Cornelius AdebahrNonresident fellow at Carnegie Europe
Only the Europeans can make Europe stronger; the U.S. president can only help them come to this conclusion. Yet if he does, his election has at least some benefit for some people.
Too much has been written and said about why Europe—shorthand not only for the EU but also, crucially, for the European pillar of NATO—needs to become the master of its own fate without sufficient measures being put in place. With uncertainty now reaching the core of Europe’s primary interests, security, and prosperity, as the United States is openly wobbly about its commitments to NATO as well as to free trade, it may be time for European states to make the bold steps they were previously unwilling to make.
However, they should do so as a contribution to the wider transatlantic community, not against the United States (or Britain, for that matter). U.S. society is much more diverse than what the country’s president embodies, and the two sides of the Atlantic are still each other’s best friends. If, at the end of this U.S. presidency, a stronger, more united Europe serves as an inspiration for the United States rather than a punching bag, that would be welcome.
Jorge BenitezDirector of NATOSource and senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council
U.S. President Donald Trump will not make Europe stronger. On the contrary, he is bad for Europe and bad for the United States. By increasing doubts about his commitment to NATO, Trump has already harmed the security of Europe by making partners and adversaries question whether the United States is a reliable ally.
Europe’s response may be as counterproductive as Trump’s behavior at the May 25 NATO meeting. Once again, many are calling for more defense integration among European nations. This should not be a surprise, because this school of thought also argued for more defense integration when Barack Obama and George W. Bush were U.S. president. No matter what, this is always the preferred response from some.
But more defense integration is counterproductive, because it wastes scarce political and economic resources. It is presented as an alternative to Trump’s behavior as an unreliable ally. Yet it is an illusion, because more European defense integration will only succeed with the United States. European defense integration has always been most successful when conducted through NATO, specifically when there is strong U.S. leadership in the alliance.
Instead of flirting with alternatives to the United States, Europe should produce more defense capabilities in NATO, not outside it. There can be no peace in Europe without NATO. The European allies must act responsibly and not let the behavior of one individual decrease their support for and investment in the transatlantic alliance.
Federiga BindiSenior fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, director of the Foreign Policy Initiative at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and D. German distinguished visiting chair at Appalachian State University
On November 2, 2016, I wrote on this blog, “[U.S. President Donald Trump] believes Europeans should contribute more in (self-)defense, and it is possible that the Europeans—faced with an unreliable U.S. partner—will decide to strengthen ties within Europe rather than across the Atlantic.” This is exactly what has happened.
For years, the United States has seen transatlantic relations as a way to counterbalance the Soviet Union or Russia while keeping Europe under control. This also suited the Europeans, who only partly had to worry about their own defense.
However, now that the new U.S. leadership has a different agenda (although, admittedly, it is difficult to understand what agenda exactly), the EU is for the first time completely free to imagine and provide for its own future. It is foreseeable that the United States will sooner or later regret losing its grip on Europe and that transatlantic relations will consequently return to where they were in the 1970s, when, for instance, it took days for the Europeans to condemn the hostage crisis in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
This is a formidable and unique opportunity to strengthen Europe in political and security terms. The EU ought to exploit that chance before the momentum is lost.
Sven BiscopDirector of the Europe in the World Program at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations
U.S. President Donald Trump will make Europe stronger if Europeans now put Europe first. Not as opposed to the United States, but as opposed to myopic national views. That means defining European interests, assessing the world and setting priorities collectively, and combining Europe’s assets in all dimensions of power: political, economic, and military.
Europeans can only tell that story convincingly if they tell it as a group, including in NATO. The EU as such is not a member of NATO, but nothing prevents the European allies and partners from preparing a common position before alliance gatherings. Having opted to leave the EU, the UK will no longer be able to veto this. At all future NATO summits, therefore, Europeans should speak as one. Trump can still stand in the first row, but he’ll be surrounded by Europeans who pull their weight, on their own terms, and who know what they want.
Krzysztof BledowskiCouncil director and senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
Europe is strong enough now to hold the keys to prosperity and influence in its own hands. Historically, U.S. presidencies have held limited sway over strategic choices Europeans have made on trade, institution building, or finance—the key elements of prosperity.
There were exceptions. After the devastation of World War II, the administrations of U.S. presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower propped up Europe through financial and military commitments extended via the Marshall Plan and NATO, among other channels. These made Europe unquestionably stronger. Another case was George H. W. Bush’s deft negotiations over a peaceful dissolution of the Soviet bloc in the early 1990s. If Europe is whole and free today, then a U.S. president should take some credit for it.
However, it is still unclear what direction the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump intends to take on trade, climate change, or financial regulation. Drastically altering the status quo—walking away from the WTO, abrogating the 2015 Paris climate deal, or withdrawing U.S. compliance with international financial regulations—would weaken American leadership globally. Yet these steps need not automatically render Europe stronger.
Finally, there’s security. Europe would become weaker without America’s military commitment, but so would the United States without NATO.
Ian BondDirector of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform
It is possible that Europe will become stronger in reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump, but that is certainly not his intention. Though Trump has rowed back from some of his more extreme campaign positions on the EU and NATO, his recent visit to the Middle East and Europe showed that he is more at ease with autocratic Arab potentates than with democratically elected European leaders.
Trump’s actions or words during his trip may damage European interests in four ways. First, by backing uncritically a Saudi-led Sunni bloc in the Middle East, Trump threatens to exacerbate sectarian tension, driving yet more refugees toward Europe. Second, his zero-sum view of world trade, in which every BMW sold in America should be matched by a Buick sold in Europe, risks undermining the global trade system that makes the United States and the EU prosperous. Third, in refusing to endorse NATO’s Article 5 mutual-defense clause explicitly, he creates uncertainly for allies and adversaries alike over his willingness to defend America’s European partners. And fourth, by dissenting from the rest of the G7 on climate change, he is fracturing the consensus on climate action reached so painfully in Paris in December 2015.
Against that background, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is right to argue that Europe must become more self-reliant.
Erik BrattbergDirector of the Europe Program and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
It is tempting to think that the shock of U.S. President Donald Trump is an opportunity to forge a stronger and more unified Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments on May 28 about the need for Europeans to “take our fate into our own hands”—though massively blown out of proportion by pundits—echo this underlying sentiment. In this view, perceived uncertainty over the U.S. commitment to transatlantic security and policy differences between Washington and European capitals on key issues such as climate change and trade impel Europeans to reduce their reliance on the United States and step up their game. If anything, the Trump administration would welcome such a development. A precedent would be the election of former U.S. president George W. Bush and the 2003 Iraq War, which generated efforts to boost the EU’s foreign policy.
However, this kind of reasoning overlooks the fact that a strong Europe still requires a committed and engaged United States. Washington has traditionally supported and encouraged the European project—and has sometimes served as the glue holding the continent together. One need look no further than the EU’s sanctions on Russia to find an area that would suffer from potential U.S. disengagement. In reality, it’s too soon to tell what impact Trump will have on Europe. What is sure, however, is that now is not a time for European complacency.
Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Russia Centre
Yes he will. This is probably the last chance for the EU. Donald Trump is saying what every U.S. president and Pentagon chief has said for many years. Europeans may not like it, and they do have a good argument that security means more than spending an artificial 2 percent of GDP on defense. But the vast majority of Americans don’t buy that argument, and there are now serious questions about the relevance of the alliance. It is no use for Europeans to hide their heads in the sand or remain free riders, as many Americans see them.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron seem to get it. Europeans have to be the masters of their own destiny. Surely the EU’s 500 million inhabitants are capable of defending themselves? If Europeans cannot form a stronger Europe, they will simply not be players in the twenty-first century, and they can forget dreams of a global strategy. So it boils down to the big question: Has Europe the political will to establish a genuine European security community? Let’s hope the answer is yes.
Jackson JanesPresident of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University
Following his first tour in Europe as U.S. president, Donald Trump’s critics are saying that he was a wrecking ball in transatlantic relations. His supporters are arguing that he finally convinced the allies to pay their share of the burden in NATO and he reset the trade and climate debates in favor of fairer arrangements for the United States. Two different worldviews reflect the polarized framework of politics in the United States.
In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her frustration with Trump by calling for a stronger European response to clashes with the United States over specific policies, a feeling evidently shared by many of her European partners. But she also suggested that the reliability of the U.S. partnership may be in doubt. It remains to be seen how that stronger European response is going to be crafted. But neither Trump nor the American domestic debates should be the primary stimulus for more European unity. That must come from Europeans recognizing their own self-interest in a wider and deeper Europe. Trump tantrums are not enough to make Europe stronger.
Anna KorbutDeputy chief editor at the Ukrainian Week
It was widely believed that Russia’s aggression could make Ukraine stronger. That aggression did bring immediate unity against the external threat, but it did not eliminate Ukraine’s internal problems.
The challenge for the EU seems similar. U.S. disengagement may push Europe to self-reliance in security, economy, geopolitics, and the protection of democratic accomplishments. The election of French President Emmanuel Macron reinforces the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other pro-European actors in the EU. However, Merkel is facing an election in September, and Macron’s success depends on the French parliamentary election on June 11 and 18. There are disagreements in the EU on how it should evolve. The readiness to resist external threats varies across the EU. The causes of the refugee crisis have not been eliminated. Russia will remain a threat for individual members and for the EU’s neighborhood.
U.S. President Donald Trump can be a factor that pushes Europe out of its comfort zone. But Europe will be stronger if it finds a way to address these issues cohesively, with a tolerably uniform strategic vision of itself. That is an internal task.
Claudia MajorSenior associate in the International Security Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
I hope he will. There is a fair chance that U.S. President Donald Trump’s disturbing behavior (from a European point of view) at the NATO and G7 meetings on May 25–27 will serve as a catalyst for strengthening European cooperation in all areas, particularly defense. Europe is not only about defense, but without credible defense, there is no Europe. Trump has unsettled the Europeans before and since taking office, by calling NATO obsolete, defining the transatlantic bond in transactional terms, and remaining vague about U.S. security guarantees. The hope that the office, structures, and reality of the presidency would tame Trump did not materialize.
Now, the hope is that this crisis will lead the Europeans to catharsis: they will finally commit seriously to European defense, in financial, material, and political terms. That is something they have been promising for years but have not felt was important enough to really implement. It might not be European idealism that will make the Europeans move, but fear that the United States may no longer care about Europe.
Yet, a stronger Europe does not mean an independent Europe. In defense, European strategic autonomy is light years away, and it is not certain it is desirable. Europe cannot replace the United States as the global superpower. Even if Europe were doing everything right, the transatlantic link would remain essential.
Pauline MassartDeputy director for security and geopolitics at Friends of Europe
German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared on May 28 that Europeans can no longer count on their historical transatlantic ally and “must . . . take [their] fate into [their] own hands.” A similar vibe came from newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron, who seemed to defy U.S. President Donald Trump at the NATO meeting on May 25. However, whether France and Germany can agree on reforming eurozone governance and financing European defense remains to be seen, as does their ability to rally support across the continent.
Trump’s policies alone should be enough to wake Europeans from their self-satisfied slumber. Combined with the looming chaos of Brexit, ongoing tensions with Russia, more impending crises in the Middle East, a demographic time bomb in sub-Saharan Africa, and a changing role for China in Asia and Africa, those policies should sound a shrieking alarm and push Europeans to step up on security and defense matters. This should not be only about raising defense budgets, but rather about using all the instruments at governments’ disposal—trade, development, disaster relief, civilian capacity building, and, of course, military capabilities—to leverage a global presence that could lead to stability and, ultimately, the security of European citizens.
Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Contrary to hopes, European leaders have come to realize that the new U.S. president will not adopt the language, manners, and reasoning of Western heads of state.
From bilateral meetings to NATO and G7 summits, from the many tweets to White House statements, one thing has become clear. For the first time, EU leaders are confronted with a hostile U.S. president—one who does not regard NATO’s Article 5 mutual-defense clause as an intangible policy marker, who ignores the fundamentals of international trade policies, and who disregards climate change as a threat to future generations.
The NATO and G7 summits on May 25–27 and the associated bilateral meetings proved amply that there will be neither deep exchanges nor a positive personal alchemy with Trump. The America First and Make America Great Again slogans will direct U.S. policy at the expense of the transatlantic alliance and the EU-U.S. relationship.
As a result, the challenge for EU leaders is now to move swiftly on boosting a common defense policy, enhancing common intelligence capabilities, preserving Europe’s fundamental trade interests, and fostering common diplomatic actions on key subjects such as relations with Iran and Russia as well as climate change. This is a tall order.
Marietje SchaakeMember of the European Parliament
Only Europeans can make Europe stronger, and they must.
Better EU defense cooperation will allow Europeans to safeguard EU values and interests, and act as stronger NATO partners. But advancing stability is not only about military spending, as U.S. President Donald Trump suggests. The EU’s leadership on multilateralism, international law, development, and humanitarian aid has become more urgent as Europeans seek to advance a common interest. Additionally, Europe must show how rules-based trade agreements can benefit all, and that the environment needs protecting.
Europeans do not need any more wake-up calls about how historically shared values are at stake globally, but each and every tweet or statement by Trump is a strong reminder of the task.
While a lot of attention has been devoted to the need to step up Europe’s contributions to NATO, Europeans should also be better at leading by example on soft power. That is the best answer to a U.S. president with a zero-sum view of the world. And more importantly, it makes Europe stronger.
Ulrich SpeckSenior research fellow at the Brussels Office of the Elcano Royal Institute
No. The EU and transatlantic relations are two sides of the same coin. European autonomy is a pipe dream based on wishful thinking. Without U.S. engagement, the EU will fade and fail. Nobody else can steer the European ship when it comes to security and broader foreign policy.
Europeans cannot find agreement among themselves on the major strategic issues: whether Russia is a threat, what to do in the Middle East, how to deal with China, and now, how to deal with U.S. President Donald Trump. And they are unable to provide the necessary European deterrence against Russia; a French or British deterrent would not be credible.
The EU is good at domestic affairs; its major achievement is the single market. Europeans are also good at shaping globalization, promoting the soft agenda of global governance. That makes Europe a major pillar of the current global order. But when it comes to geopolitics, Europe can only act in concert with the United States. No European country can unite Europe the way the United States can, using carrots and sticks. No European country is trusted as a leader by all others. Without or against the United States, Europe as a whole cannot operate on the global scene.
There is no plan B, unfortunately, which is why Europe has to work with the United States, whoever its president is.
Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy
As German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel put it on May 29, “the West has become smaller.” The transatlantic relationship has a broad base in U.S. civil society, including in business, in academia, and at the state and local levels. That relationship may weather the storm of U.S. President Donald Trump, but the damage to the American model will be long-lasting. Trumpism reflects a deeply polarized country that will be a less reliable partner for Europe beyond Trump.
Unfortunately for Europe, the combination of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin may only increase divisions rather than solidify and strengthen Europe. European security and unity have developed under the U.S. security umbrella, and it is painfully clear that Europe is in no shape to suddenly take over its own security, especially with the UK’s impending exit from the EU. Germany cannot lead on its own, and the Franco-German partnership will continue to be divided over how to deal with the eurozone and big questions of hard security. Governments in Hungary and Poland are more likely to side with Trump than with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. As much as this is the hour of Europe, the continent has never been less able to answer the call for unity.
Jan TechauDirector of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy in Berlin
Probably not. Europeans hate to admit (and often fail to see) that a strong U.S. role in Europe has been a quintessential precondition for their integration project over the last sixty years. The stronger America’s political and military role in Europe, the easier for the Europeans to forget their mutual mistrust and old rivalries—and the easier for them to cooperate and integrate.
On the surface, it looks like U.S. President Donald Trump’s disinterest in, even hostility toward, Europe has created a European moment at which a great integration leap forward is possible. But under the surface, the nervousness and fear a U.S. absence from Europe produces will most likely create more division and distrust in Europe, not less.
The reality is that Europeans do not on agree on the euro, on Russia or Turkey, on refugees, on energy, on defense, or even on economic reform. In foreign and security policy, Trump has created a shared sense of concern, but not a shared sense of urgency. For strength, Europe needs the United States. If America abandoned Europe for good, chances are the Europeans would run for the lifeboats instead of repairing the ship.
Pierre VimontSenior fellow at Carnegie Europe
U.S. President Donald Trump can certainly make Europe stronger, if only European leaders can gather the necessary stamina and political will.
The German chancellor has proposed a stern and pessimistic reading of the new U.S. administration, a narrative in stark contrast to the usual line about Trump’s unpredictability progressively giving way to more stability as his seasoned advisers take the upper hand. Merkel thinks differently: there will be no U-turn with Trump, and Europe should therefore be prepared for more of what was seen at the May 25–27 NATO and G7 summits—and maybe even worse.
But it is far from certain that Merkel’s counterparts in Europe are ready yet to follow her on this path. After his bilateral meeting with Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a more optimistic analysis, hinting at some possible room for maneuver with a U.S. president he assessed as constructive and ready to listen. Hence, there is a risk of divisions among Europeans that Trump will no doubt exploit to his advantage. It is now up to European leaders to decide whether they are willing to adopt a united stance and move toward defining their own geopolitical strategy.