The rift between the United States and Europe seems to have widened ever since Donald Trump became the president, and the Munich Security Conference in mid-February became the venue where their disaccord was mercilessly exposed. In his speech at the conference, Vice-President Mike Pence blamed Europe on some bilateral and multilateral issues, without showing the slightest respect to the host, Germany. As a leading politician in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebutted Pence to vent Europe’s accumulated anger towards the United States. The New York Times wrote in an opinion piece, “the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete.”
The view could not be more accurate.
At the meeting, Pence urged its European allies to follow the American lead in ditching the Iranian nuclear deal, accused Germany, France, Great Britain, and others for their disregard of the United States’ decision on sanctions against Iran by allowing their companies continue to maintain business operations there. He then said, “the time has come for our European partners to stop undermining sanctions” against Iran. Merkel later countered his remarks and said, “Is it a good idea for the Americans to suddenly and quickly withdraw from Syria? Or will it once more strengthen the capacity of Iran and Russia to exert their influence?” Germany insisted on its stance of not withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear pact.
On the issue of NATO’s defense spending, Pence praised some countries for increasing their military spending, while warning some others for not bringing their defense spending to the level of 2% of their GDP. However, Merkel had warned against any arms race.
In his speech, Pence reiterated the United States’ strong opposition to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that connects Russia with Germany. Merkel responded, “There’s nothing that speaks against getting gas from the United States, but to exclude Russia is the wrong strategic signal.” And the project progresses as scheduled.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel — habitually cautious about provoking Trump — led the charge, unleashing a stinging, point-by-point takedown of the administration’s tendency to treat its allies as adversaries. The speech appeared to provide much-needed catharsis. Trump’s antagonistic behavior has bred two years of accumulated grievance in much of Europe.
The Munich Security Conference used to be the venue for the United States and Europe to coordinate and bridge differences, but the three-day conference this year turned into a battleground between the two. Experts said this could be attributed completely to Trump.
It is worth mentioning that Pence claimed at the meeting that Huawei and other Chinese telecoms companies pose threats to the United States and its European allies. However, in a Financial Times report the day after the Munich meeting, a senior official from Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said that the British government has concluded that “any risks from using equipment made by Chinese tech firm Huawei in the rollout of 5G networks can be managed”. Britain is one of the “Five Eyes” countries, and its conclusion could be taken and followed by other European Union countries. A commentary in the newspaper said, “the decision undermines US efforts to persuade its allies to ban the firm from 5G communications networks.”
The emergence of these scenarios was by no means accidental. It was the outburst of Europe’s accumulated anger against Trump, and a true reflection of current America-Europe relations. European nations were really fed up with all Trump’s doctrines: the egoism reflected by “America First”, unilateralism in ditching international cooperation, protectionism that is against free trade, unpredictable pragmatism, and arrogant bullying. Trumpism has disrupted world order and international norms, making European nations suffer and feel humiliated.
Europe has been angry with some of the practices of the United States.
After the end of Cold War, European countries wanted to reduce their arms, develop their economies, and improve people’s welfare. This was the right choice, but was turned down by the United States. After Trump came to power, the United States significantly increased its spending on defense and armaments, and compelled European nations to increase military spending, pushing for NATO’s eastwards expansion. This made Russia angry and led to rising tensions between Europe and Russia. The United States is safe because it is powerful and situated far away, but it placed Europe in harm’s way.
The Iranian nuclear deal was an important achievement by the international community after years of painstaking efforts, and is of extreme importance to the stability of the Middle East. But Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the pact sowed seeds of insecurity and risk in the region, provided an opportunity for a possible comeback of terror groups such as IS, and added to the risk of a refugee crisis. This was the biggest concern for Europe, but the United States considered only its own strategic interests in the region.
The Paris Climate Agreement was the result of European efforts to control global warming and improve air quality. Trump’s order to withdraw was considered by many as slap in Europe’s face.
European countries are worried about Trump’s unrestrained moves. A senior German official told the New York Times, “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.”
The trans-Atlantic alliance is defined by interests. When the leader of the alliance no longer cares about the interests of its members, or does things to harm them, it’s natural that discord would result, and its very existence may be called into question. Of course, the America-Europe alliance has not deteriorated to that bad a level, but it is deteriorating gradually. Some experts said that if “Trumpism” continues to prevail, America-Europe relations would likely continue to deteriorate.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that about half of the Europeans no longer have trust in the United States. This is yet another indication that Trump has ruined trans-Atlantic relations.