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.
Federiga BindiSenior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and director of the Foreign Policy Initiative at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research
No—on the contrary, the only good news in the rather somber scenario of U.S. Republican candidate Donald Trump winning the 2016 presidential election would be that the Europeans would finally have to get together and provide for their own security. Because NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense is politically and financially impossible for most countries, that would mean pooling together resources and finally giving birth to a European defense community.
Yet, the question is: Would Trump’s United States allow the Europeans to pool together, thus possibly undermining NATO? Likely not. No big deal, Trump has proved quick at changing his mind.
Thomas CarothersVice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Foreign policy Trumpism is not a clearly identifiable set of proposed policies whose implications can be predicted. It is a contrarian reflex about the U.S. global role—the belief that the United States has been weak with and is being conned by both friends and rivals—backed up by decisive yet fact-free assessments of existing policies (such as that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “gave back to Iran $150 billion and gave us absolutely nothing”). The reflex is elaborated only through a few vague proposals for dramatic actions to fortify America’s global position, such as that he would authorize the use of nuclear weapons to combat Islamic extremism. It remains entirely unclear whether or how a President Trump would translate the contrarian reflex into operational policies.
Thus it is too early to say whether Trumpist policies would kill European security. But it appears certain that the Trumpist leadership style—the haphazardness, the disregard for consensus building, the love of offending others, the willful ignorance of facts, and all the rest—would directly contravene what Europe looks for from Washington and would therefore produce enormous insecurity in all mainstream European policy circles.
Alexandra de Hoop SchefferSenior transatlantic fellow and director of the Paris Office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States
The current imbalance in NATO, with the United States carrying around 75 percent of the organization’s military spending, is just not sustainable. U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has a point in underlining this imbalance between transatlantic allies, but his argument is nothing new. In fact, all recent U.S. administrations, including that of current President Barack Obama, have asked their European allies to assume more of their strategic responsibilities, especially in their Eastern and Southern neighborhoods. However, Trump is taking the burden-sharing debate to extreme levels, by directly calling into question the United States’ responsibility as a NATO member state to fulfill its obligations under the alliance’s Article 5 mutual defense clause in case a NATO member state is attacked by Russia.
Trumpism can be described as an acceleration of Obama’s doctrine but with an isolationist twist. Trump sees U.S. foreign policy through purely economic lenses, and not in terms of political benefit and influence. Trumpism may further undermine European security by creating more uncertainties in an already divided and fragile Europe, but it may also encourage U.S. and European allies to redefine the terms of the transatlantic strategic partnership and be transparent about what they expect from one another. Otherwise, Moscow will continue to exploit NATO’s divisions and test NATO’s credibility, including in the Baltic states.
What is necessary is strong political leadership in Europe that is able and willing to invest more in defense and convince public opinion of the importance of such investment to face current and future security challenges.
István GyarmatiPresident of the International Centre for Democratic Transition
Trumpism alone will not. Trump would. But alongside European security, U.S. security would be among the victims too.
And there is worse to come. Security based on U.S. and European values and principles is the basis of any kind of democracy—even in those countries that do not want to recognize or admit it. Moreover, markets can function only in an environment that is relatively stable and secure and is based on the rule of law, both internationally and internally.
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s ideas would destroy the very foundation of the rule of law and security in the international world order—even if U.S. presidents usually move from their election promises to more realistic views and policies after taking office. A president who intends to break legal commitments, who wants to ignore security considerations or degrade them to simple financial considerations, would make the United States lose its credibility. That in turn would invite aggression, first from Russia, then from China, and, ultimately, even from smaller players like Iran and North Korea.
In such a case, the United States would quickly face a situation in which the only choices remaining would be the loss of its friends and allies (and therefore also its markets) and the launch of nuclear strikes.
The first victim could be Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe, as well as South Korea and others, but ultimately also the United States itself. It would mean the end of the free world and a free America—with the only alternative being a large-scale, presumably nuclear conflict.
Andres KasekampProfessor at Tartu University and senior fellow at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statements that the United States would aid only NATO allies that have paid their bills are purely transactional. Such comments reflect a businessman’s view of international affairs, but a businessman who is interested only in short-term profits rather than long-term dividends. The fundamental importance of honoring treaty commitments and the fact that the transatlantic alliance facilitates U.S. global predominance and ensures peace are absent from his equation.
Paradoxically, the countries most exposed to Russian aggression, the Baltic states, are not the problem according to Trump’s criteria: Estonia is one of the few NATO members that spends the alliance target of 2 percent of GDP on defense; Latvia and Lithuania will raise their expenditure to that level by 2018. These nations have also contributed their most precious resource—the lives of their soldiers—in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One can only hope that Trump’s statements will nudge Europeans to take their own defense more seriously, but his words are more likely to encourage America’s adversaries, resulting in greater insecurity on the European continent and in the wider world. Furthermore, some European political forces will surely seek to emulate Trump’s inward-looking populist stance, thus hampering further cooperative efforts in the field of European security.
Bruno MaçãesNonresident associate at Carnegie Europe
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made a number of alarming statements on foreign policy, some of them undermining crucial elements of the NATO security system. He seems to have made these statements when prompted by journalists—and in doing so has displayed his usual levity and ingrained psychological resistance to following the existing playbook.
In interpreting Trump, observers should attend less to what he says and more to the psychological traits he displays. Some of these traits might be relied on to counter the explicit statements. If a national leader insists on his competitive nature, projecting national power abroad would probably follow.
There is a lot of uncertainty about what Trump’s policies might be if he is elected president. But uncertainty works both ways, and some of his most alarming statements might be quickly forgotten once the demands of the office kick in. European leaders should work to influence these policies, even if they feel uninspired (let me put it that way) by the politician.
C. Raja MohanDirector of Carnegie India
If U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gets to the White House in January 2017 and keeps his word on recasting U.S. alliances, Europe and Asia must face up to three consequences.
First, as the United States and its partners come to terms with the historic shift in Washington, Russia and China, whose assertiveness has risen rapidly in the last few years, are likely to gain near-term strategic advantages.
Second, a comprehensive burden-sharing framework will have to be devised. The idea of redistribution has been debated at various moments in the postwar era. America’s allies in Europe and Asia cannot expect the United States to do the heavy lifting on regional security forever. They need to commit significant resources of their own for a more balanced and sustainable set of mutual obligations with Washington.
Finally, over the longer term, U.S. allies in Europe and Asia will have to pool their resources and build stronger regional security arrangements. Even more importantly, they need to see Eurasia as a single geopolitical space and construct security partnerships that transcend the traditional divide between Europe and Asia.
Milan NičResearch director at the GLOBSEC Policy Institute
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will probably not kill European security but could seriously undermine it. And much more than that. Europe is not just one piece in the network of U.S.-led treaties and alliances that spans five continents and covers some 75 percent of the world’s economic output. Europe is the cornerstone of this network.
Trump is the perfect antithesis of the liberal order mind-set that has dominated the West in recent decades. He is the antiestablishment figure, business oriented, neo-isolationist, and against free trade. His approach is by definition populist and risk averse. Who can reasonably expect Trump as U.S. president to honor NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense commitment, especially if a new hybrid war provides plenty of excuses not to risk the lives of U.S. soldiers for Tallinn or Gdańsk?
Of course, Trumpism can be seen as a wider phenomenon, with France’s Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, and even some Central European sovereigntists on the rise. These populists pursue purely national logic, perceive the external world as a threat, and shun multilateralism. NATO and the EU will be the first victims if these leaders take charge.
All these reasons should make us Central and Eastern Europeans very worried. We can hope either that Trump will not be elected or that he will be more restrained and reasonable once in power. In Central Europe, we have no choice but to cooperate with any incoming U.S. administration, regardless of who resides in the White House.
Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations
The temptation is to answer: yes, unless the Europeans kill their own security before The Donald does. The real danger of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump running the White House is not a particularly noxious agenda, but a total lack of agenda, strategy, philosophy, or even an established set of views. Like any demagogue, Trump has veered violently from a unilateralist, Lindberghian, America First stance to the belligerent braggadocio of “Bomb them now!” He has no clue about any of these approaches, either the isolationist or the warlike.
If the United States chooses Trump while Europe self-explodes, the self-proclaimed Islamic State goes on a rampage of attacks, and populist leaders yell all over the web, it will not just imply the end of the postwar strategic balance; it will also dissolve any basic institutions the globe has relied on, opening up a dark, uncharted route for the United States, Europe, and the world.
James RogersDirector of the Department of Political and Strategic Studies at the Baltic Defence College and senior editor of European Geostrategy
On the one hand, Trumpism frightens Europeans—at least on defense issues—because it forces them to look in the mirror. With notable exceptions, such as the UK, Greece, Estonia, and soon Latvia and Lithuania, most European countries do not take defense very seriously, having cut their defense spending to the bone. The United States has been left to foot the majority of the bill, despite having a smaller GDP than the alliance’s European members combined. Clearly, this is unfair, especially when Europeans are on NATO’s frontier.
On the other hand, recent comments by U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump could have been timed better and made in a more enlightened context. When asked whether he would defend the Baltic states, he replied: “If they fulfill their obligations to us.” On hearing this, Moscow’s geopolitical revisionists must have licked their lips with glee.
Much like British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s statement in September 2015 that—in the unlikely event he one day becomes UK prime minister—he would not press the button to defend Britain or its allies, such comments are dangerous because they undermine deterrence. In the case of the Baltic states, Trump’s comments are even worse: U.S., UK, and Western security more generally depends on the Baltic nations’ security and success.
The author writes here strictly in a personal capacity.