For the first year of the Trump Administration, the Washington D.C.- based denizens of the U.S. foreign policy establishment assured themselves that although Donald Trump had tipped over the geopolitical apple cart, everything broken could be put back into place without undue difficulty. They were wrong.
Taking their cue from the caustic reactions of American allies to Trump’s twin summit debacles, foreign policy elites on both sides of the aisle are now a chastened bunch–only too aware of the immense damage Trump is doing to the fabric holding together America’s alliances, the de jure and de facto clusters of its closest allies.
The allies have become increasingly disabused of this Administration’s year-long recitation of how much it values them, in both trade and security terms. For they now stand on the precipice of deeming the U.S. a pariah nation state, not to be trusted and sufficiently harmful to their interests that they appear on the verge of sidelining the U.S. in their renewed approach to preventing the world from succumbing to the throes of nationalism. It would appear the world is at an unprecedented inflection point, at least in the postwar era.
Donald Trump’s penchant for lauding dictators and potentates, while denigrating allies and friends–in remarkably personal and pugilistic terms–has caused our NATO, G-7, and WTO allies to begin laying the groundwork for isolating the U.S. when it comes to tending to their core national security interests. Already in the early days of the new Administration, public reports surfaced that the UK and Israel had discussed at the highest levels of their governments whether it might be necessary to begin withholding certain tranches of their most sensitive intelligence.
In recent weeks the President of the European Council Donald Tusk remarked “with friends like this, who needs enemies,” while the new German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gave a speech in which he equated recent U.S. foreign policy forays with those of Russia’s actions that have directly harmed Europe. Already his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel had declared on his way out that “the U.S. is permanently changed.” And Emmanuel Macron declared this week that France does not share the same values with the U.S. Only our Asian allies have been more cautious in their recent appraisals of American missteps, for traditionally Japan and South Korea are less public about their discontent.
The cost of the unprecedented calumny on the part of the Trump Administration in their eyes is significant, and growing closer to severe with each passing week. For it is increasingly clear that America’s allies are becoming less secure and less well-off due to direct assaults on them from this President, both verbal and consequential. Ipso facto, the U.S. is becoming less secure and less well off as a result. Continue reading
With populism on the march across the West in the past 18 months, conventional wisdom suggests this lurch toward nativism will continue. With the Dutch Trump increasing his seats in parliament, Turkey’s President stuffing the ballot box to win a referendum taking him closer to full on authoritarianism, the National Front’s candidate looking set to get into the second round of Sunday’s French election by exploiting a terrorist attack, and Germany’s long-time leader seeming tired and mounting a lackluster campaign, by most accounts the liberal international order is in for some additional sharp thrusts to the midriff. And what is bad in western Europe, according to a vast army of pundits is appearing even more fragile and vulnerable in east central Europe.
But au contraire, while the LIEO is not exactly alive and well, it remains in place and its upholders stand more than a fighting chance to preserve it in the face of Trump, Brexit, and Russia’s taking the U.S. down a peg. Indeed, not only is western Europe holding the line, but east central Europe is lending a hand in erecting a wall against populism’s surge. Were we to have the opportunity to choose any three countries in the world to hold elections in the midst of all this seeming upheaval we would select the Netherlands, France, and Germany. In essence, we are damn lucky it is this threesome instead of Italy, Slovakia, and Hungary or really just about any other country spanning the globe.
Against all predictions, the Dutch put the first pieces of this wall in sturdy place. Geert Wilders was stymied big time. We knew in advance that the Dutch political system of multi parties and rampant coalition governance would keep him from becoming Prime Minister, but he was widely predicted to get the most votes and augment his party’s representation in parliament considerably. Wrong. The Dutch – like their French and German counterparts – are among the most informed, literate, and savvy in the world. They have watched the supposedly nonbinding Brexit referendum vote and Trump’s rise in horror, and we should actually have expected them to do precisely what they did.
The French are on the cusp of doing the same, again smack in the face of widespread conventional wisdom. Observers seem to forget that the French have a notorious tendency to flirt with “extremists” in the first round of their presidential elections, only to clamor to the center and vote in moderates in the second. Now granted, we are not living in normal times. But the French are not about to traipse down the merry road of nativism; no indeed, they will be the last to allow any Trump effect to take hold in their motherland. In fact, it will be interesting to see how many talking heads begin to grasp that a vibrant “reverse Trump effect” has already taken hold in the West. More than merely doing the right thing, the wondrous French will revel in effectively giving Trump and the little Englanders the finger. Continue reading
Russia is currently riding high on the geostrategic landscape, despite a trove of domestic economic woes that stem partly from Western sanctions. But Vladimir Putin has successfully wagged the dog and distracted Russians from this by illegally annexing Crimea by force, occupying eastern Ukraine with a proxy force upheld by Russia, and successfully keeping the Assad regime in force in Syria with a surprise intervention that has not only sent cruise missiles through an airspace with U.S. aircraft in it, but also wiped out the efforts on behalf of the anti-regime rebel forces by Western intelligence services on the ground.
Russia continues to be undeterred in its use of force, which was reinforced last week by a Russian fighter plane buzzing a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft within 50 feet and multiple Russian fighters buzzing a U.S. destroyer ship within 30 feet, both in the Baltic Sea. Russia is in fact so sufficiently undeterred at present that the Baltic members of NATO are once again in fear of direct Russian intervention. All of this comes as NATO members are getting prepared to hold a crucial summit in Warsaw—perhaps the most pivotal Alliance summit since the end of the Cold War.
Its number one task is straight forward: restoring conventional deterrence in Europe. NATO’s previous summit in Wales was supposed to accomplish this task, but it fell short in its attempt at providing sufficient reassurance to the East Central European members of the Alliance. NATO suspended its relationship with Russia, warned it, and through a series of small-scale maneuvers and exercises sought not only to reassure threatened members but also restore conventional deterrence with regard to Russian threats. It failed. This became clear even before NATO officials had departed from Wales, as Russian intelligence operatives kidnapped an Estonian intelligence operative in a successful attempt by Russia to thumb its nose at NATO.
NATO must compensate for this by beginning to restore deterrence and increase contributions from NATO members to the Alliance’s collective defense. Otherwise it risks a consequential slide into a two-tier alliance and a collection of allies that even in the face of a dramatic newfound series of threats from Russia cannot manage to climb out of the joint security trap they fell into over the past five years. Continue reading
I saw this on twitter this evening
The conventional wisdom about the gradual U.S. ramp up for the military campaign against ISIS is just that, all too conventional. Blistering criticisms from the Right—that the ramp up was too slow and that the President is to blame for leaving Iraq too soon—have both proved hollow. They have been fading as the U.S. and its allies have been successfully degrading ISIS. During the last two months of their successful election campaign, Congressional candidates essentially dropped this criticism from their attack ads and stump speeches. But the notion that the U.S. displayed weakness in the gradual roll out of its anti ISIS operation persists.
However, there was and still is a danger that the U.S. ramped up too soon. One of the primary strategic problems over the last five austerity addled years has been the sizable reduction in defense spending by a series of western allies (although the capabilities reductions, which matter more, have been much smaller and in some cases augmented). As important as maintaining capabilities is, there is also the necessity of strategy, which includes the willingness to use force if necessary. The U.S. attempt to “lead from the middle”, which involves allies sharing security burdens, could be impeded if allies interpret the U.S. taking the lead against ISIS as “leading from the front.” The danger is that this could result in a new round of allies reducing their spending and/or capabilities, which would be a serious setback to American national security interests.
Russia may have agreed to a ceasefire with Ukraine the week before last, but in addition to regular violations of it by both Russian forces and pro-Russian rebels, it is important to understand that what not long ago was considered an irregular conflict has transitioned into open warfare between Russia and Ukraine. Most of the fighting ended in a ceasefire when President Poroshenko — weakened by the West’s refusal to provide lethal equipment and the failure of the NATO summit to address the Kremlin threat in a fully comprehensive fashion — accepted Putin’s terms.
This ceasefire is unlikely to hold, however, as Putin is feeling his oats. Not only did he ignore NATO warnings not to send regular troops into Ukraine, he undermined President Obama and NATO’s efforts to reassure its Eastern members by abducting an Estonian intelligence officer the day the summit ended. With his regular troops, Putin has expanded and reinforced his position in the Donbass and has approached the port city of Mariupol. There are credible reports that Russian agents are at work in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and Odessa.
If the West continues to react slowly and weakly to Kremlin aggression, Putin will face no serious obstacles to moving further west in Ukraine to Odessa and even the border with Moldova. Doing so would provide a land bridge to Crimea and Transnistria, the frozen conflict in Moldova that Moscow has nourished since the fall of the Soviet Union. Continue reading
Copyright Warner Brothers
I have been able to avoid this fate for almost 12 years now, but they finally got me. Being a citizen of Germany, I have been studying in the U.S. on student visas for the last decade and even though it has always been a bureaucratic nightmare, associated with significant financial costs, I usually managed to obtain the necessary documents to enter the United States. Until this summer, when the application for my work visa got delayed for reasons that I don’t need to get into here. Long story short, I had to leave the U.S. for three months, organize someone to sublet my apartment on very short notice, find an alternative source of income, new health insurance, cancel my attendance at APSA, etc. I had promised my daughter, who is staying with her mom in Ohio, that we would take at least two road trips during the summer (she wanted to go to New York City. “Why?” I asked. “Lady Liberty” she answered). Canceled. But hey, things could be worse. So, I decided to make the best of it and travel through Europe with Lise Herman, a Ph.D. candidate at LSE. In the next couple of posts I will report from our journey, tell you a bit about the mood in Europe, and touch some of the issues that the people, and especially the younger generation, are concerned or not concerned about. Continue reading
“The hour is getting late…all along the watchtower, princes kept the view…two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.”
America and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is playing the global menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe need to take more aggressive action to prevent the annexation of eastern Ukraine, and time is short. Beyond this crisis the West needs an updated defense posture, but for now the road ahead is clear.
Russia will take as much of Ukraine as the West allows, nothing more, nothing less. Yet few in Washington and Brussels seem to understand this. In recent weeks the view among the cognoscenti was that the crisis over Ukraine was largely over. Yet little in the U.S.-European response has changed. Hence, the incentive structure that failed to prevent the Crimea annexation is not likely to prevent further dismemberment. President Putin views the West as weak, which has kept him emboldened. Continue reading
This is a guest post by Sean Kay. Professor Kay is chair of the International Studies program and professor of politics at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is also Mershon Associate at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University. He has written extensively on NATO and Europe, with his most recent book, Global Security in the Twenty-first Century: The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace (2011).
In a recent Washington Post editorial, David Ignatius reported on a “big idea” that could “revitalize the U.S-European partnership for the 21st century.” The concept focuses on an “economic NATO” – a US-European Union comprehensive agreement to free up trade in goods, service, investment, and agriculture. Ignatius reports that this concept is advancing through the American and European bureaucracies while citing a German Marshall Fund study (PDF) showing that a 50 percent reduction in non-tariff barriers could boost GDP by $160 billion in Europe and $53 billion in the United States – higher for the US if all barriers were lifted.
The NATO motif is instructive because the foundations of the transatlantic relationship need new thinking. NATO’s military utility is increasingly in decline – and pressures are coming for deep American troop reductions in Europe. Yes, NATO is sending Patriots to Turkey to hedge against Syrian missiles and has embraced an innovative ballistic missile defense system. But these deployments do not require tens of thousands, or even thousands, of American troops. A structural legacy of European dependence on American military power was exposed in the 2011 Libya war where even “leading from behind” required a major American contribution to the air war and increased American concerns about burdensharing (already heightened over Afghanistan).
America is rightly pivoting its military priorities away from Europe to save money and focus on other global concerns. This is logical and should be taken to the next level as part of a new transatlantic bargain. A clear presidential statement declaring America’s goal to help the allies so they they can fight a Libya-style air war and maintain a Balkans-style peace operation without the United States can facilitate European defense cooperation which better compliments American power. Limiting America’s role in NATO as a strategic reserve, emphasizing Article 5 collective defense commitments, will keep the foundations of the alliance alive and place Europeans rightly responsible for their own regional security concerns.