German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and US President Donald Trump, met for the first time on Saturday. The weather, acting as a bad omen for the relationship to come, had caused Merkels visit to be postponed as a snow storm ravaged the US east coast. I have summarised below the highlights of the Trump/Merkel affair and I’ll explain why it is that Merkel is threatening the very existence of NATO.
President Trumps now infamous handshake; the grab, shake and yank of the hand- was not given to Merkel in an incredibly awkward moment in the Oval office. The two leaders sat down in front of the press and while it is convention for them to shake hands, the pair never did. After repeated and obvious requests by the press for the leaders to shake hands, President Trump sat reserved and completely oblivious to what was going on. Chancellor Merkel, turned to him (trying to engage in eye contact with the President) and politely asked for a handshake, to which Trump looked away and totally blanked the German Chancellor.
The awkwardness didn’t end there. After realising she was getting ignored, perhaps purposely, Merkel turned away and pulled a funny face. As if to signal her surprise at the President’s blatant snub of her.
Could things really get any more un-diplomatic? Well…yes.
The following press conference, packed with German and American journalists, displayed the two leaders’ differences. It’s obvious from the campaign trail that Trump opposes Merkel on pretty much everything.
The most stunning moment of the whole visit was when Trump joked and doubled down on his claims that he was ‘wire-tapped’ by the Obama administration. In a time of complete disbelief, journalists sat completely aghast at what Trump just said. He claimed that regarding wire tapping “at least we have something in common perhaps”.
This was an unbelievable reference to the tapping of Merkels phone by the Obama administration. This is astonishing to see in a press conference designed to showcase the warmth of two allied nations, but Trump used it as an opportunity to bring up the fact that the US had tapped German Chancellor Merkel’s phone. Her face says it all. Merkel, never one for facial expressions, looked puzzled and shocked at what the President had said.
Diplomatic faux-pas’ continued as Trump sarcastically called a German reporter a “friendly reporter” as she accused him of being isolationist. He then proceeded to accuse her of being ‘fake news’.
Notice how half way through his response, he referred to the United States as a very powerful company. It’s obvious he is a businessman adjusting to the running of a country. This tense visit by Chancellor Merkel ended soon after this press conference, but it shows some very big problems for Germany ahead, as I’ll explain below.
MERKEL, TRUMP AND NATO:
The frosty relationship between Trump and Merkel is no great shock. Trump is unsatisfied with the relationship between the United States and Germany. The reason is simple; Trade and Defence.
Germany has a massive trade surplus with the US (meaning Germany sells far more to the US, than the US sells to Germany). This means that German firms and exporters are much more reliant on the US, than the opposite. As a negotiator and master of the ‘Art of the Deal’, Trump understands that this gives him a decent amount of leverage in negotiations. Trump sensibly wants to re-balance their trading relationship. It is clear, that the creation of the Eurozone has benefited Germany more than any other country. Less developed economies such as Greece and Poland joined the Euro, allowing much more developed economies like Germany to take advantage of the relatively low value of the Euro. The very weak Euro has meant that German manufacturing and exporting has become artificially competitive across the world. Meanwhile, companies in the United States struggle to compete. I believe it is entirely sensible for Trump to seek a different outcome, and change the trading relationship- It’s another part of America First.
In addition to trade, the biggest problem for the Trump administration, is that Germany only pays 1.23% of total German GDP towards defense. This is well below the NATO requirement of 2% of GDP spent on defense. Compare this to the US, which pays 3.6% of its GDP on defense. Any rationally minded individual can see, there is an imbalance here. Germany reaps the rewards of American defense, but pays a severely reduced fee- it’s totally unfair. That is why Merkel is threatening NATO, by refusing to pay up. Trump is NATO’s savior, because he is the only world leader willing to speak out.
NATO is further threatened by the ever growing integration of the European Union, driven by Angela Merkel. EU commission president Jean Claude-Juncker has expressed desires to set up a ‘common defense’ headquarters in Luxembourg. This is EU code for an EU army. In fact, France is rumored to be thinking about transferring its nuclear weapons, so that they would be under EU control. This is something that is deeply troubling for the future of NATO.
How can nations commit entirely to NATO, if funds and resources are being secretly siphoned away to the European Union?
The EU is a competing super structure. Only one can exist, otherwise the defense of the West is fractured, while Russia presses ahead, exploiting the growing difference between the EU and the rest of the West. If the world is to take a tough stance on Putin, it is imperative that the EU immediately ends this federal Europe fantasy, and gets real about the security of the world. NATO works. However, as Trump points out, in its current form it is obsolete.