24 June 2019

On how Donald Trump missed the chance to become an artisan for the future European Union

Niculae Iancu

White House’s Administration foreign policies’ decisions, seen by most of the international media as unpredictable, contradictory and unconventional, have shaped, for the public, a unilateralist, transactional and isolationist profile for a President whose electoral campaign success was built upon populist and reformatory messages on the international system’s structures and world’s order rules. .

Image source: Mediafax

Donald Trump’s behavior and his communication methods were firstly seen as surprising and, afterwards, received coldly by the European chancelleries, which were starting to be skeptical on transatlantic relation’s solidity. Given the current international environment, wherein are being defined the major reforms and identities, the US-EU relation could have been the base of all conceptual and architectural changes of the international system. Time will tell whether the “Trump era” will be the moment of global paradigm change or one of global disputes. As for the Euroatlantic relation, Donald Trump did not succeed, apparently, until now, to stimulate Brussel’s efforts to set its strategic ambitions on European Union’s key role across the future global competition. 


Donald Trump’s foreign policy is maybe the most disputed international businesses’ method developed by any administration after the Vietnam War. Not even President G. W. Bush’s strategic errors, which led to Iraq’s invasion and United States’ entry in the longest conflict ever, the Afghanistan War, was not that blamed by the global media and so analyzed in the international security analysis classes, spread throughout the world.

Some may say that today’s world is way more different that the one we had two decades ago, which was seriously marked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Indeed, today’s world is completely different that the one we had three decades ago, when the Cold War was ending and the world was entering a new era, one of global prosperity, democracy and freedom. The international system got into an extreme turbulences area. The whole common security and defence construction, shaped after the World War II, is being questioned. Liberalism faced globalized movements, meanwhile trust is no longer negotiations’ main bond from the inside and outside the debate and agreement formats. Russia’s aggressive behavior in Moscow’s entire strategic interest area and territories’ direct and indirect illegal annexation on the whole common border of the Russian Federation with the North-Atlantic area, have changed the transatlantic security equation completely. The violent actions that continue to take place inside the Islamic world, intensified by its chronic collision with the Western civilization, have overused conflict and peace’s traditional forms. Mass destruction weapons’ proliferation and the unhappy easy access to total annihilation resources have brought the nuclear extinction threat in the center of security’s agendas. Besides these, we are also facing a series of new threats, whose significances are over and over again adjusted in order to enter, more of less naturally, under the new “’hybrid war” umbrella. New technologies’ explosion and the artificial intelligence’s ascension are being transformed into instability engines, especially when used along with new military and non-military force methods of contradictory interests. United States’ hegemonic ascendency erosion over the global world has encouraged all kinds of security challenges’ increase, coming from new atypical and localized actors. It happens on almost the entire demarcation line of both global hemispheres, starting from Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America, through Central and South Asia, up to the Indo-Pacific archipelagos.

Both US’s nowadays’ relations with traditional allies and the military and economic disputes with world’s main global aspiring actors, Russia and China, have raised many controversies. White House’s policies in international trade, climatic changes, Middle East, Far East, North Korea and Venezuela are staying on the front pages of both Atlantic’s coasts media and go through harsh analytical sites also to upkeep blunt and alarming conclusions on US’s future across the international system. Hence, public eye’s perception on administration’s disposition towards ad-hoc and punctual solutions for the security issues, in the detriment or even the lack of a “great strategy” solution consistency, places the US rather in the causes camp, than the resolutions one, in terms of international security debates. Therefore, the consequences of such an analytical recalibration can be seen in the effective global governing’s disintegration premises, starting from institutions and tools, up to values and morals. Or the other way around.

European score

Maybe the greatest impact of the effective global security architecture transformation, in the last seven decades, can be found in transatlantic’s security stability dilemma. At least that’s how we see things on Atlantic’s European coasts. Unilateralism’s ascension on Potomac’s coasts has increased Western Europeans’ chancelleries suspicions on some of Washington’s major international security decision predictability persistency and on the continuity of traditional commitments for the unconditional insurance of North-Atlantic’s space defence in front of new threats. The confusion in terms of Transatlantic’s relation evolution came also after President Trump’s undiplomatic messages to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron or the British prime-minister Theresa May, on different occasions and different dialogue and cooperation formats.

This is how the understanding and interpretation shortcoming of the new common security evolutions gets spread so quickly among the Europeans and brings decisive topic debates for EU’s future in the stoplight. Controversies’ effects are felt when questioning EU’s role, as a whole, from the inside, across the Transatlantic security equation, but also the European NATO or EU’s members’ individual responsibilities in maintaining the common security efforts. The serious and harsh tonalities of some conclusions that are not well enough analyzed are being exploited as populist, event radical nationalist messages which are dividing the united Europe, following the previously formed shapes of state borders’ forced integration or, even more seriously, following false shaped borders by revisionist or secessionist forces spread in Europe.

These unstable movements’ first victim was the British nation, caught in Brexit, whose legitimacy got lost in the well-known British blur and whose end cannot even be treated with the British humor’s irony, which proved to be too seriously insulted this time.  The foregoing is set up, and the process can go on given some illiberal regimes’ contestation of the liberal democracy seen as the base of the European construction, as well as due to the lack of cohesion when defining the major security threats. All of these are not but increasing the critics across the ocean in terms of the lack of sense when it comes to common defence inside the European transatlantic security construction pillar, surrounded by contradictory messages that may produce irreversible divisions for the strongest security construction of the recent history.

These transformations have stimulated Brussels get the “strategic autonomy” for EU to have a privileged place in the future realistic arena of the global powers’ competition and the fragile and circumstantial alliances, wherein competitors will run on different routes, ineffectively separated, facing collision risks on the road towards a more and more diffuse and distant finish line. Alike any other competition, the fight for the podium is tough. Time will prove if US and Europe will continue to work together to place themselves, shoulder to shoulder, in a new race, or the common trainings got to an end, and both traditional partners are looking for individual training strategies to face the new threats.

Trump, face-to-face with EU

Although President Trump’s mandate at the White House passed its first half, the EU-US relations’ ambitions in terms of security remain as unclear as in the beginning. That does not mean they did not evolve. Some of the evolutions were quite significant. However, the tonality and the lack of doubt in some of Washington’s messages or sent from Air Force One’s board, through social media, have surprised, have raised uncertainty, have reached some sensitive points and, sometimes, have produced some trust gaps and division in the common management of the global security’s hot topics. Hereof the US withdrawal from the INF treaty, the unexpected pullout decision of the American troops from Syria, the decrease of the military presence from Afghanistan, the trade taxes, the competition in advanced technologies and the protection of intellectual property, the Trump-Putin summit and, maybe the most important thing for this analysis, the fair distribution of costs for common defence in North-Atlantic’s area.

Apparently, White House’s leader offensive was not disputed by the old continent. Today, the European Union seems to be more concerned with its internal issues, than with its real and consistent presence in managing the global issues. The slow economic growth, the anti-democratic tendencies’ intensification, the complaints against the big European capitals, increasing critics coming from some member states against Brussels’ officials or the common objectives’ re-fragmentation in competing national interests made EU be seen less and less as a whole, and the unitary profile of the European construction be seen coldly by Washington.

President Trump took advantage of almost each meeting with the European leaders to scold them. He blamed Angela Merkel for the unfair German trade behavior in the relation with the US and for her economic cooperation with Russia. He blamed Theresa May for London’s ineffective and lack or firmness methods in managing Brexit. He mocked Emmanuel Macron for his idea on building a European army, robing his nose in the French-German relation history.

The reactions to these atypical allegations for the highest decisional level of the only global superpower were felt across this year’s the International Conference from Munchen, when president Trump’s message, sent through vice-president Mike Pompeo, did not provoke but “uncomfortable silence”, as the entire media said. Alternatively, Angela Merkel’s critic discourse against the American policy in the Middle East was received standing ovation.

The critics against president Trump reached its highest point in the middle of last year, when he talked about the European Union as of an “enemy”, when he had his first official visit in Great Britain. He stated that across an interview to CBS News, in Scotland, as an answer to the question “which are the greatest enemies of the US now?”. His response was: ““I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe”. EU was entering Trump’s short list with US’s major enemies, together with China and Russia.

This surprising statement was made only a few days after signing the Joint NATO-EU Declaration, whereby it was being established a “joint vision of how EU and NATO will join forces against the common threats to security”. The Declaration was signed with the occasion of the NATO summit from Brussels, whose agenda was dominated by the tense discussion on the common defence increase funds. Also then, starting from the Germany-Russia negotiations on the common development of the Russian gases transport infrastructure, president Trump was saying about Germany that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia” and the situation was “totally inappropriate” as long as “US is supposed to guarding Germany against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia. It’s ridiculous.” Furthermore, we must also remind you that all of these was happening before the Trump-Putin historical summit from Helsinki, whose results are still speculated by the media.

The highest point was reached in the begging of this year, when the European media was talking about the “EU diplomats’ ranks being downgraded in US’s capitals”, which meant that Brussels’ envoy was losing the “extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador” rank, gained during the Obama Administration, to be only “delegation chief”, something usual for the international organizations. Furthermore, such a decision, to have serious consequences on a diplomatic level, was not previously communicated to the European parts.  

Even if it did not last but until the beginning of March, when the state secretary, Mike Pompeo, “asked” for things to come back to normal, as Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador in the EU, was stating, the signal was up. EU must have understood that is had to do more in order to implement ambassador Sondland’s message, which was covered by the diplomatic language. “The European Union is a uniquely important organization, and one of America’s most valuable partners in ensuring global security and prosperity. From generating jobs and economic growth, to setting international standards, to keeping destabilizing regimes in check, the United States and the European Union are a strong force when we work together. Europe’s security and success are inextricably linked to that of the United States, and this level of engagement and cooperation should be recognized appropriately in all settings.”

Unknown point of convergence

Of course the US-EU relation does not make to with statements and messages, even if there are sent from White House’s Oval Office. Moreover, the European security in this transatlantic context must firstly be understood following the NATO logic. However, EU plays a decisive role in the transatlantic security consolidation, starting from the economic stimulant to develop European defence capabilities and up to creating a common architecture for the future union of defence, as the main pillar of the North-Atlantic security construction.

In fact, these are the critical conceptual benchmarks for EU’s defence and security reform that Brussels included in the June 2016 EU Global Strategy and activated through the “defence package”, approved by the European Council in December 2016. It was just the beginning. They are still processing all the necessary phases to validate the implementation tools and test member states’ commitments to accomplish the major unification objectives in defence. If there will be no major obstacles on the road, they will finally pass over the last concession line of the national military sovereignty and head towards the European integration, so demanded by EU’s “strategic autonomy”, in a world which is not fully defined, but anarchical and unpredictable.

EU must prove that democracy can hold on and even grow in front of the non-democratic ascension that Russia and China are currently promoting, but also other states behind them, including from the European continent. In order to get there, EU needs vision and determination, and those who will prove firmness in establishing the right direction will truly become artisans for the future European Union. A union to be fully integrated, to have a real and consistent defence capacity, able to have one voice only, to play a relevant role across the international system. Inspiration must come from European construction’s architects, like Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman and all those who have believed in a United Europe that will not fall in war’s trap, and its member state’s power will upkeep Europe’s historical role in influencing the global order and shaping the international system.

Paradoxically, one of EU’s artisans could be President Donald Trump. This deeply reformist behavior and his will to impose the transactional profit above anything, as part of the game in the American foreign policy, had produced a huge impact over the entire European space. His many questions on the correctness of the Western chancelleries’ foreign policies and the ways and methods used to reach significant objectives for the entire European space could be the first analyses premises in the creation of great strategies. However, most likely Trump’s attitude and tonalities made all of these seem unreal.

We can barely shape any valuable conclusion on Trump’s foreign policy effectiveness and his global impact on the European Union. His White House mandate entered the second half, and the president it already starting to get ready for a second mandate.

Across any estimation, the behavioral profile and the communication skills must come down to its actual actions. The numbers speak for themselves when saying that the American military presence in Europe, under NATO’s aegis, has increased a lot in the past two years, the allocated budgets for defence initiatives as well as, the European deterrence Initiative against Russia’s aggressiveness has been doubled also. Terrestrial, air and naval troops and military equipment’s number dislocated in the European space have increased as well. The military exercises got doubled as number and magnitude. Defense’s global budget is continuously increasing. All of these are happening even if some Europeans are skeptical when it comes to Trump’s speech on US’s determination to counter, with no hesitation, following the 5 Article provision of the North-Atlantic Alliance, and to ensure European allies’ defence, whether if they are newbies or “really aggressive” and have the potential to “start a new large scale conflict with Russia”, as Trump was saying, referring to Montenegro.

However, as for the relation with the European Union, Trump’s Administration foreign policy objectives were, until now, divergent in terms of most of the sensitive files. Whether were are talking about Iran, Israel, Syria, Yemen, global warming or the free trade, Washington’s unilateralist solutions were surprising, were coldly received or even rejected by some European capitals. Hence, saying that Trump’s Doctrine will shape the future Europe, as did the Wilson Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine or the Reagan Doctrine, would be not only non-analytical, but also speculative and risky. Unfortunately, the current international context, wherein uncertainty is so intense and the security turbulences increased to an unexampled level for the past 7 decades, there is no more time for strategic opportunity windows to consolidate trust and cooperation between Atlantic’s two coasts.

Translated by Andreea Soare