London — Donald Trump’s election should prompt the British government to question their reliance on US defense technology, according to a leading think tank analyst in London.
“Questions must now be asked about the strategic dependency that reliance on US military systems, including US black-box software, is creating, and whether the consequent risks remain acceptable in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves,” said Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director-general at the Royal United Services Institute.
The remarks, in a note released by the analyst earlier this week, come at a time when Britain is pouring cash into government-to-government deals with the US to acquire key military capabilities and boost interoperability with London’s long-time, closest ally.
Earlier this week, the US State Department notified Congress of its intention to sign a foreign military sales (FMS) deal worth up to $1 billion to supply the British Royal Air Force with a new generation of Predator B remotely piloted vehicles.
The deal comes on top of recent commitments by the British to purchase new Apache attack helicopters and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft for its armed forces. Britain is also purchasing a multibillion dollar fleet of F-35 fighters in an FMS deal.
Chalmers said that while it’s too early to predict what a Trump administration might do on assuming office in January, “it is already incumbent upon the British government to begin some serious thinking on the basis of what he might do,” given the president's repeated election campaign statements questioning the value of alliances and "evident sympathy" for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There should be no taboos about discussing the possibility of a fundamental divergence of outlook with the US,” the RUSI analyst said.
Chalmers said Britain should consider dropping its opposition to greater European defense cooperation and look at whether it has a shared interest with its allies in the region in creating a credible backup to NATO given the “enhanced risk that an unpredictable US president could veto future use of NATO as an organizer of collective action.”
“The UK could gain much-needed credibility with those allies if it were now to relax its veto on the proposal for an EU operational headquarters, a block which will in any case no longer be usable once Brexit takes effect,” he said, referring to Britain's separation from the European Union.
Led by France, Germany and Italy, discussions about possibly greater defense cooperation at the EU level have already got underway.
If Trump delivers on some of his more radical ideas, it would pose huge challenges for the British defense establishment as London moves to exit the EU, he said.
“The Ministry of Defence should begin to review areas in which British conventional capabilities are overly reliant on US support. It should also devote more attention to what it might involve — in technical and also doctrinal terms — if the US were to refuse to help in a future military crisis,” the think tanker said.
In some cases, the government "might have to contemplate moving to a less ambitious strategic posture in the event of a US retreat from its international commitments," he said.