In 2019, the EU labelled China a ‘systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance’. What does that actually mean in plain English? Is it just about European democracy versus Chinese authoritarianism? Or is it about China and Europe having competing visions of the global international order? Because if the definition of ‘systemic rival’ includes any state challenging the multilateral, rules-based European approach to global governance, then shouldn’t that label also be attached to the United States?
On the one hand, it’s absurd. Systemic rivals? European states are democracies sharing core values of freedom and human rights with the United States. We’ve been partners and allies for generations. Trump may declare trade wars on Europe and gripe about defence spending, but those are surface differences. There’s more that unites us than divides us.
On the other hand, is it so absurd? The Trump Doctrine, if it can be described as such, argues that naked self-interest by all free nations will organically produce a more peaceful, harmonious world order. Well, the world certainly doesn’t feel more harmonious in January 2020. To the EU (conscious of the dark places nationalism can lead) Trumpism clearly represents a rival system. So, how is the US not a systemic rival?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Mikko arguing that the US can be both Europe’s ally and its rival at the same time. This was also the point made by the European Commission when it labelled China simultaneously a systemic rival and a close “cooperation partner” – one does not necessarily exclude the other.
To get a reaction, we put Mikko’s comment to James Bindenagel, a former US ambassador and now senior non-resident fellow with the German Marshall Fund, as well as a Henry Kissinger Professor at the University of Bonn and director of the Center for International Security and Governance (CISG).
Is the US, like China, a “systemic rival” of Europe? What would he say?
No. In China, you have a commitment to state capitalism and less concentration on values. The willingness of the Chinese people to accept that, and to increase their living standards in order to better survive, means they tolerate things that we won’t in the West.
On our side, we have disagreements when it comes to things like NATO, but those are manageable issues as long as we can keep our commitments to the common values of peace, liberties, and human rights…
What exactly is Trump’s vision of the global order? And is it completely at odds with the EU’s vision? When President Trump spoke in front of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019, he argued that the “free world must embrace its national foundations. It must not attempt to erase them or replace them… The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.”
We had a comment from Olivier, who thinks the EU should take inspiration from Trump and adopt a “Europe first” approach in response: “I just think that Trump is not so bad. He defends American interests and the American middle class. He is doing the job American’s ask, and they want America first. That is exactly what the European middle class want: Europe first!”
To get a response, we put Olivier’s suggestion to David O’Sullivan, former Ambassador of the European Union to the United States (2014-2019). Would he agree?
Well, I think we in Europe have learned that countries putting their nation first does not always end well. Which is, I think, why we have tried to invent a new business model for the continent. We recognise the importance of national identity and culture, and our countries will always be unique – France will be France, Italy will be Italy, Portugal will be Portugal – but there are ways of cooperating which deliver better outcomes for our citizens than trying to compete or be antagonistic with one another. I think the European Union is an excellent demonstration of that.
Respectfully, when President Trump says that the future does not belong to globalists but rather to patriots, I would say that globalists can also be patriots. What is best for your country? What makes your country safest? I think it is international cooperation. It is acknowledging that our neighbours – our immediate neighbours, but also even faraway countries – have legitimate interests, and asking how we can cooperate in a way that takes account of that.
So, I think you can reconcile globalism with patriotism. Putting your country first does not mean that you see that as antagonistic to other countries; what is in your country’s best interest may well be to promote a world in which there is collaboration and cooperation rather than confrontation or even war between nations, which is where some of that thinking has led us in the past.
Is the USA now a rival of Europe? Should the EU take inspiration from Trump and adopt a ”Europe first” approach? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!