No matter which president sits in the White House, Europeans indulge in one of their favorite pastimes: criticizing their transatlantic partner. There was no shortage of the moaning during 2014.
There was plenty of criticism to go round, from America’s intelligence services listening in to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone calls to President Barack Obama’s incoherent policies in the Middle East.
Those issues aside, something has gone seriously wrong with the relationship and in a way that is undermining the West as an idea and a political force.
The transatlantic malaise is not just because of Obama’s shift of attention to the Asia-Pacific region. Nor is it because of Obama’s aversion to taking risks over big foreign policy and strategic issues.
It is because the European elites don’t want to admit that the old transatlantic relationship that was based on the post 1945 Cold War ideological divide is over. The Americans, at least the dwindling numbers that still care and think about Europe, have to admit to that as well. If not, Europe and the United States will continue to drift further. Neither Russia nor China would shed any tears.
This anachronistic view by Europeans allows the political elites in Europe to take for granted that the United States will continue to provide the security umbrella as it did during the Cold War.
Moreover, because of this prevailing view, there is no reason for the Europeans as a whole to spend more on defense or to share ever scarcer resources and ever more expensive military capabilities. For many European countries, the Ukraine crisis was not the catalyst for Europe to take its security seriously.
The elites also still believe that it is up to the United States, as the undisputed leader of the West to take the initiative in resolving wars and conflicts.
The transatlantic malaise is not just because of Obama's shift of attention to the Asia-Pacific.Tweet This
Yet when things go badly, as they have done in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, in fact throughout most of the Middle East, the Europeans are quick to point the finger at the United States. As if the Europeans are blameless.
Europeans also believe that Obama doesn’t really care about Europe, as long as Chancellor Angela Merkel can prevent another Euro crisis.
This is despite the fact that during 2014, Obama visited seven EU countries. Cynics would say he had no choice given the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Yet it was U.S. leadership in NATO that pushed for upgrading the Baltic States’ air defenses in response to Russia’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine. Poland and the Baltic countries were reassured, to some extent, particularly because they know that the EU certainly wasn’t going to play any security role, not that it would be even capable of doing so.
What this boils down to a relationship married by intellectual laziness, if not indifference on the part of the Europeans. The longer this continues, the greater the chance of atrophy in the relationship just when vibrant ties are needed for the coming years.
There is one faint glimmer of hope: a TTIP agreement.
#TTIP is the making of a new transatlantic relationship.Tweet This
A TTIP accord would have immense political repercussions for revitalizing the West. Actually, TTIP is the making of a new transatlantic relationship.
Yet, most European leaders have refused to embrace TTIP with any enthusiasm.
This attitude amounts to cowardice. European leaders sense that the public believes TTIP is only for the big multinational corporations or that the U.S. will be the big winner. Yet Europe’s leaders and the elites are doing almost nothing to make the case about the long-term strategic benefits of TTIP.
If, during 2015, Europeans leaders, elites and managers and Atlanticists are unwilling to campaign for TTIP, the chances are that there will be no TTIP accord. There will be no new impulse to build a long over-due transatlantic alliance. Instead, the United States will continue its slow drift away from a Europe caught in the past. The loss would be dangerous and unquantifiable.