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Post-American European Security?

Post-American European Security?

A transition in power--and almost certainly in policy-- in America is causing Europe to become increasingly nervous in matters of security. With a growing dissatisfaction in America's entanglements abroad amongst its populace, Europe could see a withdrawal of American support from NATO. This could result in potentially grand shifts in European security strategy.

With news of Hillary Clinton’s stunning defeat and Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency quickly making headlines around the world, the future status of the United States’ strategic alliances and relationships stands in limbo. One alliance that the President-Elect has continually lambasted is NATO, and what he views as a failure for smaller states to contribute the necessary funds to maintain the integrity of the alliance. This image tells what Mr. Trump views as a failure of negotiations on the part of the United States, and unwillingness from NATO allies to fairly contribute to the security afforded to them. 

The President-Elect has been quoted on numerous occasions that unless states in NATO can reach a spending minimum equal to 2% of gross GDP as previously agreed upon, the United States would potentially withdraw support from the alliance. What Mr. Trump seems not to realize is that not only was there no explicit timeline to reach the 2% mark, but the Wales Summit Agreement from 2014 states a vague goal of “[aiming] to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade.”

This bleak outlook from the President-Elect says one of two things: either he is not well versed in foreign policy and the alliances of the United States, or he purposefully misstates known facts for his own agenda. The distinction between these two hypotheses will likely determine the future of the United States engagement with Europe. To what degree should states in European states begin to focus on their own self-defense rather than taking for granted the aide of the United States military?

The fear of being left to fend for themselves has kicked EU ministers into a panic.  On November 14th, a joint EU contingency plan led by recommendations by France and Germany was introduced in an effort to prepare for the worst-case scenario of the United Sates pulling away from its commitments in Europe. Unfortunately, it will not be known until such a case happens whether this plan will be successful in the face of what Europe sees as a militant and aggressive Russia under Vladimir Putin. Putin’s strong-arm tactics in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea look as though they will go unpunished with the new President-Elect’s desire to improve relations between Russia and the United States.

Add to this conundrum the rise of Right-Wing populism in the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit. The U.K. is no longer a stable regional ally to countries like Germany in Central Europe after expressing a desire of the populace to distance themselves from what they view as problems on a different landmass. If France and Germany can work together then there is potential value in an Europe-based defensive pact. This too is in peril with French elections around the corner, and the specter of Front National delivering a shocking victory that would likely lead to another state developing isolationist ideals. As Germany will likely become the strongest leader for a pan-European defensive pact, it is necessary for them to willingly embrace the role of, and act as, a beacon of liberal democracy within the region. 

The potential loss of American support has not passed unnoticed to the German government.  In March of 2016, Germany approved a 6.7% defense-spending hike that likely indicates a willingness to embrace leadership of European security. Germany might be willing to take point on this project, but without a solid partner in the European security endeavor the experiment could turn out to be an abject failure. This would prove disastrous if Russia continues its trend of expansionism.

Not all is grim for Germany and the future of Europe however. It will still take time to obtain a clearer picture of what Mr. Trump’s foreign policy strategy will look like and is highly contingent on the advisors he surrounds himself with. Rumors are beginning to swirl about his nominations, and with Former Ambassador John Bolton and a number of other Bush-era Neoconservatives currently leading the pack for Secretary of State, the President-Elect’s words on NATO could be for not. Mr. Bolton has already publicly stated that the President-Elect should take back his words on NATO; under his watch it would be highly probable that nothing would come of the dissolution talks.  

My advice for Germany would be to continue to watch the development of personnel and policy ideas of the nascent Trump administration and other populist movements in Europe. If his staff consists of Bush-era Neoconservatives, Germany and the rest of the Europe will likely have nothing to worry about in the short term. If, on the other hand, Mr. Trump does something unpredictable—as he is wont to do—then Germany should start preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best.  This will be a development that should be keenly watched as a clearer picture emerges of the Trump administration—and in that effect, the future of U.S.-European partnerships.  

The views presented in this piece do not reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror as a whole.

Photo: "Flags - Polish, EU and NATO flags." Originally taken by Pawel Kabanski for Flickr with an Attribution-ShareAlike License. Use of this photo does not indicate an endorsement from its creator.

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