst non-allies around the world for its capabilities. Intelligence around the 9/11 terrorist attacks demonstrated an issue the US and many other agencies faced which due to the growth of social media and internet usage is continued to be faced today: that many intelligence services actually possess too much information to analyse and assess what information is ‘intelligent’ and what is not. So a key competence which gives Britain a leading intelligence role is the ability of our agencies to analyse information and separate the gold from the dross which subsequently enables the effective planning for intelligence operations. As a result of this many nations highly value a relationship with British intelligence agencies on the basis of sharing such abilities and information in order to gain their own upper hand.
A key consideration for the White House is how much value does it place on maintaining what is a good information flow between the British and American intelligence agencies? The answer is likely that this will continue to be strong between the US and UK.
But the future utilisation of Britain’s armed forces as a result of Downing Street’s decision whether to align with President-elect Trump’s foreign policy pursuits warrants further consideration. As mentioned, but worth reiterating: Britain has to consider the position it wishes to adopt in a world outside the European Union, and also now with Donald Trump as US President-elect . However, the good relationships which Britain is building, and will continue to develop, with countries such as China, India, Brazil (largely based upon trade) could potentially be jeopardised with Britain taking a foreign policy position to align with the US in a direction that any of our trading partner countries could oppose. Therefore, Britain has to now more than ever be able to rationalise its contributions to international defence operations for this very reason and will have to carefully articulate the reasons behind any decision over what position it will take with regards to the use of its armed forces in any future conflict.
So, what of NATO? The question remains as to whether the US will place further pressure on member countries to meet the target of spending 2% of their GDP on defence, which Britain has committed to. However, with the US taking a prominent role in NATO exercises and combat operations; will President-elect Trump place greater emphasis on its NATO allies to take up a fairer share of the work involved with sustaining the credibility of the NATO alliance?
Many questions are to be asked as a result of the many considerations resulting from the election of President-elect Trump, however what is almost certain is that Britain and American will continue to maintain its ‘special relationship’ going forwards and perhaps it may even be enhanced.