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.
Cornelius AdebahrNonresident associate at Carnegie Europe
Europe’s leaders—those at the national level and those in the EU—are hardly prepared to deal with the changing countries in which they live. How could they be prepared for a changing America that even current U.S. leaders, Democratic and Republican, find hard to understand?
Leaders, for sure, are not confined to the political realm. However, if they want to shape the fate of their continent, they have to step into the public arena at some point. So it is one thing if the political discourse in European countries has begun to consider the momentous social and societal changes of the past thirty years. It is quite another, and much more demanding, to turn these insights into political programs—by responding to globalization-induced rising inequalities in Western societies, empowering citizens to live more flexible lives while providing safety nets for those who cannot, and maintaining a level of social cohesion that is a precondition for a functioning democracy.
Changes (perhaps radical ones) in the United States can be a source of inspiration as much as instability. Europe will have to find its own way of dealing with the challenges it faces. Few of today’s leaders seem willing to rise to them.
Carl BildtFormer foreign minister of Sweden
No, they are not.
First, the politics of Europe has turned distinctly introverted during recent years. The EU’s troubles, the increasing problems of governance in different countries, and other factors have led European leaders to pay less attention to a rapidly changing global environment. The ring of fire in the EU’s immediate neighborhood is the only exception.
Second, everyone, notably the Americans, is profoundly confused as to what sort of United States is emerging. Very few expected a phenomenon like President-Elect Donald Trump to go as far as he has, and it will take some time for the U.S. system to digest and adjust to what has been happening.
But no relationship is as important to Europe as the relationship across the Atlantic. That bond will require far more attention—and possibly even care—as the United States comes to terms with itself after these grueling months.
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
Absolutely not. Now that the U.S. presidential election is over, Europe has to step up its game. The time for relying politically and militarily on the United States is over.
Europeans therefore have two possibilities: to continue to divide themselves, each country in the hope of becoming the United States’ new best partner; or to unite and finally project a coherent voice in world affairs. The temptation will be to lean toward the first option. This sad game was seen in Washington in 2009, when the Europeans competed with each other over which European capital would be visited first by U.S. President Barack Obama or then secretary of state Hillary Clinton. But it is not a real option: divided, Europe will lose all its influence.
As EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said, “to do better we have to do [things] together.” After the 2016 U.S. election, the emperor is naked and European leaders need to ask themselves what they want to do when they grow up.
Ian BremmerPresident of Eurasia Group
No. What’s worse is that Europe’s leaders are not even prepared for a changing Europe, which is more to the point. The current transatlantic relationship—the bedrock of the global order since World War II—is now at its weakest point in over seventy years. And it’s at its weakest precisely because both the United States and Europe don’t think or act remotely like it’s a priority.
The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president certainly isn’t going to do anything to improve cross-Atlantic relations. He is going to enter office with the weakest mandate of any president in the postwar era. He will have plenty of work to focus on at home, with an increasingly polarized electorate and U.S. Congress to worry about.
And given the multiple crises plaguing Europe at the moment, the transatlantic relationship won’t be improving from the European side, either. That’s bad news for Europe, which needs friends now more than ever. But it’s not going to receive unadulterated support from the next U.S. president. Europe needs to worry about its own changing politics before it can start worrying about the changing politics of others.
Denis MacShaneFormer UK minister for Europe
The greatest geopolitical foreign policy error of the twentieth century was the United States turning its back on Europe in 1920 and spending the next twenty years unable to influence the shape of world events.
Now, it is Europeans who are unable to offer any effective partnership to the United States in the face of most twenty-first-century challenges. All over Europe, antitrade, anti-immigrant, nationalist, populist politics are growing. Britain’s vote to leave the EU was one example of the turn inward. The initial opposition of the Belgian region of Wallonia to the EU-Canada trade deal was another.
Anti-Americanism is modish and will get worse under U.S. President Donald Trump. French President François Hollande has said, “The Americans, whatever they’re up to, are arrogant.” One of his challengers for the presidency in 2017, François Fillon, has said the United States “exercises a form of control of the European economy that’s absolutely intolerable.” German Social Democrats prefer Russian President Vladimir Putin to his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama.
No one in Europe has had any time for Trump, other than France’s National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, and the UK Independence Party’s leader, Nigel Farage. The United States is now as strange to current European leaders as it was when Columbus set sail in 1492.
Europe has given up on the United States, and the compliment is being returned as the term “Euro-Atlantic” loses all meaning.
Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations
No. Europe has a split-personality approach to the twenty-first century. On the one hand, a delusion that Europeans still live in a Cold War I world, cozy in the protection and security offered by the United States, swamps the public conversation in Europe. On the other hand, Europeans are angry dwellers of the Cold War II age, busy toying with populism, nationalism, protectionism, xenophobia, and an adolescent crush on Russia.
The United States is riding its own wave of neonationalism and cultural protectionism, and nasty undercurrents of isolationism and pangs of “America First!” will loom on under the new president. European leaders should have the chutzpah to engage the United States and work together to face coming global turbulences. But they will not, indulging instead in petty squabbles with Google and Apple and turning their noses up at American genetically modified steaks, while the United States grumbles and retaliates.
Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy
There seems to be a broad understanding among Europe’s leaders that after the U.S. presidential election they cannot rely on the United States to shoulder the burdens it has in the past. America is not about to abandon Europe, but the new U.S. leaders will expect Europeans to take on much more responsibility for their security.
That both the United States and the UK are turning inward has been clear for some time in European capitals. The declaration on October 16 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Germany will meet NATO’s guideline of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense is evidence of the new perception of the need for greater European responsibility. This means that Europeans will have a larger say in strategy and not simply follow whatever Washington decides.
A crisis is too good an opportunity to waste, and now is the time for both the United States and Europe to shape a new transatlantic bargain to meet not only the changing nature of U.S. politics but also the growing dangers to a stable and secure Europe.
Ben TonraProfessor of international relations and Jean Monnet professor of European foreign, security, and defense policy at the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin
No, they are woefully underprepared. U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump’s own protectionist promises and isolationist ambitions will be reinforced by an electorate and a U.S. Congress profoundly skeptical of active international engagement and deeply resentful of the costs deriving from such engagement. Building on this base, and reflecting his policy ambitions, Trump will be focused overwhelmingly on domestic issues while profound global challenges deepen.
A U.S. foreign policy vacuum will therefore demand substantially greater European commitment to meet those challenges, with the expectation that Europe’s leaders are equipped, capable, and willing to act. In their absence, several outcomes can be expected: a substantially diminished Atlantic alliance, a fragmenting international trade regime, and even greater strategic instability. By default, German Chancellor Angela Merkel becomes the leader of the free world.
In the period ahead, the EU will grapple with defining a constructive relationship with the UK after its decision to leave the union, dealing with its own populist and illiberal demons, and addressing outstanding shortcomings in its own economic governance. In that context, the concern must be that European leaders will indeed fall short. The stakes have rarely been higher and the prospects for success lower.
Peter van HamSenior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute
European leaders would have preferred Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to win the U.S. presidential election because this would have given them more time to adjust to the gradual decline of the United States as a global hegemon. The question now is whether Europe’s leaders will be better off shocked out of their complacency by the victory of Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Today, the attitude among Europeans still seems to be that the United States will back Europe up with political support and military power if the going gets tough—be it with Russia, Iran, or (in future) China. A Clinton administration would have kept Europe’s leaders in their comfort zone, lulling them to sleep in the mistaken belief that the United States still guards their security and defense. A Trump administration will be a shock and, I think, a most welcome one. Trump has indicated that well-off Europeans have to leave their postmodern dreamworld and take responsibility for their borders, their security, and their defense. This requires not only commensurate defense spending but also a much-needed acceptance by Europe’s leaders that the world has become a tough place where realpolitik reigns.
Europe won’t necessarily like U.S. President Trump, but it may well be the tough medicine it needs to finally wake up.