July 4 military parade could weaken US' global prestige

US Army soldiers position a M1 Abrams main battle tank into position at the Lincoln Memorial for US Independence Day celebrations on the National Mall in Washington, on July 4, 2019.
US Army soldiers position a M1 Abrams main battle tank into position at the Lincoln Memorial for US Independence Day celebrations on the National Mall in Washington, on July 4, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BERLIN • When President Donald Trump returned from the French Bastille Day military parade in July 2017, he was enamoured by the display, calling it "one of the most beautiful parades I have ever seen".

Months later, he made a decision: he wanted his own parade. Ideally, bigger and better than the one he had watched in Paris. "We're going to have to try and top it," he said.

Observers around the world have recoiled at the suggestion that his spectacle is in line with other democracies which celebrate their military history with gravity and reflection on the horrors of war.

These analysts say the tenor of Mr Trump's "Salute to America" has more in common with the garish and muscular public ceremonies held by autocratic regimes like Russia, North Korea and China.

"The US President uses the anniversary of his country for his own propaganda," Germany's influential Tagesspiegel newspaper in Berlin said in a commentary on Wednesday, which branded Mr Trump's plans as "shameless" and a "show of egoism".

Other European analysts said what distinguishes this year's Fourth of July celebration in Washington from similar spectacles in Western democracies is the apparent politicisation of the event using military equipment. "If (a parade is organised due to a) personal desire of Trump... then it becomes political," said Mr Nicholas Dungan, a France-based senior fellow with the Atlantic Council.

Mr Trump's decision to frame yesterday's procession as a celebration showcasing American strength bears some similarities with authoritarian nations like Russia, China or Iran, which have all put a focus on high-tech arms as part of their intended projection of power.

 
 
 
 

China and Russia often use the high-profile events to display to the world their newest and most sophisticated weapons, including ballistic missile systems.

For the United States' perception abroad, Mr Trump's exhibition might easily backfire.

Ms Camilla Sorensen, a researcher in Denmark, studied China's huge 2015 military parade in Beijing and found that hyper-nationalistic military parades featuring arms often undercut national interests in other ways, mostly by weakening a country's cultural influence and global prestige.

In other words, a military parade too focused on a domestic audience can easily send a problematic message abroad.

Even North Korea appears to weigh possible disadvantages of overly dramatic shows of force carefully. After relations between the Trump administration and Pyongyang warmed last year, North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles were suddenly no longer part of its major anniversary military parade.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2019, with the headline 'Military parade could weaken US' global prestige'. Print Edition | Subscribe