Europe should brace itself for loss of US protection

Europe should brace itself for loss of US protection

Trump’s remarks can be viewed as a wake-up call for Europe to assume a greater role in financing its security (AFP)
Trump’s remarks can be viewed as a wake-up call for Europe to assume a greater role in financing its security (AFP)
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The European community was taken aback when former US President Donald Trump last month made a startling declaration: that, if reelected, he would allow Russia free rein with American allies who fail to contribute adequately to their own defense. These remarks drew widespread criticism across Europe, reigniting memories of Trump’s contentious stance toward the continent during his presidency, albeit now with escalated intensity.

The sharpness and hostility of his words were particularly alarming given the current geopolitical landscape in Europe, marked by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which represents the gravest threat to the continent since the Second World War. Moreover, various regions are witnessing heightened competition and threats to US influence, amplifying concerns that Washington may either disengage or adopt an isolationist stance under Trump’s leadership, potentially undoing the progress made in transatlantic relations during President Joe Biden’s tenure in the White House.

Over the decades, transatlantic relations have been deemed reliable and largely beneficial, with Europe receiving substantial resources and the protection of its interests through its alliance with the US. In return, the US bolstered its international standing through its alliance with Europe. Even after the Cold War, Europe remained an indispensable strategic and defense partner of America. Until recently, the dissolution of this strategic alliance seemed inconceivable to many.

Trump’s remarks can be viewed as a wake-up call for Europe to assume a greater role in financing its security. It is worth noting that such pressures on Europe are not exclusive to Trump but have been the subject of discussion since the reign of Barack Obama. European countries have responded positively to US demands, with many nearing the fulfillment of their defense expenditure commitments according to a specified timetable. In fact, some countries have already surpassed the required threshold.

Trump’s remarks can be viewed as a wake-up call for Europe to assume a greater role in financing its security

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

In the current dynamic, Europe finds itself caught between two contrasting views: Biden, who regards it as the paramount US asset abroad, and Trump, who perceives it as a burden to be shed. Consequently, there are factors at play that exacerbate the erosion of confidence and necessitate a reassessment of the prevailing pattern of dependence.

Firstly, this relationship has become entangled in partisan competition and division, reaching unprecedented levels of discord within the US political landscape. This discord poses a potential danger to Europe, as evidenced by the halt in urgent aid to Ukraine due to partisan differences, which resulted in a shift in the balance of power on the ground in favor of Russia.

Secondly, the relationship has been impacted by changes that have reshaped the structure of the international system previously established by the two parties. The era of global peace has ended, giving way to a resurgence of geopolitical conflicts, prompting Washington to reconfigure its international alliances to safeguard its hegemony and global influence.

Meanwhile, NATO faces challenges within the continent and relies heavily on Washington, leaving it seemingly incapacitated in the absence of strong US support. Additionally, there are European factions advocating for greater autonomy, particularly in matters of defense.

It appears that reality may compel Washington to adopt unconventional policies toward its European allies

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Hence, it appears that reality may compel Washington to adopt unconventional policies toward its European allies; a situation not unfamiliar to the US. The shifts witnessed in the US’ relationship with its allies in the Middle East serve as a recent example, as the region’s importance has waned within US strategy over the years. Internationally, Washington reduced its engagement, sending a message akin to Trump’s message to Europe: allies must assume greater responsibility for their own defense. Concurrently, this approach afforded arch-rival Iran an opportunity to bolster its regional influence, resulting in unprecedented upheaval, the effects of which persist to this day. Moreover, Biden, who garnered European support following the Russian aggression in Ukraine, has displayed selectivity in his alliances with the Europeans.

The breakdown of transatlantic coordination will also carry significant consequences for Europe and numerous international issues. The Iranian nuclear deal felt the strain of discord in transatlantic relations during Trump’s presidency. European countries diverged from Trump’s approach of withdrawing from the deal and reinstating sanctions and pressure on Iran. This lack of alignment resulted in Iran accelerating its nuclear activities, edging closer to the nuclear threshold.

Furthermore, Iran found encouragement in aiding Russia in its conflict against the West from Ukrainian territory and it became one of Moscow’s allies in helping it circumvent sanctions. This discord suggests a potential lack of coordination on other issues. For instance, unresolved differences could leave the Ukraine situation festering, emboldening Russia to escalate its actions and intensify efforts to undermine NATO, altering the dynamics of the conflict in Europe.

The looming concern is that Europe could suddenly find itself devoid of the protective shield provided by the US. If this were to happen, Europe would be left on its own to face Russia’s formidable nuclear arsenal with limited defensive capabilities and a relatively modest deterrent force. Years of military complacency and heavy dependence on Washington have fostered the notion that US support is boundless and unconditional.

Moreover, European countries harbor distinct and at times conflicting interests. Consequently, relying on the EU as an alternative remains an impractical option in the foreseeable future.

After years of heavy reliance on American military equipment and personnel, it is imperative for European countries to reassess and rebuild their defense policies. NATO has initiated extensive efforts and thorough reviews, signaling Europe's swift adaptation to anticipated fluctuations in US policy to avert the potential emergence of a new Middle East marred by chaos and turmoil.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). X: @mohalsulami
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