The recent Covid-19 recovery plan brokered between France and Germany is an opportunity for the United States to reboot its approach to the European Union (EU). This is a time critical situation as China and Russia continue their efforts to influence the future of the EU in areas such as economic cooperation and defense.
The current American approach towards the EU is more like that of a parent and child rather than a relationship with a trusted partner. The current “America First” approach to foreign policy has caused a deterioration of U.S./EU relations, especially with respect to its relationship with Germany, the most influential country on the continent. Continued arguments over defense spending by NATO allies and the use of tariffs to “win” trade disputes have weakened the credibility of the United States and and calls into question the American commitment to Europe over the long haul.
This “America First” approach plays into the hands of Russia and China. As the ideological “war” between the United States and China intensifies, China can exploit the divergence of interests, using disagreements as wedge issues between the United States and the EU, further calling into question the American commitment to the continent. Russia can continue to exploit the continuing rift between the United States and the EU by continuing to play off of the continued indifference of the United States toward Russian interference in the internal affairs of EU nations, their interference in the Brexit negotiations, especially in the UK, and their continued efforts to increase European reliance on Russia for energy.
The United States needs to take a more mature approach to Europe. It needs to recognize that reality based relationships with European actors is in its national interests and serve as a deterrent to Chinese and Russian economic and political aggressiveness.
What would this new approach look like? First, the United States must strive to reset the NATO alliance by working with France and Germany to construct a new common defense policy for the EU that more accurately reflects the geopolitical, strategic, and economic realities of the 21st century. The U.S. should work toward encouraging France and Germany to set aside their differences on the importance of common defense and construct a policy grounded in current mutual interests and not on the dynamics of the Cold War. If the EU wants to be seen as an “equal” partner, the new common policy must strongly recommit NATO members to the goal of meeting and/or exceeding the 2.0% GDP spending commitment on national defense. Over the short term, France and Germany can work toward exceeding the commitment while the other members of the alliance work toward the 2% goal. The United States, on the other hand, must encourage Germany and France to lead this effort and support any changes to the current strategic situation that may come about due to the new policy, to view the new policy as in the interests of all parties and not just the interests of the United States. The EU should establish the common policy and the United States should act as a facilitator of the strategy, helping the EU and NATO reach its goals on a more consistent basis.
Second, the United States must move away from the transactional orientation of its current trade policy and attempt to work with Europe rather than alienate them. American tariffs and restrictive approaches to trade are counterproductive and can weaken the relationship between the United States and Europe, providing China and Russia with opportunities to further divide and exploit differences between the two parties. It is in the national interest of the United States to pursue a Trans-Atlantic trade agreement with the EU, with the inclusion of the United Kingdom in the agreement, to counteract current Chinese and Russian attempts to gain economic advantage in Europe. The United States must understand that trade policy is also national security policy and must act accordingly, facilitating win/win agreements rather than dictating terms in a way that diminishes its EU partners, especially Germany and France.
The United States must take a more coequal and mature approach to relations with Germany, France, and the EU as a whole, treating them as equal partners in a common endeavor rather than petulant children who are boxed about the ears when they get out of line. It is in the national interest of the United States to do so, especially given the increasing influence of China and Russia on the Continent.
Is the current American approach working? What are your thoughts?