The president would apparently rather see an EU Nato power grab than let a Briton run the alliance.
CON COUGHLIN 6 July 2023 •
Joe Biden, the US president, makes little effort to conceal his visceral animosity towards the UK, as was evident from his insulting behaviour in Ireland when marking the anniversary of the Good Friday Accords and his no-show at the Coronation. The idea, though, that he is prepared to block Ben Wallace’s perfectly respectable bid to become Nato’s next secretary-general in favour of appointing Ursula von der Leyen, the underwhelming president of the European Commission, takes his Anglophobia to an entirely new level, one where he seems intent on committing a grievous act of self-harm.
Von der Leyen has hardly covered herself in glory during her Brussels stint. Her incompetence was brutally exposed in her handling of the pandemic in 2020 when, after reportedly taking “personal charge” of the EU’s response, she oversaw the implementation of a vaccination programme that lagged well behind much of the rest of the world. Similarly, her inability to provide strong and effective leadership has been evident in her response to the Ukraine conflict, where she has failed to give a precise timetable for Kyiv’s long-term ambitions to join the European Union.
Her failings in Brussels, though, are modest by comparison with her record as Germany’s defence minister between 2013-19. It was during this period, when Angela Merkel was chancellor, that Berlin almost seemed to take pride in the fact that it consistently failed to meet the minimum Nato spending requirement of 2 per cent of GDP.
With Germany’s close energy and trade ties with Moscow, Merkel and Von der Leyen apparently convinced themselves that Vladimir Putin posed no serious threat to European security, so there was no need to waste money on expensive military kit.
This resulted in the Bundeswehr becoming the laughing stock of Nato. When on exercise, its soldiers had to resort to using their own mobile phones because the military communications kit lacked proper encryption. The army’s standard-issue assault rifles were unable to shoot straight in high temperatures and, at one point, equipment shortages became so acute that soldiers were forced to conduct military exercises with broomsticks instead of guns.
Her track record at the German defence ministry makes Von der Leyen’s subsequent appointment as Brussels supremo all the more remarkable, even though it later emerged she got the job because the European Council simply wanted a weak commission leader who would be amenable to its demands.
Making her Nato secretary-general, though, at a time when the alliance is facing the greatest challenge in its 74-year history with the war in Ukraine, would be a promotion too far for someone with such an undistinguished career.
The fact, moreover, that the Biden administration could even contemplate such an inappropriate appointment demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding at the White House of the major challenges Nato faces if it is to preserve Western security.
One of the key pillars that enabled Nato to maintain peace in Europe is the transatlantic alliance, where the US and Europe have worked in tandem to provide an effective military deterrent to any potential aggressor.
Washington’s dominant role in the alliance, particularly in the military sphere, has long been resented by European elites who would prefer the EU to develop its own defence capabilities.
For example, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has made no secret of his desire to create what he calls a “true European Army” to protect its interests.
Appointing Von der Leyen to run Nato would not only place the West’s defence in the hands of a lightweight politician with questionable credentials: it would open the way for Euro-zealots to fulfil their dream of having a defence force focused on defending European interests at the expense of the wider Western alliance.
If the Biden administration was really interested in maintaining the strength and effectiveness of the Western alliance, it would understand that maintaining the distinction between Nato and the EU was paramount.
Yet, such is Biden’s antipathy towards Britain, that he seems willing to ignore this important distinction simply because he cannot tolerate the notion of a British defence secretary getting the position.
Fortunately, the prospect of an EU takeover of Nato has been averted for the immediate future, as Nato leaders have agreed to give a one-year extension to Jens Stoltenberg, the former Norwegian prime minister who has done sterling work encouraging member states to display a united front in confronting Russian aggression.
Norway, of course, enjoys Nato membership, but is not a part of the EU, a fact that will have helped Stoltenberg to keep his distance from Brussels’ efforts to increase its influence over the alliance.
When choosing the next Nato leader, therefore, alliance leaders should avoid picking a representative of Brussels’ ruling elite, and instead look for a candidate from somewhere like Poland or the Baltic states who can be guaranteed to safeguard the alliance’s independence from an EU power grab.