The Future of the Transatlantic Alliance

The Future of the Transatlantic Alliance

Will the Transatlantic Alliance survive the Trump Era? The answer is a nuanced, yet resounding, ‘yes’. However, crucial changes in the Transatlantic Union will likely take effect as a result of a shifting world order wherein China, Russia and India represent serious threats to a US-led Free World.

The Transatlantic Alliance has been the cornerstone of the post-WW2 world order. However, this historic, long-established friendship between the world’s two largest economies has become strained in recent years and is currently at a crossroads. Pulling the blocs apart is resentment over uneven military spending between the US and Europe has been emphatically echoed in Washington by both the Right and the Left. However, further trade wars are not in the Alliance’s interests, tempering isolationist concerns.

This article analyses how Europe will likely have to rely more on itself and adapt to an America that is seriously questioning its involvement in foreign entanglements. With divisions between the US and the EU set to deepen, it is presumed that a new round of negotiation agreements between Brussels and Washington will occur in order to modernise and strengthen the partnership. 

An Increasingly Fractured Friendship: From One Side of the Pond…

America’s declining commitment towards Europe has been a defining feature of Trump’s foreign policy attitude. In fact, Trump has sown divisions between member states and he frequently denounces European nations for failing to appropriately contribute to NATO defense expenditures. Overall, his transactional and unilateral approach to partnerships and his inconsistent foreign policy positions continue to alienate European leaders.

Crucially, in the era of rampant Russian aggressiveness, Chinese expansionism and Indian growth, Washington is grappling with deep structural forces that are transforming the world order. This shift is changing America’s foreign policies and geopolitical strategies for decades to come, and it leaves Europe on the sidelines. In fact, President Trump is redistributing America’s economic and military focus beyond Europe and the Middle East and towards China – the biggest menace to a unipolar world order led by the US.

This division from Europe runs deeper than the Trump Administration’s geopolitical tactics. As a matter of fact, Washington’s isolationist policies root back to the ‘Obama Doctrine’, which combined a re-positioning of America on the world stage with a healthy dose of disenchantment towards European reliance on US security guarantees.

For all their differences, Trump is actually following in Obama’s footsteps as regards foreign policy. He is aware of Americans’ growing weariness of European free riders’ and he echoes their tiredness of foreign US military interventions. Overall, it appears that the shift in US geopolitical priorities and the prospect of American Presidents increasingly disillusioned with Europe transcend the Trump Administration. For all his (unconventional) claims about Brussels, it seems that President Trump’s tough stance on Europe is a symptom – rather than a cause – of a somewhat dysfunctional partnership.

To The Other Side of the Pond

For their part, Europeans’ confidence in the Trump Administration was notably low at the beginning of his presidency and worsened throughout his first term, particularly after his withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the departure of nearly 12,000 US troops from Germany.

Moreover, President Trump’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic – which has left the US more vulnerable than other industrialised countries – has led a significant portion of the European electorate to lose confidence in Washington’s ability to retain its international leadership position. 

ECFR Survey US opinion

Credit: European Council on Foreign Relations 

Lastly, in response to America’s steadfast comments about uneven burden sharing, European leaders have recently (begrudgingly) accepted the need for stronger European security capabilities. They have also been vocal about the need for European-native technologies, and for more autonomous and assertive foreign policies. Such commitments – albeit many are yet to materialize – point towards a newfound sense of urgency for Europe to gradually disengage from its ally across the pond.

The Case For the Transatlantic Relationship

Despite evident friction between the blocs, the transatlantic economy is still deeply integrated and therefore somewhat resilient to this tension. This is in spite of 2019’s hostility between Washington and Brussels which materialized in President Trump branding the EU a trade enemy and imposing sanctions on European goods.

Furthermore, an increasingly protectionist White House can’t afford to alienate its closest trade ally, especially in the age of Asian superpowers. To compete against each other, both the US and China will need close and powerful allies and Washington will want to maintain a strong – yet more reciprocal – partnership with Brussels.

Meanwhile, any indication of meaningful departure from US aid could be met with strong resistance from some EU member states. In fact, the Eastern bloc might resist attempts to disengage from the US, which is often perceived as a security cornerstone in the region against Russia’s meddling efforts. More recently, Greece has also strengthened its defense cooperation agreement with Washington following recent security challenges in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It follows that the Peloponnese region would likely oppose the deterioration of Transatlantic relations, ultimately adding to collective action deadlock in the EU Parliament.

Conclusion: a Renewed Alliance

To conclude, regardless of next month’s election outcome, isolationism is trending and division between the US and the EU is set to deepen. To illustrate, the US will be too preoccupied with threats unique to the 21st century to get involved in the EU’s numerous collective action dilemmas.

Meanwhile, emboldened by the lack of British opposition following the UK’s exit from the Union, the Franco-German axis could lead the region towards deeper cooperation on European defense and security policies. Willingly or unwillingly, European heads of state will have to adjust to a shifting world order that doesn’t place them at the top of America’s foreign policy agenda anymore. Therefore, Europe will have to learn to rely on its own defense capabilities and carry a larger portion of the security burden if it wishes to prove the utility of a Transatlantic partnership.

However, it also transpires that trade interdependence and Washington’s need for strategic allies make US-EU dynamics resilient. Therefore, a new round of negotiations and agreements between the two blocs could set the tone for a modernised, equal, and less dysfunctional Transatlantic partnership. To illustrate, it’s presumable that Europe will be compelled by the US to advance a stronger stance on China, demanding investment reciprocity and transparency over technology and infrastructure. It is also likely that the US may push for technology transfer and investment partnerships between Europe and its other closest allies, including Canada, Australia and Japan. For their part, European leaders will likely attempt to reach agreements over contentious issues including digital taxes, climate change, and data privacy laws that have recently divided America and Europe.

Categories: International, Politics

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