A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
First, it depends on who the next U.S. president will be. The race is tight on both sides and a lot can happen: although demographics favor the Democrats, much will depend on whom the Republican Party nominates. At the moment, the leading candidates range from isolationists like Donald Trump to interventionist hawks like Marco Rubio. Some are still adjusting their positions (think Hillary Clinton on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP), while others have a limited record on foreign policy (think Bernie Sanders) or no record at all (like Ben Carson, who thought the Egyptian pyramids were used to store grain).
If the US is to care about #Europe, Europe has to care about itself.Tweet This
Second, what does “care about Europe” really mean? If it means “continue to pay for European defense,” think again. Although Americans like to regard the United States as the world’s leading superpower, they are increasingly unwilling to pay the costs. If the Europeans want to be taken into consideration, they should fork out their share. The problem is that European citizens are not inclined to pay for more wars.
Last but not least, aside from the photo ops and conviviality, Europe was scarcely relevant in the deals closed by the presidency of Barack Obama, be it on diplomatic ties with Cuba, Iran’s nuclear program, or climate change. If the United States is to care about Europe, Europe has to first care about itself—that is, to stop disintegrating and step up its game.
Whether the next U.S. president cares about Europe will depend primarily on whether Europe can get its act together. And at present the omens do not look good.
The next US president will want an ally that can bring added value.Tweet This
Whoever sits in the White House in January 2017 will look across the Atlantic at 500 million Europeans, as rich as Americans, and ask why they are not doing more for their own security, let alone regional security. As the United States beats an inevitable retreat from the Middle East and struggles with its own internal problems, especially its crumbling infrastructure, the next president will want an ally that can bring added value and not be a burden.
Europe and the United States still share many values, but unless there is a sense of real partnership, the relationship could slowly fizzle out. To prevent this from happening, Europe will have to sort out its own internal problems, regain a sense of solidarity, and demonstrate a wider vision about Europe’s role in the world. If it does this, then the next president might just care about Europe.
“Countries don’t have friends, countries only have interests.” That statement, usually attributed to former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, makes clear why Europe shouldn’t care too much about being cared about by the U.S. president.
Europe shouldn't care about being cared about by the US president.Tweet This
The next occupant of the White House—regardless of her or his personal tastes—will have to protect and promote the American interest. And due to the depth of the economic, financial, diplomatic, security, cultural, and social ties across the Atlantic and the many interests the United States shares with Europe, the next president will often rely on working with European partners.
In Europe, a strong transatlantic relationship tends to be seen as an end in itself. For the United States, such a relationship is usually a means to another end. And despite recent irritants, the transatlantic relationship is still among the most effective frameworks for getting things done internationally.
Besides, there are several high-priority issues on which European action is wanted. These include the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Syrian conflict, follow-up to the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the health of the eurozone, relations with Russia, and a possible British exit from the EU.
European leaders should worry less about whether the U.S. president likes them and more about what issue they want to address together. The U.S. presidential candidates aren’t debating whether Europe cares about the next president. They know Europe does.
In recent years, much has been said about the U.S. pivot to Asia and concomitant disengagement from Europe. A major symbol of this rebalancing was the departure of the last U.S. tank from European soil in March 2013, only to be followed by a fresh deployment of U.S. armor in January 2014.
Developments around Europe required #Obama to revise his plans.Tweet This
Despite a shift in America’s trade and financial exchanges with Asia, political and military developments around Europe required U.S. President Barack Obama to drastically revise his preexisting plans. In 2014, Russia’s policies in Eastern Europe—its annexation of Crimea, proxy war in eastern Ukraine, and permanent harassment of NATO air defenses around Europe—triggered such a change.
In November 2016, the U.S. president-elect will have two other compelling reasons to think again about whether or not to care about Europe. The first is Russia’s policy in Syria and the consequences of that policy on the persistence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as Daesh) and on the flow of refugees. The second reason is Turkey’s policy of only loosely controlling the transit of jihadists to and from Daesh-held territory and of not drastically regulating the refugee traffickers on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
Both phenomena are deeply destabilizing for the European Union—Washington’s strongest strategic partner—and have potentially calamitous consequences for entire segments of the European political architecture. They should therefore constitute alarm signals for the next U.S. president.
The next POTUS is unlikely to care as much about Europe as European leaders would like. Yet he or she can make a real difference and strengthen the transatlantic relationship. That means making better suggestions than for Europeans to start carrying guns to defend themselves against terrorists. There is a lot to be done. In the fields of foreign policy, trade, and the digital economy, the potential for divergence looms.
The next #POTUS can strengthen the transatlantic relationship.Tweet This
While there have been quite a few chilly moments in the transatlantic relationship recently, many in the EU look to Washington as their first partner. When it comes to foreign policy and defense, this is a necessity more than a luxury, which may in turn be a reason for U.S. frustration with Europe.
An area in which the United States could disappoint Europe is trade. There are increasing suggestions from U.S. officials for a limited transatlantic deal during the administration of President Barack Obama, instead of a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) whenever negotiations come to a successful end. The United States is already part of a deal that includes a number of Asian countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and may not push for another agreement.
Another area in which the EU and the United States should cooperate more but in which clashes will likely continue is regulation of the digital economy. Measures from privacy protection to the ensuring of fair competition, which the EU sees as principled, are labeled protectionist on the U.S. side. Discussions since the 2013 leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden have not led to warmer transatlantic relations or more trust.
The next U.S. president will have no other choice than to care about Europe. Given all of the external and internal pressures associated with Europe’s migration crisis, a resurgent Russia, terrorist threats, a potential British exit from the EU, and a number of weak economies, the EU is at serious risk of unraveling.
The next US president will have no choice but to care about #Europe.Tweet This
That the United States has a vested interest in saving the European project it has long supported goes without saying. The real question is what to do about it. Broadly, the United States needs to reinvigorate and reinvest in the EU-U.S. relationship, which has atrophied in recent years. More specifically, the United States will have to do more to help alleviate some of the external and internal challenges plaguing the EU, most notably with regard to the migration crisis.
Of course, as a country that is not an EU member, the United States faces limitations on what it can do. But given the stakes, the United States cannot afford indifference. A weak, fractured, or failed EU would have devastating consequences for the United States, the global economy, and the wider region. Finding ways to harness U.S. leadership to ensure that the EU does not collapse therefore needs to be a top priority for the United States.
The question is rather whether the next U.S. president will care about the Middle East, China, and Russia. The United States is largely irrelevant when it comes to intra-European relations, which only European capitals can manage.
The US is largely irrelevant when it comes to intra-European relations.Tweet This
But for the broader international framework in which Europe is embedded, Europeans have relied heavily since the end of World War II on the United States. This may be changing, as Washington is reducing its international engagement—a development that may well continue under the next U.S. president.
Europe will be in trouble if Russia continues to try to neutralize and weaken it. It will be in trouble if war and chaos continue to spread in the Middle East. And it will be in trouble if a major war breaks out in the Asia-Pacific.
To remain stable internally, Europe needs a power to guarantee a stable environment. Europe has not yet learned to be that power itself, and it is unclear whether it has the will and the ability to become such a power.
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