Buy America. America first. “Make America great again.”
These are messages that for many making up the global defense market, have been digested from afar. And one could argue that distance has made it a lot easier to provide safe responses, particularly from our most staunch allies.
Make no mistake, what we've heard has indeed been quite safe, whether among industry or government. Some credit Donald Trump for extending his business savvy to the presidency; some call nationalism a good thing for any nation; some diplomatically state that the United States remains a critical ally, essentially dodging any question of whether Trump's doctrine is fair to allies or even advantageous to the United States.
But now comes the Paris Air Show.
This is not the first big defense show since Trump took office. We got a fair amount of commentary about the Trump administration from countries in the Middle East during the IDEX show in Abu Dhabi, and American policy also came up at both IMDEX and Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Leaders in those regions were even safer in their comments, presumably figuring that U.S. support for regional security is particularly dire.
But Paris is the first big show in Europe. It’s the first big show since Trump essentially shamed NATO members in Brussels. It’s also hosted by a country that has voiced more dissent than most for Trump’s policies.
And it will bring droves of defense leaders from across Europe, certainly outnumbering any contingency that attends from the Pentagon or the White House (if, that is, anybody from the White House actually attends, which is highly unlikely).
So then to our allies in Europe, and those from the rest of the world for that matter – now is your chance to be honest.
Will they be? Hints of growing tensions have begun to emerge. As we've reported, Canada has clearly decided to retaliate against some of the trade restrictions put in place by the Trump administration by dangling its own lucrative defense programs in front of companies outside of the U.S.
And comments continue (increasing in volume lately) about defense procurement needing to be a two-way street among allies.
But what will we hear in Paris?
Will a unified European perspective begin to swell, or will we see loyalty permeate among those that typically align with U.S. policies? Might industry chime in more loudly, or will words of admiration continue to filter out among the biggest primes, seemingly concerned that they might find themselves at a disadvantage in the next big defense program?
Maybe many will hold their tongues. Or maybe with elections still fresh in the U.K. and France, and with terrorism and insurgency continuing to be the universal threats on the minds of all nations represented, talk of the Trump doctrine won’t be worth the trouble.
Maybe the world is tired of being asked, "what do you think of the Trump administration?"
We shall see. But as someone who has generally observed the policies of this new administration from at home, I’ll be listening.