The President of the United States of America is increasingly violent in his criticism of the European Union. He is attacking it for its trade policy, is threatening it from the military point of view, and makes no bones about destabilising it. It is irksome to him in the international arena.
He is organising the systematic withdrawal of his country from all of the multilateral agreements and organisations which the USA has inspired or supported for a long time: the TransPacific Agreement, the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA), the Paris Agreement on Climate, the Nuclear Agreement with Iran (JCPOA), UNESCO, the UN’s Committee on Human Rights and soon the World Trade Organisation … whilst the Union is the example of a unique success in multilateralism.
He is confirming, in none too refined terms, a trend towards withdrawal that he wants for his country, which his close allies are finding increasingly difficult to understand. The Jacksonian influence in which he finds inspiration cannot explain either the brutality of his actions or mask the seriousness of their consequences. America’s rejection of leadership is creating instability everywhere and is igniting present and potential conflict – to the point that we must now wonder about the future of NATO, which is already under threat by an unsettled Turkey.
Will it disappear because of the USA’s withdrawal?
Trump’s accusations about Europeans not spending enough on their defence elicits a smile, especially when we realise that the net and direct contribution by the USA to NATO’s budget only represents a thousandth of the USA’s enormous military budget. Would the real reason for maintaining NATO after the end of the Soviet Union not rather have been to serve American interests? Are these now being contradicted by a Europe, aware that it has economic results comparable to those of the USA, and which embodies sensible world diplomacy in its stead?
The NATO summit on 11th and 12th July next will provide the Europeans with a chance for some frank talking. Will they seize this opportunity? NATO ensures Europe’s security. We still need it. It has led to a type of previously unthinkable inter-operability between all of the armies of a Europe which has the means, if it so decides, whilst pursuing true long term defence work, to assume its own security in the future. The Alliance is also the camp of liberal democracies in a world in which its territory is shrinking. It is useful in the face of a revisionist and uncertain neighbourhood.
Does Donald Trump still want this?
By choosing to rub shoulders with dictators (Kim Jong Un), by meeting the Russian president just days after the Atlantic summit, by preferring bilateralism, and even “mini-lateralism”, contrary to what the US has provided to the world over the last 70 years, by trying at every opportunity to divide the Europeans, which can only make its closest partners wonder, has the American ally chosen to weaken Europe, the world’s other major democratic pole? So that it can remain in a tête-à-tête with emerging Asia and the authoritarian regimes? Does it really want this? - and does it have the means do this? And the population of the USA, Europe’s cousins, does it agree with this announced break, which would damage its own interests?
The Europeans would do themselves an honour to put this question frankly to this peculiar president and not accept his inexact and unfair criticism: does he want to quit NATO?
Whatever the answer, just asking the question shows how much the European environment has changed and how urgent it is for Europe to get a grip and provide an answer, by itself and in a credible manner, to its own security requirements and the expectations of its citizens. Therefore, there is no need to accept any type of blackmail and especially, to weaken in the quest for European autonomy, even independence in the international arena, which would imply – irony of ironies – maintaining NATO without the Americans.