WASHINGTON — The first European air show of the Trump era comes at a time when comments from President Donald Trump have strained longstanding U.S. alliances. But for the U.S. government and defense industry, the Paris Air Show will likely be full speed ahead.
Executives with the Aerospace Industries Association, the largest defense-focused trade association in the states, believe business interest will remain strong at the show, which kicks off on June 19. It also could represent an opportunity for administration officials to calm fears that an "America First" policy is coming, they told Defense News.
"This show can represent an opportunity to perhaps challenge or revise assumptions that many of our partners, economic and security partners, might have about the new administration and its focus," said Remy Nathan, a regular at defense trade shows in his role as vice president of international affairs with AIA.
"It's easy to focus a lot on the rhetoric, especially anything said during campaign season, versus actually engaging with the new administration as it's represented by some new faces but also some constant faces in the bureaucracy who will be at the Paris Air Show," he said. "Obviously there are going to be these kind of issues raised with the new administration that's come on board, but I suspect, as has happened historically, we will have a normalization if you will. There's first contact, then there's the ongoing conversation."
Although Trump’s "America First" rhetoric may have rankled allies and partner nations hoping for more collaboration with the United States on weapons programs, a State Department official traveling to Paris Air Show this week said his dance card has more-or-less remained the same — booked solid with meetings, just as it was last year for Farnborough International Airshow in England.
"It’s possible that we get those questions," he said, alluding to potential concerns or queries from foreign nations about what the Trump administration means for weapons deals. However, he noted the volume of direct commercial licenses haven’t dropped off since the start of the Trump administration.
"I think part of the foreign policy aspect of what we’re doing is fact finding and seeing what concerns are, and what people raise with us and bring that back," he said. "The people to whom we authorize exports are our partners and allies, so we want to have a good dialogue with them and if they are concerned, I would hope that they raise them with me, and that way I can be in listen mode and bring [that] back."
The event will give the State Department a chance to speak with U.S. companies that are in the region and talk about future issues or trends, which helps the agency determine provide guidance on export control. The department official also noted that he will be looking for feedback on recent arms control reforms efforts, particularly changes to the U.S. Munitions List.
The show occurs weeks after Trump’s visit to NATO, a trip which reportedly was rife with internal tensions between the U.S. president and his European counterparts – and which notably did not include Trump saying he supported Article 5, the key NATO provision which guarantees countries will aid each other if attacked. (Days later, during a visit to D.C. by Romania’s president, Trump did commit to Article 5.)
Following the NATO trip, German Chancellor Angela Merkel saidEurope must ‘‘really must take our fate into our own hands" and that the era of Europe being able to rely on others was "over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days."
As a result, "this show is happening at a very interesting time for the alliance," said John Luddy, AIA’s vice president for national security policy.
"There’s been more than usual, probably, rhetoric, harsh rhetoric in the aftermath of the Trump election and Brexit. But frankly some of the browbeating the president has done is starting to bear fruit and we’re seeing increased commitments of investment from NATO allies," Luddy said. "It will be a fascinating experience to watch these dynamics unfold in the context of the show and the timing is very interesting."
Asked if he expected American industry will have to play defense at the show, AIA’s Nathan laughed, saying "I feel like every year I’m doing that, regardless of the administration," noting that every year foreign competitors try to lure away customers for U.S. goods.