The peak of Atlantic unity? | The star of the day

Donald Trump’s relationship with European leaders during his presidency has been quite difficult. FILE PHOTO: REUTERS


Donald Trump’s relationship with European leaders during his presidency has been quite difficult. FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

European leaders are breathing a huge sigh of relief after Republicans’ failure to deliver a ‘red wave’ in the US midterm elections. Republicans narrowly regained control of the House of Representatives, while Democrats retained the Senate, but it is already clear that Congress will not be inundated with isolationist supporters of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. But rather than using this time to celebrate, Europeans should prepare for the next potential storm.

Europe, after all, has enjoyed an extraordinary moment of transatlantic unity over the past year. The US-EU partnership responded transparently to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with coordinated sanctions, and the US consulted with European governments before pursuing any conversations on the future of European security with the Kremlin. NATO, the alliance that French President Emmanuel Macron called “brain dead” in 2019, is now thriving and ready to welcome Finland and Sweden as new members. And Europeans are finally spending more on defence, even Germany is reaching the long-promised target of 2% of GDP.

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Americans and Europeans also generally agree on the strategic challenge China poses, especially now that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has ruled with economic threats and belligerent foreign policies, has expanded and consolidated his power. There is a strong feeling that “the West is back”. The United States and Europe are channeling a newfound political unity in favor of shared values ​​and a common vision of the kind of world they want.

But storm clouds are already gathering. In the short term, a Republican-controlled House could still try to push back against the idea that the United States should cover a disproportionate share of Ukraine’s defense costs. As my colleague from the European Council on Foreign Relations, Jeremy Shapiro, notes in a recent commentary, the United States has pledged $24 billion in military aid to Ukraine, while Europe has pledged only the half of this amount. Why should Americans pay more than Ukraine’s own neighbors?

Moreover, in the longer term, debates over the definition of a Ukrainian victory could create new tensions. While the Biden administration, France and Germany note that peace negotiations will be needed at some point, Poland and the Baltic states have made it clear that they want to see Russia humiliated. Meanwhile, Trump has nominated himself to broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine.

There are also tensions bubbling beneath the surface when it comes to China. If the transatlantic allies are all heading in the same direction, that does not mean that they are aiming for the same destination. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for example, recently visited Beijing, where he showed little interest in decoupling the European and Chinese economies (although he fully recognizes the dangers of overdependence).

Europeans have also been spooked by the protectionist considerations behind the US CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Commerce Department’s decision to restrict cooperation in high-tech sectors. The IRA has virtually closed the US electric vehicle market, even to companies from allies such as Europe, Japan and South Korea. The Europeans rightly fear they will become collateral damage in the US economic war on China – and they have yet to be asked for diplomatic support regarding Taiwan.

But the greatest dangers still come from American domestic politics. Many commentators have questioned whether Republicans’ relatively weak midterm performance signaled the end of Trump’s control of the party. Not only have many Trump-endorsed candidates failed, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, was re-elected in a landslide. DeSantis is popular, but if he challenges Trump, he could end up sharing the same fate as Jeb Bush and everyone else Republican primary voters rejected in 2016.

More importantly, Trumpism is not dead. Republican candidates will continue to wage scorched earth culture wars and adopt Trump’s positions against free trade, immigration, foreign intervention and Europe. And given the deteriorating state of the global economy, the conditions may be ripe for Republicans to fare better in the next election, especially if they learn from their mistakes in 2022.

For all these reasons, Europeans must use the next two years to reduce their dependence on the United States. If Biden runs again and wins, a more self-sufficient Europe can be a much better partner for the United States. But if Trump or another Eurosceptic figure is elected, Europeans at least will be better placed to weather the storm. With only two years to erect effective defenses against a future red wave, it’s time for the Europeans to build their own kind of wall.

Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of The Age of Unpeace: How Connectedness Causes Conflict.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022
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Carol N. Valencia