Trump and the Growing European Rift
Trump’s first foreign trip was definitely historic. In the past, a presidential trip to Europe and the Middle East would have found the hardest part of the trip in the Middle East and the European segment one of mutual praise and talk of shared interests and strategic partnerships.
This trip was the other way around. Trump was well received by the Saudis, Israelis, and Palestinians. However, the rifts seen over the last few months in the US/European relationship actually grew larger during meetings in Brussels and Sicily. Rather than mending relations, just a day afterwards, Trump and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel were attacking each other.
It could be argued that US/European relations would have done better if Trump had headed home after visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine.
There appear to be several reasons for the rift. There is definitely some animus between some of the European leaders and the brusque and arrogant American president. That relationship wasn’t helped as Trump frequently took some European leaders to task during the campaign.
However, it wasn’t just the US versus the rest of Europe. British Prime Minister has taken a stand against the EU, especially concerning immigration, that has upset the Europeans of the G7 meeting. In many cases, she was firmly in Trump’s corner – something that didn’t please Germany.
If there was a center of the Trump opposition it was with German Chancellor Merkel. There were reports of several tense exchanges between Trump and Merkel over trade and NATO spending.
Just a day after leaving the G7 meeting Merkel told a group at a Munich beer hall that that Europe can no longer fully rely on the U.S. and United Kingdom.
Merkel implied the days where Germany could rely on the western alliance were “over to a certain extent,” adding “I have experienced this in the last few days.”
“I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands,” Merkel declared. “We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans,” she continued.
It’s not just Trump, the US, and Britain that Merkel has problems with. The Turks are also upset with Germany. A flashpoint for Germany continues to grow in Turkey where on Thursday, Turkey’s foreign minister said it is not possible to allow German lawmakers to visit troops stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base now, although he said Ankara may reconsider if it sees “positive steps” from Berlin. It was not immediately clear just what Turkey’s “demands” or expectations, monetary or otherwise, were from Merkel for it to change its view.
“We see that Germany supports everything that is against Turkey,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara. “Under these circumstances it is not possible for us to open Incirlik to German lawmakers right now … If they take positive steps in the future we can reconsider.”
It is possible that Merkel may have overplayed her hand. The Financial Times noted, “Merkel has also behaved irresponsibly — making a statement that threatens to widen a dangerous rift in the Atlantic alliance into a permanent breach.”
“Given that Germany has been freeriding on American military spending, it is a little cheeky to blame the US for being an unreliable ally,” it continued. The paper also cautioned Merkel from taking such a confrontational posture with the U.K. particularly in light of coming trade negotiations between the U.K. and the European Union throughout the Brexit process.
“It is hard to see how the UK can be expected to see the same countries as adversaries in the Brexit negotiations and allies in the NATO context. So a really hard Brexit could indeed raise questions about Britain’s commitment to NATO — particularly if the US is also pulling back from the western alliance.”
Finally the Financial Times is concerned with the hostile posture towards the U.S. and U.K. and grouping the countries with Russia. The paper noted that Europe and the G7 is splitting into two groups that mirror what happened in World War Two – the Allies (Britain and the US) and the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan, and a conquered France).
“It is baffling that a German leader could stand in a beer-tent in Bavaria and announce a separation from Britain and the US while bracketing those two countries with Russia,” Rachman wrote. “The historical resonances should be chilling.”
That doesn’t mean that relations will be cut off. In fact, French President Macron met with Putin for “tough talks.” Macron attacked Russia and Putin during the campaign and Putin’s last scheduled meeting with the French president was cancelled last October over the Syria issue.
The Issues that Separate
Basically, the US/European differences are: climate change issues, trade, defense spending, and immigration.
During the campaign, Trump made it clear that he intended to pull out of the UN Paris climate agreement – a promise he kept just days after returning from Europe. On Thursday, Trump announced that the US was immediately withdrawing from the Paris agreement, which wasn’t ratified by the US Senate, and would begin negotiating for a new environmental deal.
However, this split between the US and Western European nations don’t mean that the US is alone. Eastern European nations are privately desperate to escape.
According to Climate Home, former Eastern Bloc countries Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are trying to “gut, block or water down” the Paris accord’s emissions-reductions promises because they interfere with their economic growth and commit them to useless, expensive renewable energy.
Nor are Western European nations fully behind the deal. Europe’s steelmakers – among them, Arcelor-Mittal , Germany’s Thyssenkrupp and Austria’s Voestalpine – have written to EU leaders begging not to be burdened with any of the carbon emissions costs they say would make them uncompetitive against foreign rivals.
The European steelmakers concern about competitiveness is a serious one as Trump attempts to cut back on America’s trade deficit, especially with Germany.
Much of the disagreement was behind the scenes. The G7 managed to release a bland statement that vows to fight protectionism but seemed to take a nod to Mr. Trump’s view that the global trading rule book is stacked against American interest. French President Macron praised Trump’s “capacity to listen” and said “I found someone who is open and willing to deal well with us.”
However, open warfare began after the meeting as Trump tweeted about the large trade deficit (especially in terms of automobiles) with Germany and Merkel retaliated by questioning America’s reliability.
The final issue of major disagreement was NATO contributions. On Thursday in Brussels, with NATO leaders standing alongside him, Trump accused members of the military alliance of owing “massive amounts of money” to the United States and NATO.
This problem isn’t one that upsets just Trump. For the past 8 years, Obama complained about NATO countries not spending 2% of their GDP on defense.
The US spends about 3.6% of GDP on defense. This compares with relatively low-spending Germany on 1.2 per cent of GDP, Italy on 1.1 per cent and the Netherlands on 1.2 per cent. Ironically, Belgium, which hosts the NATO headquarters, spends less than 1.0 per cent of GDP on military.
Only five members of NATO meet the 2 per cent target: US, Britain, Greece, Poland and Estonia.
The Trump comments on meeting NATO obligations went down badly with European leaders, who had hoped Trump would use the opportunity to confirm his commitment to Article 5, the core NATO principle that an attack on one member is viewed as an attack on all.
“When an American president cannot commit clearly to Article 5 at a time when everyone is expecting him to do this then there is the risk that Moscow interprets this as meaning it is no longer valid,” said Jan Techau of the American Academy in Berlin.
On the other hand, European NATO has a GDP ten times that of Russia, so is better able to up its contributions and contribute more to its defense. And, the US has a significant military presence in Eastern NATO – enough to make Moscow question the advisability of any design of “invading” its former client states.
It’s also important to remember that trade and defense issues blur. France, Britain and Germany remain more committed to the Iranian nuclear deal than Trump. Airbus has signed a deal to sell Iran 100 Airbus aircraft. If Trump pulls out of the Iran deal, does Europe abandon the airbus deal or try to take over the Boeing deal to sell Iran 80 aircraft?
Are the Rifts Permanent or Temporary?
It is easy to see the events in Brussels and Sicily as the beginning of the breakup of NATO and the West. However, the past indicates that there is more that joins these nations than separates them.
In the 1960s it seemed that NATO was heading for a permanent breakup as France, under President Charles de Gaulle, withdrew French forces from NATO’s military integrated command. He also ordered all foreign military personnel to leave France within a year. This latter action was particularly badly received in the US, prompting Dean Rusk, the US Secretary of State, to ask de Gaulle whether the removal of American military personnel was to include exhumation of the 50,000 American war dead buried in French cemeteries
However, France rejoined years later and has been an active member of NATO since.
In many ways, De Gaulle and Trump are similar. Both weren’t born politicians and both were nationalists. While Trump wants to make America great again, De Gaulle wanted to make a France defeated in World War Two great again. That policy, naturally, conflicted with the policies of their allies.
Interestingly, de Gaulle also opposed a super European union, which would have put him in opposition to Merkel, who is also a strong personality.
Students of diplomatic history learn that while national leaders come and go, national interests remain. In the end, Western Europe, NATO, and the US still have many common interests that will be there long after Merkel and Trump leave the scene.
Trump’s Foreign Trip Sends Strong Message That American Leadership Is Back
By Helle Dale
May 25, 2017
President Donald Trump’s visit to the Middle East and Europe is framing the parameters of his foreign policy style. That style is characterized by forcefully stating American priorities based on strong traditional alliances, religious inclusiveness, and national interest. In his speech to Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, Trump called this approach “principled realism.” Unlike the Obama years, Trump’s first four months in office have shown no trace of apology for the history of the United States and the global role that it plays. This is an important—indeed refreshing—reversal. It has delivered a clear and unequivocal message about American foreign policy under Trump. How that message is received depends on the context. There was never any doubt that Trump would have a hard time getting a fair hearing for his policies in Europe, or anywhere else where the local media take their cue from the coverage of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN. However, in Saudi Arabia and in Israel—two allies who suffered great decline in their relations with the U.S. during the Obama years—Trump’s message of cooperation and solidarity in the face of terrorism was tremendously well received.
America’s NATO Problem: We’ve Forgotten Why We’re a Member
By Jeffrey Rathke
Center for Strategic and International Studies
May 24, 2017
President Donald Trump will meet with NATO leaders in Brussels on May 25, his first direct encounter with an alliance he has alternately praised and disparaged. Supporters will say he has shaken up the organization and spurred our European allies to contribute more to NATO’s defense. Detractors will find much to criticize in Trump’s approach to U.S. allies and partners: his focus on European defense spending to the exclusion of nearly everything else on the transatlantic security agenda; his reluctance to criticize Russia, feeding suspicion that he seeks to appease Russia at Europe’s expense; his misunderstanding of how NATO works and his fallacious assertion that our allies “owe” Washington arrears for past defense underspending; and his assertion that NATO is obsolete, followed by the false claim that he saved the alliance in a matter of months by changing its focus to fighting terrorism. His posturing spreads uncertainty among our allies and raises doubts globally about the reliability of American security guarantees.
The Future of Iran’s Security Policy
By J. Matthew McInnis
American Enterprise Institute
When the Syrian opposition stronghold of Aleppo fell in late 2016, Iran was the central player in a coalition that dropped barrel bombs on marketplaces, targeted aid workers, besieged the city, and killed more than 31,000 civilians. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s (IRI) major role in the battle, which at one point supported 25,000 affiliated troops and militias on the ground, was more significant than even the Syrian Army presence. But how and why is Iran willing and able to expend vast resources in Syria when opposition forces do not directly threaten the Iranian homeland? If Washington had better understood Tehran’s capacity for expeditionary warfare and degree of commitment to Damascus sooner, it would have gained the tools to craft much wiser policy in the conflict.
The Art of the Middle East Peace Deal
By James S. Robbins
American Foreign Policy Council
May 25, 2017
Can President Donald Trump broker the Israeli-Palestinian deal of a lifetime? After his trip to Israel, there is certainly cause for hope. Settling the major issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been an idee fixe for successive American presidential administrations. Negotiators and policymakers have foundered on the seemingly intractable contradictions in the process, whether conflicting non-negotiable demands, bad faith on the part of negotiators or willingness to walk away from a deal just to prove a point. Trump comes to the scene as a political outsider, unburdened by the failed diplomatic frameworks of the past. He brings his business perspective and experience, in which deals are based on mutual interest and mutual gain, and more concerned with good outcomes than the pageantry of the process.
From Baghdad to Riyadh: A New Regional Security Pact?
By Brandon Friedman
Foreign Policy Research Institute
May 30, 2017
President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia did not, as some expected, result in an announcement of an “Arab NATO.” Nevertheless, the May 20-21 Riyadh Summit, which brought more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders to Saudi Arabia, was intended to show American support for the Saudi regional security agenda that is focused on confronting Iran and the Islamic State. Observers were quick to draw comparisons between a “Riyadh Pact” and the 1955 Baghdad Pact, which facilitated regional security cooperation between the U.S. and the U.K. and their pro-Western regional allies—Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran—to contain communism and Arab nationalism. While Faisal Al Yafai characterized the common agenda in Riyadh in positive terms, as the first step “toward a more formidable defense posture that will allow cooler heads to prevail,” Rashid Khalidi argued that “Trump’s Arab Nato would be a terrible mistake.” Saudi officials, for their part, viewed Trump’s visit as a “reset” of U.S.-Saudi bilateral relations and as “a symbol that Washington aimed to be once again a bedrock for the kingdom and its allies.” However, the hint of something more ambitious was suggested by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s reference to “increasing defense capabilities” and “working on a defense architecture for the region – initially between our two countries and then looking at how other countries can join.”
By Wade Jacoby
German Marshall Fund
May 25, 2017
Many countries want Germany to change its economic policies. For all its differences with the Obama administration, the Trump White House has reiterated U.S. concerns about Germany’s very large current account surplus, now in its fifteenth year and exceeding 8 percent of German GDP. Both administrations have worried that Germany’s surplus hurts the U.S. economy. Neither has successfully convinced German leadership a serious problem exists. In this, they join a long line of European officials who have sought changes in German policy. For its part, German leadership has honed two complementary rhetorical techniques to deal with such charges. The first is to characterize trade outcomes — whether their large surplus or other countries’ deficits — as a simple matter of differences in competitiveness. The second is to manage any objections with a technique I call “normalize and apologize.” That is, officials prefer to stress that the German economy is basically just like any other advanced economy and that its competitiveness is available to any state willing to do the right policy reforms.
Growing Risk of International Confrontation in the Syrian Desert
By Fabrice Balanche
May 26, 2017
The May 18 U.S. airstrike on pro-regime forces heading for Syria’s southern al-Tanf border crossing marks a turning point in the war. The situation on the Iraq-Jordan-Syria frontier now poses the threat of direct confrontation between American and Syrian forces, and perhaps other actors as well. Al-Tanf has been occupied by U.S. Special Forces and American-backed rebels since March 2016. Following last week’s strike, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quickly noted that the United States does not seek to increase its role in the war, though it would defend its troops if they are threatened. Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad and his allies believe that Washington wants to establish a more permanent presence in eastern Syria in order to strengthen its local allies, put pressure on Damascus, and prevent the regime from returning to the Euphrates Valley. This concern reflects the broader regional contest that the war has become, with the regime and its allies racing to establish an east-west “Shiite axis” from Iran to Lebanon and the United States seemingly looking to cement a north-south “Sunni axis” from the Gulf states and Jordan to Turkey. The situation in Syria’s central and southern desert region (the Badia) will play an important role in shaping these dynamics.