Donald Trump likes to present himself as a deal maker. Yet the president’s record in office suggests he likes to break deals as much as make them. Under Trump, the United States has abandoned a series of international agreements, including withdrawing or signalling an intention to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Paris climate agreement.
In October 2019, the White House effectively abandoned America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. Mr Trump has questioned NATO’s Article 5 collective defence clause. He has threatened Europe with tariffs and trade wars. He has publicly trashed multilateralism and pointedly withdrawn from United Nations bodies including the UN Human Rights Council.
America’s allies have noticed. French President Emmanuel Macron warned in November 2019 that the EU can no longer rely on America for its defence. He believes it is time for Europe to “wake up” and forge a more independent and self-reliant path.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Ginster, who agrees the EU can no longer depend on the United States. Our commenter argues simply that “Trump is unreliable”.
To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Hans Binnendijk, Senior Fellow at the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations and formerly a US National Security Council Senior Director for Defense Policy. What would he say?
President Trump has made a number of comments and taken a few actions which could certainly lead some people to believe that the United States is no longer as credible an ally as it has been over the past 70 years of the NATO alliance’s history. He said in his campaign that NATO is ‘obsolete’, he has raised some questions about Article 5, and certainly his decision in Syria to walk away from the Kurds there who have been fighting at our sides – all of this does raise questions, and I have seen that European public opinion polls indicate a very low degree of confidence in the United States right now, in large measure because of Trump’s policies.
Having said that, it’s also true that support for the NATO alliance is stronger today in the United States than I’ve ever seen it. In public opinion polls, 75% or more think we should maintain or strengthen our commitment to the alliance. There have been near-unanimous votes in the House of Representatives in support of the alliance. Since 2014, the United States has put together what is now called European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), which is about 8 billion dollars a year now, and we have moved some troops back into Europe. So, the picture is complicated…
To get another perspective, we also put Ginster’s comment to David O’Sullivan, former Ambassador of the European Union to the United States (2014-2019). What would he say?
Well, I think America is a very vibrant democracy and is clearly going through a phase of disruptive politics through the election of President Trump, and this is having a destabilising effect on relations with many allies. On the other hand, I think many of the fundamentals in the relationship with Europe remain extremely solid, and the last word has not yet been spoken on where America finally ends up on these issues.
So, I think it’s a fair point – and this was a point picked up by President Macron in his recent interview in The Economist – I think we as Europeans have to acknowledge that things are changing in the United States. The challenge for us, I think, is to distinguish between what is specific to this administration and may evolve in the future, and what are real shifts in fundamental American thinking about America’s role in international relations. That’s the challenge and I think probably the jury is still out on that question.
Can Europe still depend on the US? Or has America’s unilateralist turn made it too unreliable an ally? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!