U.S.-Europe Rift: Is the West’s Survival at Stake?

Is the current conflict between the Trump Administration and the European leaders, including with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, threatening the survival of the West as we know it? If so, then it does not serve America’s – or Europe’s – interests. Both sides need to reverse the negativity before it is too late. America’s peer competitors, Russia and China, and the global Islamist terror movement will be the only beneficiaries of an intra-Western quarrel.

The centripetal forces of the West, be they ultra-nationalist, as in France, or extreme left, as British Labor, could spell geo-strategic, economic and systemic disaster. U.S. and European national leaders need to carefully define and resolve differences over security and trade by our national leaders – not turn them into political fodder for isolationist movements.

For over 200 years, the U.S. gravitated towards Europe. In the early nineteenth century, the then-young United States began its integration into the Euro-Atlantic sphere, starting with the Louisiana Purchase – Exhibit 1. The Barbary Wars fought by the U.S. Navy comprise Exhibit Two.

The U.S. defeated imperial Spain (1898), and the Kaiser’s Germany (1917-1918), and then played a key role in Europe’s post-World War I reinvention, thereby bringing American power and business to Europe.

The victory of the U.S. in World War II made America the leading superpower, supplanting the British Empire. Then victory in the Cold War created a unipolar moment for Washington, which is now over.

Present and future conflicts involve radical Islamist movements, which just reaped another harvest of blood in London, but the global threats extend beyond terrorist groups. After a decade of post-imperial shock, Russia, like the USSR before it, has returned to an anti-status quo posture in Europe. One can only hope that China’s economic expansion will remain peaceful for decades to come.

In the past, the Marshall Plan and the establishment of NATO built Euro-Atlantic unity. This alliance was borne not just of shared values, but also of necessity: the Europeans need America’s protection from the USSR, but also American leadership – and markets.

Today, however, forces on both sides of the Atlantic threaten the two-century old ties. First, demographic shifts have resulted in a US population, which increasingly lacks historical ties to the Old Continent In fact, Barack Obama was the first US president barely interested in Europe, despite his wild popularity there.

At present, the form and the tone – but not the substance – of President Trump’s rhetoric and actions are endangering the most successful strategic alliance of the 20th and the 21st centuries. Twitter, like a megaphone, is no tool of diplomacy.

Trump’s demands to balance the NATO burden sharing, rectify trade deficits, especially with Germany, and his decision to quit the non-binding Paris Climate Accords, have unnecessarily called in question US commitments to the Trans-Atlantic Alliance. Both sides have abiding national interest to manage and resolve the current disagreements.

Great Britain and the United States have in the past dispatched Spanish, Dutch, German, and Soviet contenders for Atlantic hegemony to the dustbin of history.

The collective West is based on Judeo-Christian values; Greek Philosophy; Anglo-Saxon common law – or Roman law in Europe; the Protestant work ethic; and democratic principles of the Founding Fathers – an astounding achievement of over 2,500 years of human civilization.

It would be shortsighted to focus on the negative, highlight disagreements, and allow ties to fray. Instead, the U.S. and the European allies need to pursue closer cooperation in three vital areas. First, defense and security: Europe needs to take more responsibility in deterring Russia.

Germany has begun the painful process of transforming into a core nation for European defense. Challenged in the Middle East and in the Pacific, including by North Korea, the U.S. cannot continue paying over 70 percent of NATO expenses while Europe thrives.

Europe also must closely coordinate its anti-terror and immigration policies, making its maritime borders impenetrable, and its security services and police more integrated and interoperable.

Second, the German and American leaders must collaborate to resolve the trade disputes, so that the current imbalances even out, and the U.S. gains jobs. Germany can increase its military acquisitions in the U.S., thus strengthening German defenses.

Finally, on the climate debate we should agree to disagree. The U.S. is a leader in environmental technologies, and has not increased CO2 emissions for three years, due to higher shale gas consumption and renewable energy. If the Paris Accords had been brought to the Senate as a treaty, ratification would have failed.

Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have to recognize the treasure they are entrusted with: a community of free nations. Their duty and responsibility is to preserve it and make it stronger – not to waste time on destructive squabbles.