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.


Davide BorsaniAssociate research fellow in security and strategic studies at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies

Most European political leaders did not welcome U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, mainly due to his bias toward isolationism, which threatens to dramatically reverse U.S. foreign policy in Europe as it has been known since the end of World War II.

On the one hand, the current political situation potentially provides a unique opportunity for the EU to rethink its defense role and enhance its capacity to act in the global strategic environment independently of the United States.

If the United States should withdraw from Europe, it would leave a vacuum.
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On the other hand, reality seems quite different from rhetoric. Since the mid-1950s, when the ambitious European Defense Community project failed, the EU has been unable to create a common framework to claim its military independence from the United States.

The lack of a strong political will to increase military spending and reconcile diverging national interests made it impossible to propose a real alternative to U.S. hegemony and NATO, which has represented the most effective machinery to ensure European security.

Consequently, if the United States should withdraw from Europe, it would leave a vacuum, which the EU, under current conditions, is unlikely to be able to fill. This context would create more risks than opportunities for European security.


Frances BurwellVice president for the European Union and special initiatives at the Atlantic Council

With the administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on the horizon, the question is not whether Europe can defend itself but what Europe must do to be a more independent and resilient actor, less reliant on the United States. The European part of NATO will not be able to defend its Eastern edges from a traditional military attack. But such an attack is very unlikely. The more realistic scenario is hybrid warfare, with civil disturbances, a disinformation campaign, cyberattacks, and even terrorism.

Europe needs military resources, but political coherence will be even more important.
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In this environment, Europe needs military resources, but political coherence will be even more important. There should be no disunity in Europe about the nature of the threat, or even about when an attack requires a response. The arsenal should include a robust counterpropaganda campaign starting now; civil defense forces able to quell domestic disturbances within a legal framework and able to discern who instigated such events; a strong cyberdefense capability; and enhanced cooperation against all forms of terrorism.

Finally, Europe should not wait for disruption and conflict to come to its cities and towns. A vigorous information campaign should be launched in Russia, aimed at eroding popular support for the adventuresome President Vladimir Putin. Europe must take the offense and not wait for the United States.


Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Asia Center

Of course the EU should be able to defend itself, but it always comes down to political will. Too many Europeans have been happy to shelter behind the U.S. security umbrella for the past fifty years. Most Europeans ignored former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates’s warning in 2011 that Europe needed to do much more or the U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article 5 on mutual defense might be called into question.

Europeans’ refusal to defend themselves properly has also had the detrimental effect of depriving Europe of any in-depth talent in strategic thinking. The United States has either bullied Europe into taking part in wars it did not seek—in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan—or pulled the plug on individual European states that did try to intervene—the UK and France at Suez.

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president should be a wake-up call for Europe.
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The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president should be a wake-up call for Europe. It now needs to define its interests and agree on a policy to defend these interests. There are some small encouraging signs that EU leaders may be beginning to recognize that the new occupant of the White House is not kidding when he describes NATO as obsolete and calls on allies to do more. The only way to get Trump to rethink his approach is a serious EU effort to spend more on defense, do more in the security field, and demonstrate the political will to take action as opposed to issuing declarations. As usual, much will depend on how Berlin responds.


Paul CornishChief strategist at Cityforum in London

Of course Europe can defend itself. Of course Europe can be secure. But only if Europe is willing to commit the necessary resources to the task. At that point, the EU army that many have called for might become less of a displacement activity and more of a concrete reality.

The #EUarmy that many have called for might become a concrete reality.
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European security has entered a troubled phase. There are those for whom the term “threatened” is too inflammatory to describe the contemporary environment; too much like an attempt to return to the language and dangers of the Cold War. But these commentators might at least accept that Europe is being challenged—politically, diplomatically, militarily, territorially, economically, in cyberspace, and in terms of human security. And then there is the internal challenge of which Europe has been conscious for decades but has so far chosen to ignore: where national and regional defense and security are concerned, there is no money—or rather, there is no European money.

After decades of free riding on U.S. sponsorship of European defense and security, it is ironic that some European governments seem to have been galvanized not by the breadth and complexity of the challenges to their region’s security but by the prospect of U.S. sponsorship being Trumpled upon.


Michael LeighSenior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States

The two features of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s putative program that have unnerved some European allies are rapprochement with Russia and the demand that Europeans do more to ensure their own defense. A new cold war is not in the interest of Europe or the United States, though renewed tensions have produced a degree of transatlantic unity. Incoming U.S. presidents usually explore the scope for cooperation with Russia and claim a unique capacity to deal with their Russian counterpart. Trump does this, like everything else, extravagantly. European leaders should insist, however, that dialogue with Russia be accompanied by credible deterrence. They should oppose any move to legitimize Moscow’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The EU cannot replace #NATO as the principal framework for ensuring territorial defense.
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NATO allies committed themselves to reversing declining defense budgets at the September 2014 NATO summit in Wales. Trump, apparently, wants them to live up to these commitments. They should bring forward the goal of devoting 2 percent of GDP to security and defense, despite fiscal constraints, to show Washington and Moscow that they are ready to deter aggression. Europeans may strengthen their cooperation on armaments, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and specific peacekeeping, humanitarian, or policing missions. But the EU cannot replace NATO as the principal framework for ensuring territorial defense.


Sten RynningProfessor at the Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark

A Europe without the Atlantic alliance would be in dire straits. The safest bet is that such a Europe would become an object of balance-of-power politics.

After its June 23 vote to leave the EU, Britain is pretending that the key to influence is the ability to project national power, when in fact it is the ability to define a collective political center of gravity. This is Germany’s strategy. It is the right strategy, but it is challenged in two ways.

A Europe without the Atlantic alliance would become an object of balance-of-power politics.
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First, the core partnership between Germany and France is not solid. France is at war against Islamist terrorists and impatient with the long-range institutional investments that Germany favors. The sum total is a blunt capacity for deterrence.

Second, Europe’s adversaries are not easily deterred. Russia is overwhelmingly strong on the flanks, and Islamist terrorists are willing to absorb more pain than Europeans can credibly threaten to inflict. Therefore, Germany and France would have to sacrifice the Baltics to accommodate Russia while fighting terrorists the hard way.

The German-French center is unlikely to hold under these circumstances, and a flexible balance-of-power policy would then prevail. That would not necessarily mean major war, but it would mean the end of Europe as an object of defense.


Jamie SheaDeputy assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges at NATO

Europe needs the United States in the case of a major conventional attack from Russia or elsewhere. That is not only because of key capabilities that the United States has in abundance and far more than Europe—strategic lift, intelligence, battle-ready brigades, and precision strike capabilities—but also because the United States is the biggest factor in upholding deterrence or assuring that any attack would be successfully repulsed. Maintaining a U.S. commitment to NATO is crucial, doubly so when great-power rivalries are returning and Europe’s borders and way of life are contested.

Europe can do more to convince Washington that #NATO is a sound investment for the U.S.
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U.S. assistance has never been free, even before the election of Donald Trump as president. Europe can do more to convince Washington that NATO is a sound investment for the United States as much as for European countries. Europe must take seriously the NATO target to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense (four European allies comply at present), but by integrating units and pooling capabilities, Europe can also get more military value for the €180 billion ($194 billion) a year spent on defense.

Current proposals from France and Germany are a welcome step. Paris and Berlin have to strengthen NATO’s collective defense and help the United States prevail against the self-proclaimed Islamic State as much as give Europe greater capacity to deal with softer challenges, such as capacity and nation building.


Dan SmithDirector of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

It’s the wrong question. Defense is part of the way in which Europe sustains security. A broad range of policies that have nothing to do with the military and not much with security as such are also part of the picture. Until recently, that was conventional wisdom, and it should remain so.

Rephrased in this way, the question is no easier—especially with regard to the areas of greatest vulnerability to external pressures—but it is in the right area. Today, heated rhetoric depicts Europe as imperiled from the East and abandoned from the West. There are elements of truth in this view, but it pivots away from accuracy through a willful overemphasis on defense and an equally willful disregard for other foundation stones of regional security.

Regardless of U.S. President-elect Donald #Trump, Europe needs an adult security discussion.
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The more that Europe’s security establishment emphasizes the military aspect, the less secure it will feel and—because strategic perception creates its own realities—the less secure citizens will be. Contrariwise, persisting with a broader and more mature concept of security will help people feel and be more secure. A different and thornier way of phrasing this is that regardless of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Europe needs an adult security discussion.


Ulrich SpeckSenior research fellow at the Brussels Office of the Elcano Royal Institute

After the end of the Cold War, defense was very low on the list of Europe’s priorities. It almost didn’t matter, because with the end of history the advent of eternal peace seemed very near. Now defense is back because of Russia’s massive aggression and open hostility.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama accepted a lead role in reassuring Europe and deterring Russia. But on November 8, the United States elected a new president who doesn’t seem to care about NATO.

The stronger Europeans are the less vulnerable they are to attacks and blackmail.
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That should be a wake-up call for Europeans. Countries must invest in their own security and deepen cooperation—bilaterally and in the frameworks of NATO and the EU. And they should do so with a view to both the Southern agenda (driven by France) and the Eastern agenda (driven by Poland). First, because both are important areas; and second, because this dual orientation is the only way to keep Europe united on security.

The stronger Europeans are, as countries and as partners of larger entities, the less vulnerable they are to attacks and blackmail. Outsourcing security to the United States has, as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has made clear, not much of a future.


Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy

Europe can defend itself without question. The most direct threats are terrorism and Russia. With regard to terrorism, Europe is already coordinating its responses in terms of intelligence sharing and border controls. These efforts will have to be substantially increased, but this will be done and will be sufficient to deal with this important but not existential threat.

Russia remains a challenge that requires a European response through NATO, given the nuclear dimension. Here, the U.S. extended deterrence remains essential. However, if the administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump waffles not only on Ukraine and Georgia but also on the Baltic states, then a more clearly European capability will be required. For the first time since NATO was formed in 1949, this U.S. guarantee is in serious question.

There are already signs that Germany is taking its defense capabilities and a European command more seriously. Depending on the result of the 2017 French presidential election, a new core for European defense may begin to come into being. Poland has also started to take the European dimension of collective security more seriously as the U.S. pillar is now less reliable.

Trump may yet prove the best catalyst for a serious European defense capability, but Marine Le Pen, if elected French president, could still undermine these efforts.


Brooks TignerEditor and chief policy analyst at Security Europe; EU and NATO affairs correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly

Can Europe defend itself—without the United States? No, it cannot. Europe has lots of troops but too little political will to use them. Even if it did have the will, the vast majority of Europe’s soldiers have no battle experience and too little regular training. Moreover, their equipment is largely noninteroperable, outdated, and woefully lacking in the strategic assets that Washington must deploy to shore up NATO.

As for the notion of a European defense union—as alluring as this will sound if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump turns out to be a true isolationist—it will be a call of the sirens. Look for oodles of policy papers and serious-looking capability wish lists and, of course, rivers of “we ought to” and “we need to” declarations by EU and national leaders.

It will all come to naught for one simple reason: a refusal to pool even the smallest smidgen of sovereignty in defense. (Don’t even think about a true European version of NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause.) Without such an impulse, however, Europe’s security—and therefore its military might—will continue to dissipate in dozens of different directions.

Remove the United States, and Europe is wide open to manipulation.


Nathalie TocciDeputy director of the Italian Institute for International Affairs

The United States has been signaling to Europeans to take greater care of their security for some time. Former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates said so bluntly before his resignation in 2011. It is a message that has been echoed in different shades and nuances throughout the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

For too long, the Venusian Europeans pretended not to hear. It was only when the EU’s surrounding regions went ablaze and insecurity in the EU mounted that the penny slowly dropped. This was one of the core messages of the EU global strategy, presented by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in June 2016, well ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

The United States has been signaling to Europeans to take greater care of their security for some time.
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The victory of Donald Trump in that election dramatically raises the political salience of this message. It does not lead to a change in the direction of travel. As the U.S. president-elect has consistently manifested precious little interest for European security, Europeans will simply have to take greater care of themselves.

Are Europeans up for the task? The EU is hardly known for rapid and decisive action. Steps forward are often slow and built on painful compromises and excruciating negotiations. Yet the Implementation Plan on Security and Defense, approved by the 28 member states on November 14 in follow-up to the global strategy, represents the single most important step forward in European security and defense since the inception of the Common Security and Defense Policy in 2009. Courtesy of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and, perhaps, Trump?