The Yomiuri ShimbunLONDON — Policies steered by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump have been shaking U.S. alliances. Following a spat over trade issues between the United States and other major economic powers that intensified at a Group of Seven summit meeting in Canada last month, Trump will attend a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday (July 11-12). How should U.S. allies in Europe as well as Japan and South Korea deal with Trump? Former British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon expresses his views on the prospects for transatlantic relationships and global security issues in the Trump era. The following are excerpts from the interview.
The Yomiuri Shimbun: Have there been any structural changes in the transatlantic relationships between the United States and Europe?
Michael Fallon: It is inevitable that in a new administration, with a change from Democrat to Republican for the White House, President Trump would look at the transatlantic relationships again.
It’s more fragile than a year or two years ago and it’s going to need work. To ensure a successful summit we have to show that NATO’s strong alliance is in the best interests of the U.S. as well as of Europe.
We are also seeing the opportunity to see the resolution of the crisis in North Korea. I think both of those things combined to pose questions for the alliance both here in Europe, but also the alliances that many other countries like Japan have with the United States in the Pacific.
I think the president finds it easier to deal with single countries, to enter into bilateral negotiations one to one, as he did in business, and is perhaps less comfortable with the need to preserve a consensus amongst a wider multinational alliance.
Q: President Trump is set to insist at the summit meeting that NATO members should spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024 (see below).
A: [Former U.S.] Presidents such as [Barack] Obama spoke about the free riders of Europe. There is nothing new in this American complaint. And it is true. We all agreed nearly four years ago to spend 2 percent, and more than half of the 29 member states are not even spending 1.5 percent. So I am with the president on this one. European countries need to spend more and stop being overdependent on [the United States] doing everything.
It requires political will and it requires a change in the central countries of Europe — Germany, Italy and Spain — who are spending only 1 percent. What is interesting is that the countries that are directly facing Russia, the Baltic states, and others such as Romania, these countries are not the richest, but they are increasing their defense spending.
Q: Why do you think many NATO countries are not fulfilling the target? Is it because of their austerity policies or lack of interest?
A: It can’t be that they don’t understand the threat. The threat to the European continent from Russia and from terrorism is very evident. It’s a failure of political will in these countries.
Q: Why is it necessary to increase defense spending?
A: It is necessary because the alliance has expanded. We need to ensure that our peoples understand the obligations of the alliance. British troops would have to go and fight in Estonia. And that isn’t perhaps widely understood after the alliance was enlarged. One of the obligations is to spend. We should not take the benefit of alliance for granted.
President Trump is asking questions of the rules-based international system. Does it suit America? Does it suit America’s best interests? We have to persuade him that yes, it does. We have to persuade him of that when NATO is engaged in Afghanistan, if that fragile democracy collapses, there are terror threats not just to Europe but from Al-Qaida to America. If Iraq collapses, there is again a threat of Islamist extremism to America as well as to Europe. If [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is allowed to use chemical weapons, other countries will use them. So we have to show him why these international rules work, how they are in America’s interests as well as Western Europe’s interests.
Q: One of Trump’s strong arguments is about cost. He has said the United States is paying too much to defend NATO member states. After meeting Kim Jong Un of North Korea, he ordered the cancellation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, calling them too expensive. How does it possibly fit into alliance management?
A: He’s a businessman, not a politician. He starts from the premise that America has been too generous to the rest of the world. He wants to address that balance. We need to show that these international arrangements actually do benefit the U.S. as well as everyone else.
He sees an alliance that has not modernized quickly enough, that is still very cumbersome in its bureaucracy and decision-making and is overdependent on U.S. financial support. So he wants to see the alliance change. The rich European countries should spend more and do more to modernize their militaries. Japan is doing that. Why isn’t Germany, Belgium, Italy or Spain?
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and I, at the private dinners in NATO, constantly urged the German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to increase the level of spending.
There is a circumstance where Germany is a coalition which does not unitedly support increasing spending, but Germany can afford to spend more, and they should. They committed to spend more and they need to keep to their commitments.
Q: What would be the impact of Brexit on NATO?
A: Brexit means that Britain will want to play a leading role in NATO. Where there are NATO initiatives, Britain should be leading with the United States.
It is very important now that we show the rest of the alliance that we are not withdrawing from the security of the Continent.
We should look again at the bases we have in Germany from which we have been very slowly withdrawing, we should look again at whether some more of our equipment could be pre-positioned because when you deploy heavy armor to Estonia you have to ship the armor by sea or by rail. It’s a very ponderous and long process. And there may now be a case to revisiting the decision to withdraw from Germany and look again whether we need to pre-position some of the heavier equipment in Germany.
Pacific allies should work together
Q: President Trump is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin after the NATO summit. What do you make of it?
A: These two men have to have a relationship. However much we object to what Russia did here in Salisbury, what Russia did allowing chemical weapons to be used in Syria, we have to engage with Russia. Russia has influence in important parts of the world and we have to do business with Russia. So it is important for the alliance that these two men have a relationship.
I would like President Trump to make it clear that America continues to object to the annexation of Crimea; Russia should stop prolonging the civil war in Syria; Russia should stop [interfering with] democracies. Those are the things I would like to see the president emphasize to Russia. But then go on to say that there is always scope for Russia to come back into the international fold to discuss their concerns on the big issues.
Q: Under Trump, what will the Japan-U.S. alliance look like from now on? What about the one between the United States and South Korea as well?
A: I think there is a parallel with Europe here. I think Japan and other countries in the Pacific realize that they need to do more for their own security again. America is the major military power, but the Pacific countries have to do more in their own interests and work more closely together.
When it comes to issues like navigation through the South China Sea, it is very important that Japan, the Philippines and other countries work more closely together.
I spent a lot of time trying to improve the bilateral and trilateral relationships among Japan, South Korea and Britain. Some of these are difficult relationships, historically, but they are important.
—This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun senior political writer Keiko Iizuka, who is based in London.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 4, 2018)
■ Sir Michael Fallon / Former British Defense Secretary
Fallon, 66, is a Conservative member of the House of Commons. Since first being elected in 1983, he has held such positions as energy secretary and business and enterprise secretary. He served as defense secretary from 2014 to 2017. He is knowledgeable about the Japanese automobile and nuclear energy industries.
■ NATO’s target: 2 percent of GDP for defense
Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, NATO members set a common goal of spending a minimum of 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. Out of the 29 member states, eight countries including the United States and Britain are likely to reach the goal within 2018. It is estimated that only 15 countries will meet the target by 2024.Speech