The Irish Times view on Europe’s security and defence policy: questions posed by a possible Trump victory

The protection of European values requires urgent action now, rather than reactively if there is a change in the White House

Wars in Ukraine and Gaza, growing instability in the Middle East and the realisation that Donald Trump might win this year’s presidential election in the United States are driving the European Union to take its foreign, security and defence policies much more seriously. Political leaders are calling for more resources and a greater ability to act together this year ahead of European Parliament and national elections in which these issues will be much more prominent. That is a necessary and welcome development in democratic choice about a more uncertain world.

Trump’s candidacy and potential victory crystallise such questions for the EU’s leaders and voters. He has repeatedly expressed his contempt for Nato, disdain for European under-investment in defence, determination to put US economic interests first and preference for authoritarian styles of leadership. European values of democracy, the rule of law and multilateralism look like distinctly second order priorities in Trump’s world view. That means their promotion and protection require urgent action at European level now, rather than reactively when he may be elected or in relation to a US foreign policy in which they may enjoy diminishing non-partisan support.

The EU’s ability to act politically and mobilise more security resources has been more in play over Ukraine than on Gaza and the Middle East. Its summit decision to open accession talks with Ukraine and the politics deployed to ensure delivery of its €50 billion euro aid package, despite the Hungarian leader Viktor Orban’s opposition, demonstrate that. In contrast the political and institutional disarray over the Gaza war and Middle East insecurity show how difficult common action can be.

Without converging policies between the member-states decision-making consensus is harder to achieve. That puts a transition to majority voting on foreign policy, security or defence issues, on the political agenda. Such change would require amending the EU treaties; it is better to debate such possibilities before being engulfed by the pace of events which might force such decisions in response. The European elections in June provide a valuable democratic opportunity to debate them publicly. That the issues at stake are momentous is illustrated in the call by Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right European People’s Party in the parliament, for an EU-wide nuclear deterrent if the US withdraws from Nato.

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Ireland’s public debates on these security issues have developed and matured recently after a long period in which they were disregarded or ill-informed by rapidly changing international politics and economics. The geopolitical shifts driving European-level policy debates on security and defence require close political attention here too.