Since the victory of Donald Trump in the US Presidential election the Internet has been ablaze - unlike this blog - with articles about the possible defence ramifications of his win. Indeed the Internet in general has gone into utter meltdown about Trump, but it's the more extreme ends that have amused me the most, those touting the end of the world as we know it.
Personally I think Trump is a massive arse, not that Hillary was much better, but luckily he's also still a politician. This is important because it guarantees two things. Firstly, that he'll inevitably back track on the majority of the promises he made during his campaign, so some of the more bonkers stuff is likely to quietly disappear in time. Secondly, that behind closed doors Trump is likely to be a very different person to the one we see in front of the cameras. He'll likely still be a massive arse, but probably one who spends a bit more time thinking about coherent policy and its implications, as opposed to the stage show that is a Presidential election. Or indeed any election.
Of course this hasn't stopped people having a fit over phone calls to Taiwan, as if this was somehow a highly dangerous step in comparison to China's aggressive actions across the South China Sea in recent years. And it hasn't stopped people speculating wildly that America will abandon Europe to its fate under Trump. Some of the reactions by various outraged types have been truly amusing and much rubbish has been written about the impending start of world war three, which is to both misunderstand how the USA works and how Russia works.
It's inevitable that sitting as we do on the "blue" side of what was once the Iron Curtain, we have a tendency to view Russia as having its designs on our soil. It's the old good vs evil pantomime played out on a grand scale. But while Russia is certainly a concern for a variety of reasons, an impending invasion of the west is not one of them. Russia has struggled to flex its muscles properly in Ukraine despite being virtually unopposed by any kind of serious western intervention and is in no fit state (nor has it been for a long time) to go gallivanting across the Rhine and making a dash for the channel. Nor has Russia ever really desired to, which is where a lot of people get truly confused.
The rise of the Warsaw Pact is even to this day still largely misunderstood, in the context of what it was designed to achieve. During the second world war Russia was nearly brought to its knees by Germany and her allies. By the time the conflict was over the USSR alone had suffered more deaths - military and civilian combined - than most of the rest of Europe combined. Armed with this knowledge it's much easier to put the rise of the fabled Iron Curtain into its proper context. The reality is that the Warsaw Pact was - like NATO - a measure designed for mutual security assistance.
Naturally both sides of the cold war went out of their way to portray the other side as being the evil aggressors, when the reality is both sides were genuinely more interested in defence than attack, and both sides of course went out of their way to try and limit the others influence globally and interfere in each others interests. Fundamentally though both sides were trying to put up a shield.
This brings us to modern Russia and Vladimir Putin. Russia - and indeed Putin - is still stuck in the cold war mentality of trying to build up a shield to protect the homeland from aggression, the buffer zone it hopes will protect it from harm. What Putin thinks NATO is going to do only he knows, but its fairly transparent that while NATO has increasingly closed in over time on the border with Russia, it has neither the will nor the capacity to invade Russia, anymore than Russia has either against say, Germany.
This is not to say that some NATO members are not at risk. Those closest to Russia live with the spectre of the Russian bear hanging over them constantly. Nor does this mean NATO should simply allow Russia to eat away at the alliance, or allow Russia's low level aggression to go unchallenged. It's simply meant as a reminder to the more hysterical types that neither Trump nor Putin is about to kick off another world war. Both are likely to be more subtle than that in their designs.
Yes, I know I just used Donald Trump and subtle in the same sentence, but trust me.
What does this mean for European defence? Everyone is soiling their underwear at the prospect that the US might abandon Europe to its fate, which I find oddly amusing because it presupposes that a Europe minus the USA could not protect itself. While Russia has some fancy toys in its arsenal and a decent number of troops - both regular and reserve - to call upon, the reality is that European NATO members have fancier toys for the most part, more of them, and a decent number of their own troops to call upon.
It's unlikely that Trump will activate a full scale removal of US forces from Europe. There could be some significant downsizing, but it's worth bearing in mind that US forces in Europe provide a handy forward reserve for deployments, as well as maintaining a wide range of facilities that have proven their usefulness numerous times over the years. Cool heads in council and a realistic assessment of the facts are likely to ensure a US presence in Europe for many years to come.
And frankly would a US downsizing be as terrible as some imagine? For one thing it would give many NATO members a much needed kick up the arse, including our own esteemed (stop laughing) government. A partial withdrawal of US forces could in the long run be the most positive thing to happen to Europe in a long time, as bizarre as that may sound. A bit like the inevitable moment when a pair of adult birds begin to gradually shove the little ones out of the nest, to gently encourage them to f$%£ off and start making their own way in the world.
All in all I guess the summary of this post should be this; calm your tits. The end is not nigh.