Not a EU – U.S. divergence, but a conflict within the West

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The signs of distancing between Europe and the U.S. have been fairly numerous since D. Trump started his presidential mandate. Listing them – starting from the endorsement of Brexit to the economic nationalism of the MAGA slogan and to the U.S. withdrawal from the climate change agreement – would be laborious not so much lengthwise, as much as it would permit to be summed-up in a single conclusion. Under the leadership of President D. Trump, the U.S. seems to depart from the liberal order it installed and backed after the Second World War in the international system of states. This conclusion is strengthened also by the White House’s decision not to recertify the nuclear agreement with Iran, a decision taken at the end of last week, transferring to Congress the debate on a final decision, a gesture that immediately showed, via their reactions, that U.S. allies who are co-signatories of this treaty with Tehran oppose such behaviour on the international stage.

Hence a conclusion that is increasingly taking shape in U.S. actions, if we are to refer to Donald Trump’s tweets on the North Korean nuclear crisis too, the danger of war being extremely high there. A group of international relations experts from Germany deemed that it is time for a position paper, a manifesto on the future relations between the U.S. and Germany, the strongest EU state. Their initiative must necessarily be linked with the fact that the composition of a new ruling coalition in Berlin is now being negotiated, following the September elections that strengthened the illiberal structure of the Bundestag. The document, titled “In Spite of It All, America,” was published last Thursday (12 October 2017) by Die Zeit daily, being quoted the next day by The New York Times and other internationally-renowned dailies. The manifesto’s central idea is the following: “The liberal world order, with its foundation in multilateralism, its global norms and values, its open societies and markets, is in danger” because of President Trump’s foreign policy. Or, “It is exactly this order on which Germany’s freedom and prosperity depends” and that “If Germany wants to be an effective actor in Europe (…) it needs the United States.”

Of course, the manifesto shows that at the origin of the threats to the liberal order lies not only the White House policy, because a strong negative impact on it comes from those that stem from sources such as “rising powers strive for influence; illiberal governments and authoritarian regimes are ascending; anti-modern thinking is gaining traction and influence even within Western democracies; Russia is challenging the peaceful European order; and new technologies are disrupting old economic structures.” But the U.S., which has been the guardian of the international liberal order in recent decades, which has carried out a policy of liberal interventionism that ensured its stability every time it was threatened, is now launching an unprecedented challenge to this fundamental orientation, proposing an alternative system in which “small and medium sized countries play a role as dependent and secondary actors,” throwing into doubt its own commitments toward liberal institutions and norms. This different orientation on the part of the U.S. puts Europe, and Germany in particular, in the face of the huge responsibility of defending the current international order: “Since Germany’s as well as Europe’s security and affluence rest upon the current international order even as President Trump charts a different course for the United States, an increased responsibility falls to the European Union and its member state Germany to safeguard and strengthen the international order.” The manifesto’s clear and exact wording shows that the U.S. and Europe, EU, Germany – as the latter’s most important state –, find themselves at the crossroads of their common future. The manifesto’s proposal is just as clear and results from the analysis carried out.

This analysis shows that the current international order must be maintained, that “a strategic decoupling” between the U.S. and the EU is necessarily to be avoided, because it would mean the end of the liberal order, hence Washington must remain “the strategic partner for a democratic and European Germany.” Since “business as usual” is no longer possible, a new policy toward the U.S. “must be long-term and build a bridge into the post-Trump age,” considering that “the end of the Trump presidency should be the end of the inner Western conflict about the fundamentals of the world order. Once this fundamental consensus is reestablished policy disagreements can be resolved or bridged more easily and more constructively.” In the aggregate of this strategic objective, aside from proposals concerning the continuation of economic negotiations that would, in perspective, lead to the signing of the TTIP agreement that already has had a long history of negotiations, or to a joint vision in the digital, energy or global warming domains – but while giving up on searching for a joint orientation in what concerns the international policy in what concerns refugees –, some ideas proposed in the security policy domain stand out. No European country in an independent way (Germany), nor the EU, being capable of ensuring the security of the Old Continent, NATO is the alliance called upon to do this, both territorially and through nuclear deterrent, against cyber aggression and terrorism, etc., but ensuring “a way to integrate the United States into the structures of multilateral security policy and may dissuade Washington from going it alone.” While in what concerns the North Korean nuclear crisis the “trans-Atlantic schism” must be avoided, in the energy policy domain the manifesto assesses that Germany must give up on North Stream 2 as being “not in the joint European interest,” the U.S. correctly considering that this project has a geopolitical value.

As a conclusion of the manifesto, the imperative “more Europe within the Alliance” stands out but it “would be an error of historical proportions to play out ‘more Europe’ against the trans-Atlantic alliance.” The signatories – among whom we mention: Deidre Berger, Ramer Institute, American Jewish Committee, Berlin; James D. Bindenagel, Center for International Security and Governance, University of Bonn; Patrick Keller, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Berlin; Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Berlin; Anna Kuchenbecker, Aspen Institute Deutschland, Berlin; Jan Techau, Richard C. Holbrooke Forum, American Academy, Berlin; Sylke Tempel, German Council on Foreign Relations, “Internationale Politik” Magazine, Berlin – take full responsibility for the manifesto.

In our opinion, the strategy proposed has the merit of seeking to overcome the current difficulties in the trans-Atlantic relationship and to keep open the process of its consolidation for the post-Trump period. Of course, a comprehensive analysis of the manifesto is required, in order to measure the adequacy of the premises used in the analysis, the solidity of the conclusions and, likewise, the congruence of the strategy with the time period of 4-8 years, which is fairly long given the current acceleration in international relations. Because, in history, there has never been, like now, an overturning – so sudden and consistent in consequences on the international plane – of ongoing systemic trends as the one that has occurred in the 10 months of the Trump administration, under the impulse of the President.