They say an image is worth a thousand words. President Donald Trump’s public refusal to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel might be worth even more than that.
Trump certainly had some words of his own during the joint press conference that followed. He expressed his “strong support for NATO” but repeated his demand that “NATO allies pay their fair share for the cost of defense.” He called the current arrangement “very unfair to the United States” and bizarrely stated, “as far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common perhaps.” Openly snubbing Merkel and reviving one of the biggest scandals to mar relations between Berlin and Washington – Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency had tapped Merkel’s cell phone – might seem to be an odd way for a U.S. president to treat a major European ally. But for this president, it might be consistent with his aims.
Trump’s snub takes place against a backdrop of uncertainty about the new U.S. president’s commitment to European integration and plans for the transatlantic relationship. Both during the transition and his short time in office, Trump described the European Union as a “German racket,” floated the specter of a possible understanding between the United States and Russia, raised questions about the relevance of NATO, praised Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, and encouraged other European countries to follow suit. It is not clear just how seriously any of these statements should be taken — a tough love approach from the White House could even help to shake Europeans out of their post-modern and introverted comfort zone, and awaken them to the realities of a harsher, hyper-competitive world. Yet, the combination of a deliberately un-predictable U.S. administration and a spontaneously unpredictable Europe may reveal an uncomfortable fact: Europe’s future is not what it used to be. If we move beyond superficial images of a “Europe whole and free” and “ever closer union,” we can see an array of alternative futures lurking on Europe’s horizon, each seemingly grimmer than the next.
Darkness is not predestined, however. Brighter futures are available to Europeans, but only if they pull themselves together and fight for them. To do so, they must come to terms with both Brexit and Trump, and recognize that any bright future must be centered around the active engagement and participation of Britain and the United States in Europe’s institutional architecture — for history tells us that there is no such thing as European cohesion or security outside of a broader Western framework.
Europe Meets Trump: This Isn’t Your Father’s President
Barely a few days before taking office, Trump referred to the European Union as “a vehicle for Germany.” Shortly thereafter, Peter Navarro, head of Trump’s newly created National Trade Council, accused Germany of taking advantage of a “grossly undervalued” euro to prop up its own exports and “exploit” the United States and the rest of the European Union. No wonder the British had decided to exit the union. Trump has even promised to give the special relationship between the United States and Britain a new lease on life, beginning with the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement. This nullified Obama’s repeated pledges to build up the institutional relationship between the United States and the European Union, as well as his assertion that Britain would have to go “to the back of the queue” if it exited the union and wanted a free trade deal with the United States. Trump also made it clear he wanted Russia as a partner in the fight against terrorism and “radical Islam,” and labelled NATO as “obsolete” during the Republican primaries. Even if he has expressed his support for the alliance since taking office, Trump’s comments have prompted questions about his commitment to some of the initiatives painstakingly fashioned by the Obama administration, aimed at strengthening deterrence and reassuring U.S. allies in Central and Eastern Europe.
It is simply too early to assert with any degree of confidence where theatrics end and real intentions begin. Trump’s swipes at Germany and the European Union could well be part of a negotiating ploy. In his oft-cited book, The Art of the Deal, Trump tells us how re-opening issues that were thought to be settled can help one enlarge the conversation, throw interlocutors off balance, and get a stronger negotiating position. Never mind that in this case what is actually on the table remains a mystery. What is clear, however, is that the twin processes of Germany’s socialization within the West and European integration are historical by-products of U.S. political patronage and economic assistance. They both took root under the umbrella of the military protection afforded by the United States and NATO. As such, the European Union is notably ill-equipped to withstand any sort of sustained charge from Washington, no matter how mild or subtle — and Trump’s poking was neither mild nor subtle.
Read More from the Source Article Published on War on the Rocks Mar. 20 2017.