Ieva Galkyte

Europe & US

Any couples counselor could agree that a break up should be a well-thought-out decision. Yet Trump’s extemporaneous comments indicate that he is ready to jump into a new yet unknown political affair leaving Europe in political obscurity.

His isolationist mindset might be counterproductive. Instead of trying to strengthen desolate transatlantic relations in order to achieve anticipated results at home, he risks losing political support from his main political allies in spheres that are of key importance.

Although Western partners share the same core values, differences in perception of world affairs tend to be canyon-like. The political divergence is hardly avoidable, but each US president has an upper hand to determine the level of intimacy between the US and the European Union.

Trump made his choice. Since he took office, the US and EU relationship has deteriorated shockingly. Trump’s “America first” supporters might argue that Europe is carelessly abusing US power, and, thus, it is a high time for Europe to become less dependent on the US. Having said that, the US desperately needs Europe’s economic and political power if it wants to become great again or at least to stay relevant in world affairs.

If there is one principal actor in Europe, it is undoubtedly Germany. However, American- German relations have entered an unprecedented climate of tension.

Trump described Angela Merkel’s decision to admit more than a million migrants as “one very catastrophic mistake.” Also, he criticised Germany’s enormous current account surplus which he considers the result of German currency manipulation and called Germany “bad, very bad” for selling too many cars to the US. It is likely that Trump hoped that Merkel would not be re-elected, however, her recent victory means nothing, but the continuity of German foreign policy.

By repeatedly blaming Germany, the US is alienating its most valuable diplomatic partner in Europe. With Obama in office, US-EU diplomacy was continuously done through Germany. Without Germany on its side, the US would greatly reduce its influence in Europe and its capacity to reach agreements with the European states, which are essential if President Trump wants to share the burden of international leadership.

Recently, Trump declined to reaffirm US commitment to NATO’s Article 5 at the NATO Summit in Brussels. He also seized the moment to point out that twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense.” The 2% target has been at the center of discussions over transatlantic burden sharing between Europe and the US for years, and yet, 2% target seems to be a red herring.

In fact, Trump should be more concerned about the increased efficiency of the alliance. Greece, for example, has the highest military spending of all the EU member states, but spends over 70% of its defence budget on personnel costs, wages and pensions.

In contrast, the increase in military spending in Germany might be perceived as a warning sign, not only to Germans, but to the entire world. Trump should think twice before criticizing German military spending ever again, for the aversion to militarism in Germany is deeply rooted in historical memory that we all know too well.

By praising the UK decision to leave the EU and encouraging other EU countries to follow its example, Trump totally ignores an extremely high level of interdependence between the EU and the US economies. The European Union, the world’s largest single market, is the main trading partner for the US, and American investments in Europe are incomparably greater than investments in China. Any destabilization in the European Union would hit the US economy immediately and severely.

This plays directly into the hands of Putin, whose main goal is to break up the Western alliance. During the Cold-war period, a strong and united Europe was essential for the US to maintain the liberal international order. Europe’s revival after WWII and even European integration would hardly have been possible without US support. The US needed Europe to uphold democratic values, and if America is to return to greatness again, as Trump promised, it needs Europe more than before due to emerging new powers, threats and unprecedented challenges. The United States worldview and policy goals have historically been much stronger when unified with those of Europe.

Almost a month ago, even though Trump was perceived as a threat to European interests, the European Union responded to the US request for help and provided access to the world’s largest single earth observation program Copernicus to map Harvey’s devastation in Texas. High Representative/Vice-President of the EU Federica Mogherini stated that “The US can count on the European Union as a strong and an historic ally for all our support.” US-EU cooperation at different levels and in different spheres is what makes Western alliance unshakeable.

All these arguments fall short when faced with the ideology of Trump’s administration, which seems to enjoy its newly gained power way too much to compromise. The US needs Europe, but the transatlantic alliance is in its death-throes, and it is only up to Trump to turn it around or let it die. The latter scenario, however, might turn out to be the most fatal mistake of the XXI century.

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