A hiatus in European-American cooperation

The recent NATO summit and G7 summit may have huge influence on future (next few years at most) foreign policy in the West.

Previously, many heads of state and heads of government had their phone calls and ended them with let's say an 'opinion' about Trump.

Angela Merkel was forced to explain the “fundamentals” of EU trade to Donald Trump 11 times after he repeatedly asked to do a deal directly with Germany, a senior German official has claimed. The US President reportedly exposed "very basic misunderstandings" of how EU trade works during a meeting with the German chancellor last month. “Ten times Trump asked [Ms Merkel] if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, 'You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU,'" the official told The Times. "On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message, 'Oh, we’ll do a deal with Europe then.'"

This time they saw him in action at summits. The Brexit issue would have been the peak tension between May and others at such meetings. Instead, the huge division  between the Trump administration and the rest of NATO and G7 summit attendees was the dominant story.

I think they took away a different lesson learned than from the individual phone calls; this time, they gave up on doing much foreign policy with the Trump administration because it's pointless. Cooperation would be quite pointless even if Trump was able to understand their points (and paying attention for more than four minutes) at all and somehow convinced to agree (Trump seems to be naturally aligned to agree with dictators and authoritarians like Putin, Abdulaziz, Erdogan, Duterte - not so much with Western leaders).
An agreement is worth nothing if you have it with a man who's lied or misled on the record 488 in his first 100 days in office. I suppose in the future foreign policy in the West will invite the Trump administration to cooperate only pro forma, not for real. The diplomats will work towards cooperation that works without inclusion of the U.S..

I wrote years ago about NATO's function of keeping Europe and North America befriended instead of adversaries. It's astonishing that this may be shattered for a while by a single disastrous politician.

I was sceptical about the Eastern European emphasis on the alliance with the U.S. before, but by now - with Trump being in much better and much more cooperative mood with Russian diplomats than with NATO allies - it should be obvious that the way to go is to pay attention to European defence for real. The U.S. DoD may send small forces on photo op tours through the Baltics as much as it wants, but these are empty gestures now.

This is not about an end to alleged freeriding - the Europeans in NATO or EU vastly outspend and outnumber the much less modern Russian armed forces on their own. The U.S. is not needed for European deterrence against Russia. Most of the U.S. military is geared towards 'expeditionary' warfare; bombing and occupying people in the Third World with prioritisation of casualty avoidance over mission accomplishment. A large share of the U.S. armed forces isn't relevant to European defence anyway and the spending inefficiency is gross.

Instead, this is about doing preparations without the U.S. but without much usually wasteful extra spending. The relevant headquarters (especially SHAPE) and NATO AWACS units need to be able to function after all U.S. officers were kicked out for OPSEC reasons. Contingency plans must not depend on U.S. assets at all.
Essentially, we Europeans should pretend to not be allied with the U.S. any more, because we couldn't count on Trump in any way.


edit: I didn't see this before I published this post:

I wasn't aware that my interpretation is official policy already!
P.S.: I really, really would have liked to take a dig at Italians as allies of Germany somewhere, but this topic is too serious.


  1. I mostly agree with you.

    Trump is dolt and his presidential learning curve is almost flat.

    But weakening of euroatlantic structures represents an independent, long term trend, so Trump only works here as catalyst.

    Europe can probably avoid conflicts with post-Trumpian U.S., but some important changes in relationship will become permanent.

  2. I don't know what you will think of this but US news coverage of the G7 and NATO summits were minimal at best. I've only been able to get adequate coverage of them by reading European news sources.

    The US mainstream media were busy watching the unfolding drama of the President's son-in-law attempting to establish a separate secure communications channel to Russia. If true, this is grounds for Kushner being removed from the government, which Trump would fight to the death. Preferably his own.

    The Europeans might want to start exploring potential relationships with Mike Pence. Trump is not going to last another 3.5 years. The biggest questions remaining are:
    1. Will he will make it to 2018?
    2. How much damage will he do to the US before he leaves office?
    3. Will the US finally realize that we need to improve the quality of our Presidential candidates? The current system weeds out all but the most ambitious egotists very early in the process. Talent is, at best, optional.

  3. Is there any reliable polling in the EU regarding European citizens view of defense?

    Do you think that Poland will trusting Germany for political and military protection if the UK and United States leave NATO?

    Do Germans think they can trust the French or the Italians fight if Russia invades?


    1. I have no special knowledge about Polish sentiments.

      What I do know is that humans who feel that their community (hunter-gatherer clan) is under attack behave very different from when they don't feel threatened.

      The question in an alliance is "How much 'we' do we feel?" Some countries in this alliance cannot even muster a feeling of unity and when needed solidarity in domestic affairs.

      I'm making jokes about Italians switching sides in World Wars, but both in case of the Italians and the French I suppose that a limited defence effort would materialize. They would probably not be in total haste, would not call up (AND deploy) many reservists - but they would not sit idle and violate NATO obligations. They would probably ignore the EU alliance obligation if a non-NATO EU member was under attack, for hardly anyone knows that article.

      Germans in general do not think much about a Russian threat these days. We are not under threat and the Baltics - that's a distant and not really familiar region that some more or less obscure diplomats deal with.
      The German units in the Baltics get marginal coverage in the TV and political print media. I suppose 80-90% of Germans wouldn't remember that German troops are in the Baltics if asked.
      The Luftwaffe detachment in Incirlik on the other hand gets a lot of coverage because the Turkish government keeps German legislators from visiting it, which may lead to a withdrawal (probably to Cyprus, maybe Jordan) soon.

    2. War is always an extension of politics, of course. Imo, when Germany has conservative government and not so Russian-friendly Kanzlerin, there is some common ground and even those paranoic PiS types in Poland can accept alliance to some extent. They fear not Germany as such, but Molotov-Ribbentrop pact No. 2.

  4. I'll take that dig for you.

    In the 1943 film Five Graves to Cairo Eric von Stroheim playing (in a ridiculous parody Prussian-officer way) Rommel is meeting with his staff and he announces his personnel strength as "500 thousand". His Italian staff guy pipes up enthusiastically "650 thousand if you count in the Italians!"

    Stroheim slowly looks at the guy and deadpans "I neither count in...nor ON...the Italians."


  5. On a serious note...

    I've been quietly skeptical about the whole "Trump-Russia-connection" theory stuff for a long time. But the Tangerine Toddler's behavior on this G7 trip has got me wondering. His treatment of the EU leadership and the NATO status-quo was so pointlessly hostile and aggressively combative as to seem objectively working in Russian interests. There is no upside, even for the wealthy plutocrats that form the real GOP base, in this needless breaking bonds with the Europeans. It's in Russia's interests, though. So, suddenly, the idea of Trump (and his people) as Russian tools seems less implausible.

    1. He's comfortable with if not admiring autocrats (particularly those living in palaces) and uncomfortable among democrats. That's typical of politicians who have strong authoritarian tendencies themselves.
      Add a good deal of ignorance about climate and economics and you've got a sufficient explanation for what happened in those nine days.

      Still, he's providing a convincing demonstration for what I wrote (not necessarily in public; I didn't check if I did) since 2008 at the latest: The Eastern Europeans were naive to focus on the U.S. as guarantee for their security. They should have focused on the European great powers.

    2. Trump represents an unpredictable a unprecedented political disaster in the U.S. On the other hand, Corbynist government in the UK, president Le Pen or SPD-led Bundesregierung with close Gazprom ties are or were all-too-real possibilities. Add historical experiences concerning European powers (Munich agreement, Sitzkrieg...) and you have the picture.

    3. The Gazprom story was way overrated. Schröder was a terrible chancellor not because of his Gazprom link but because he was a neoliberal social-democrat-in-name-only who betrayed his party's voters.
      I don't see much wrong with Corbyn either. He gets terrible coverage by a neoliberal-dominated press and BBC who prefer conservative narratives, but he's simply a real social democrat, fit for a party that wants to be a "labour party".

      Macron seems to have the potential to keep Le Pen weak, and he seems to aspire to become the EU's leading figure. I hope he'll have enough energy, time and political capital left to solve domestic economic and social problems.

      The Sitzkrieg was quite smart in itself, it was the defence plan in May 1940 that created disaster.
      The French air force would have become overwhelmingly high quality in 1941, but was worse than the Luftwaffe in May 1940. The industrial and generally economic resources were stacked in favour of UK/FRA; the strategic situation was terrible for Germany. To play the long game and to avoid a huge 100 divisions vs. 100 divisions land war made a lot of sense.
      The terrain in the Pfalz can be defended easily, so a push to the Ruhr area or even only the Rhine area around Cologne was unrealistic even against weak German forces in September '39.
      Keep in mind the UK & France had to worry about the fascists in Spain and Italy in 9/1939, and to some degree about the Japanese as well. This had a huge diversion effect.

      Besides, nobody could have saved the Poles in 1939.

    4. From perspective of an ally, things like social or economic policy etc. are mostly internal affairs of Germany or Britain. They are important in the end, to be sure, but not of crucial importance. What interests you here in the first place is foreign and defense policy. And SPD today is not fit to organize European defense (only Germany can lead this effort), project Nordstream 2 sponsored by them violates European rules and links party interests to Russian energy sector. - Corbyn in foreign and defense policy acts as absolute idiot, with his asymmetric pacifist stance (we are not in eighties), Trident-bashing and systematic pro-Kremlin advocacy. Should he win elections, Britain as an ally will be completely unreliable. - When Korean war started, the U.S. were almost completely unprepared for any conventional war. But they came to defend an ally anyway. That is not Sitzkrieg style defense.

    5. You're really overrating the Nordstream 2 / SPD thing. The federal ministers of the SPD aren't united in their opinion about it, for example. Schröder has been powerless and irrelevant for a decade by now.

      Your Korea example is irrelevant. Back in 1939 a deliberate long-term strategy made sense, for it was using the Allies' strengths. Waiting would have had nothing on offer in 1950.

      Besides, ask the British about how they think about American behaviour whenever Argentina claimed the Falklands.

    6. Unfortunately, Korea example is relevant. When you are an ally, you are simply interested in reliability. Not in detailed long-term strategy of partners, i.e. if it is somehow convenient for them not to honor their obligations. There is still deep distrust in Western European powers in my country because of 1938 Munich agreement - and Poles have their own Sitzkrieg problem. Back in 1946, communists won elections in Czechoslovakia precisely because "we can never again rely on France and Britain". If you ignore the question of historical reliability of alliances, you are also blind to potentially fatal future consequences. Russian propaganda in Czech republic is already building on historical anti-German sentiment, when our armies just started partial bilateral coordination. - Generally, you overestimate political cohesion of European countries, without American pillar to their own alliances.

    7. There was nothing that France could have done to save Poland. I know the terrain. To delay an invasion for six weeks was easy, and then France would have had a war without the benefit of its fortifications - in a terrain that did suit the strengths of the German infantry division doctrine very much.

      The Czechs were not allied with the UK or France in 1939. They failed to ally with France in time, in 1936-1938. That's their bad, not the British's.

      There are no doubt lots of historical grievances, but there's no good reason to respect stupid grievances.
      Actual treaty alliances have had a very high degree of reliability in European history for the past 200 years or so.

      I don't know of a single time the USA honoured an alliance.

      There was supposedly a bilateral alliance with South Korea ahead of the Korean War, but when I checked that claim I found nothing and if such a treaty had existed, why was another such treaty signed in October 1953? South Korea had been ruled by the USA until late in 1948, when exactly would such a treaty have been signed and ratified?

  6. Former Polish president`s Kaczynski`s administration planned to tie Americans to Poland by series of separate agreements outside the NATO frame, starting by European missile defence project. Similar, but even much more primitive and naive effort developed former Czech defence minister Alexandr Vondra - also based on missile defense project in the Czech republic. However, even much more elaborated Polish project was based on pure phantastic assumptions. Nobody has the capacity to change core priorities of American foreign a defense policy in the long term - and "pivot to Asia" returns sooner or later. - So you are right, Central and Eastern Europe can only plan its defenses in cooperation with European powers. But do not underestimate historical grievances. Also, there are deepening cultural differencies between Western and Central/Eastern Europe. With growing xenophobia and islamophobia in post-communist countries, if I were German or French, I certainly would have hard time to comprehend why not let those pesky rednecks to Russia.

  7. Things may look different from German (or other major European power) perspective, but I understand very well why a small European country wants to have the US backing its security.

    Post-Cold War, European powers haven’t exactly shown resolve in crises such as former Yugoslavia where nothing substantial happened before American intervention. For better or worse USA has demonstrated its willingness to use force overseas. What is stupid and terrible for Iraq, may still be reassuring for Estonia.

    Trump presidency is an unfortunate once-in-a-lifetime incident combining bad luck with outdated electoral system. During Putin era all major European countries with the exception of United Kingdom have had major parties vocally supporting cooperation in Russia. France and Italy were trading arms with Russia while Germany worked on major economic projects such as Nordstream. Meanwhile Russia was rearming and Europe disarming. Such things understandably raise questions where European interests lay, if push comes to shove and Russia needs to be confronted militarily.


    1. My interpretation of NATO's reaction to the wars in Yugoslavia has been for a long time that everyone was at most mildly interested in interfering. The Americans weren't more interested to intervene than the Europeans.

      The Europeans wanted to find a post-Cold War project to sustain the bond of NATO and thought it was to pacify the periphery of NATO and EU through NATO action. They dragged the Americans into this united effort not because they needed the Americans (which would be a ridiculous notion considering European and Yugoslav military power) but because to 'do it together' enhanced the togetherness. It was meant to revitalize the transatlantic bond which kept Europe and America allied instead of allowing them to descend into an adversarial relationship.

    2. Oh, and about "Russia was rearming and Europe disarming":
      Europe's still outnumbers and outspends Russia in regard to conventional military forces (and there are 2 nuclear powers in European NATO). Furthermore, Russian army and air force equipment still badly lags behind Western European equipment in quality.
      The Russians have a couple strengths such as air defences and SRBMs, but overall they're incapable of defending themselves against Europe's forces.

      So we probably weren't "disarming" enough. Much money was wasted, for example on the Greek military pre-2010.