The post-war transatlantic relationship between the United States and Europe has been pronounced dead many a time in the three quarters of a century of its existence. The list of controversies and disagreements is long. Relations were particularly bad during the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s. And the approval ratings of Republican presidents, whether Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, took as hard a dive amongst Europeans as they have under the present incumbent in the White House.
But this time, it feels different.
Take it from Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor number three, John Bolton. The US president came close to walking out of NATO in 2018. Should he win reelection on November 3, there wouldn’t be many advisors left who could stop him from following through with the plan that has been one of his core foreign policy beliefs since the 1980s. The US troop withdrawal from Germany, announced this summer and downplayed by Berlin, would then have just been for starters.
It has come to this not only because a deeply narcissistic and incompetent man has been voted into an office he is so obviously unsuited for. It has also been the consequence of a complacent, if not negligent Europe. Having ignored the more polite, previous pleas by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, many Europeans are playing entirely deaf now that Trump is bellowing more or less the same message:
Europe must do more, engage more, spend more, to ensure its own defense and to stabilize its neighborhood. It must, as Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of the German Marshall Fund once put it, referring to Germany, “produce more ‘West’” itself (“mehr Westen produzieren”) to save the Western alliance that has brought stability and prosperity to the Atlantic world since the dark days of World War II. Without this willingness, the prospects for US-European relations will further deteriorate even under a person as “Western” in his values and outlook as Joe Biden.
“Europeans interested in preserving the transatlantic relationship need not be fatalistic or even pessimistic,” Michael C. Kimmage wrote in the pages of our predecessor magazine BERLIN POLICY JOURNAL earlier this year. Kimmage’s advice: Europeans should emphasize the many interests that the US and Europe share, since these are no longer self-evident in Washington and beyond; they should build relationships with Americans on both sides of the political spectrum, so as not to be too closely aligned with the fortunes of the Democratic Party; and they should invest in a cultural diplomacy that evokes the open-ended future rather than the Cold War past. The COVID-19 pandemic has since only reinforced this need.
Europeans have no vote on November 3. But they have it in their hands to help remake the transatlantic relationship—the central theme of our first issue of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK QUARTERLY, the new English edition of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK. We hope you like our new journal. And with some luck, we will cover the transatlantic renaissance in many issues to come.
Henning Hoff is executive editor of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK QUARTERLY.