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 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
The question is: Can anyone convince Trump, a man who has declared he knows it all and does not need advisers?
On February 9–10, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made the trip across the Atlantic for a pragmatic fact-finding mission while also offering some criticism. Among other things, she reminded her audience of the importance of NATO in transatlantic relations. Donald Trump follows a long line of U.S. presidents who have asked Europeans to contribute more—in monetary terms—to NATO. Europeans are not really in a position to oblige, although as Mogherini pointed out, they could save millions of euros by enhancing their cooperation in the defense sector, which they are starting to do. However, Europeans saving money on defense would mean spending less on U.S. military infrastructure and hardware, which would hurt the sector and economic growth in the United States. Trump may not listen to advice, but he certainly has an ear for U.S. business.
Frances G. BurwellDistinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council
Despite calling NATO obsolete, U.S. President Donald Trump can certainly be convinced that the alliance is valuable. But the allies must do their part. Most importantly, they must continue to grow defense spending and, as an alliance, take a more visible role in the campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Trump likes stories, and NATO has a good one: successfully defending Europe for almost seventy years and invoking Article 5 of the NATO treaty to defend the United States after 9/11. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis should take Trump to Afghanistan and introduce him to the allies who have been fighting with Americans for over a decade, sometimes suffering higher death rates than U.S. forces.
At the NATO summit in May 2017, a major initiative on defense spending should encourage all allies to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense in a few years. Although many are already moving in that direction, they should let Trump take the credit. The alliance should also repackage its role in the anti–Islamic State coalition, making clear that nations are effective partners because of NATO’s interoperability, even if not they do not act under NATO command. More visibility for the anti–Islamic State role of NATO’s airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) would also be useful. With these two initiatives, Trump can declare NATO no longer obsolete.
Dominik P. JankowskiHead of the OSCE and Eastern Security Unit at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Yes, but it will not happen overnight. Growing criticism of NATO in the United States is nothing new. In a bleak speech in 2011, then U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates warned Europeans of a dwindling patience in the American body politic with expending funds on behalf of nations that are unwilling to be serious about their own defense. Some European capitals, especially after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014, understood that message.
Currently, in a post-truth world, Europeans need to speak truth to power and clearly communicate what NATO can deliver. The alliance cannot be a silver bullet to every problem. Yet, it can become a platform for a new transatlantic grand bargain that should lead to more balanced burden sharing, in terms of both devoting necessary financial resources and investing in the right capabilities. Following the decisions NATO made at its Warsaw summit in July 2016, the alliance will need additional heavier high-end capabilities, including those to counter anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) systems.
NATO is a reputable trademark. It helps keep Europe strong and effectively deter Russia, which challenges the United States in various corners of the world. Coolheaded analysis shows that a strong NATO is in America’s national interest.
Markus KaimSenior fellow in the International Security Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
The question is not whether NATO—particularly its European members—can convince the U.S. president that the alliance remains a valuable instrument of U.S. leadership and an important multilateral forum for security and defense cooperation. The real questions are twofold: first, whether European governments fully understand the shifts in the transatlantic security relationship; and second, whether they can use the shockwave of the first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency to reinvigorate European efforts to play an autonomous and effective role in international affairs.
On one hand, Europeans should not reject outright the current burden-sharing debate in NATO. Instead they should self-critically reflect on additional financial and capability commitments. But more important than discussions about NATO’s goal for allies to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, European members should coordinate their security policies in NATO more closely, in particular with regard to crisis management in Europe’s neighborhood. A European pillar of the alliance as an expression of Europe’s increased level of ambition is overdue.
On the other hand, the EU must become serious about its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which was established twenty-five years ago. The proper answer to less U.S. leadership must be more European responsibility in international affairs. Deepening cooperation in CFSP is a difficult challenge in sovereigntist times, but it is needed more than ever.
Julian Lindley-FrenchVice president of the Atlantic Treaty Association, senior fellow at the Institute of Statecraft, and director of Europa Analytica
The week of Valentine’s Day, love is in the air. U.S. President Donald Trump seems to be falling ever so slightly in love with NATO. Since British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Washington jaunt on January 26–27, Trump has gone from dismissing the alliance to saying he is “100 percent behind NATO.” Even by the standards of America’s mercurial chief executive, this suggests a profound shift in affections.
On February 14, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis landed in Brussels en route to that annual talk fest, the Munich Security Conference. Mattis, at the height of his influence, appears to have convinced the president to give the allies a chance. And, like all good deal makers, Trump is spouting the kind of empty love one hears in the early throes of a business negotiation.
Love? Europeans had better understand that Trump still has a Monty Python Life of Brian “What have the Europeans ever done for us?” view of NATO. The only way for NATO’s European allies to convince Trump will be to spend a minimum of 2 percent of GDP on defense, of which 20 percent must be on new equipment—not by 2024, as allies agreed at their Wales summit in 2014, but by the alliance’s next meeting in May 2017, or maybe by the next U.S. presidential election in 2020.
Artis PabriksMember of the European Parliament and former Latvian minister of defense and foreign affairs
The answer to this question will to an extent depend on the mood of U.S. President Donald Trump and whether he will allow himself to be convinced by truth instead of what his administration has called “alternative facts.” NATO’s next summit in May 2017 has to prove that the alliance is not an obsolete organization, but rather that it takes security seriously, just as the U.S. president claims he does. In business terms Trump is more used to, NATO’s task is to make a business pitch to show that the alliance is a relevant tool for rational politics.
NATO has to demonstrate that it can act at a speed that addresses the actual problems in a given timeframe, instead of getting lost in long, bureaucratic procedures—which tends to happen in Europe.
Furthermore, Washington’s European counterparts have to show that they mean business. It is no longer acceptable that most European countries contribute less than 1 percent of their GDP to the common defense budget. The United States should not pay disproportionately for European security and defense; Europeans should increase their defense spending. If this happens, Trump should be able to understand that the United States needs its NATO allies just as Europe needs the United States.
Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Let’s wait until the inception phase of Donald Trump’s presidency is over.
So far, the Trump administration has mostly been solving crises of its own making: a ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, feuds with the intelligence community and the media, and rivalries in the administration’s inner circle.
Concerning real issues such as Beijing’s one-China policy, the 2014 international deal on Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s nuclear policy, the U.S. relationship with the EU, and the role of NATO, it seems that Trump’s initial brash attitude is somewhat subsiding and that traditional U.S. policies are making a comeback.
In NATO, the Trump administration will probably continue to push European allies to spend more on defense, and it may convince some of them to foot more of the bill. On NATO’s deterrence vis-à-vis Russia, this is an ongoing process—the United States is deploying troops and armor alongside European allies in Central Europe—and it is unlikely that the Trump administration will want to reverse such a process, despite proclamations pointing to a deal with Russia. Another crucial test will be whether NATO’s missile defense shield becomes fully operational on Europe’s southeastern flank, although this will depend more on Turkey honoring its commitments to NATO than on Trump’s policies.
Overall, rather than NATO convincing Trump, the U.S. administration will need to provide considered answers to a host of serious questions.
Jacek Saryusz-WolskiMember of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
To secure continued U.S. involvement in NATO, European members of the alliance and of the EU should do the following: share the defense burden proportionally, spending 2 percent of GDP on defense; establish incentives for defense expenditure under the EU Stability and Growth Pact; narrow the differences between various European states’ threat perceptions; and show political will to use existing military capabilities.
The current imbalance of military power in NATO puts the United States’ continued engagement in question. U.S. President Donald Trump’s external pressure might give European politicians the push they need to treat defense seriously.
That means increasing spending. Bear in mind that NATO’s targets of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense and 20 percent of that amount on defense investment are only recommended minimums. Europeans should be ready to counter threats in all directions, through either surgical actions or sustained engagement—in Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans, and the Middle East and North Africa. That requires immediate investment in power projection, but above all the will to use the means Europeans already possess.
Some immediate solutions are available: Europeans must fully participate in joint exercises and increase their presence on Europe’s Eastern flank as framework nations. The same goes for maritime operations in the Mediterranean. By increasing their engagement, Europeans would give the Trump administration a clear signal that it is being taken seriously.
Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy
NATO will need to immediately increase European defense contributions. This is not just an issue concerning U.S. President Donald Trump, but one that former president Barack Obama pushed and that has general support from the U.S. foreign policy community. The decision made at NATO’s Warsaw summit in July 2016 to rotate U.S. and European troops through the Baltics was an important signal that Europeans are willing to do more to share the defense burden, and not just in terms of spending.
The 2016 German defense white paper and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s commitment to the 2 percent defense spending goal are further signs that a key European country is willing to do more for European defense. Moves to strengthen the EU’s defense efforts are another indicator of change. Following the French and German elections in 2017, the leaders of these two nations should provide an impetus for more European defense cooperation.
Europeans should come up with proposals to take on more responsibilities in the NATO military command structure. The medium-term goal should be to create a European—preferably German or French—supreme allied commander for Europe (a post traditionally held by an American) and an American secretary general (conventionally a European).
There is still widespread support for NATO in the U.S. foreign policy establishment and among the American public—support that will be enhanced by a perception that the Europeans are willing to take on more ownership of European security.