George Friedman writes that, given that Europe does not tend to make the painful decisions needed to modernize relationships, it is difficult to understand what it means to return to Europe, other than having dinner with some interesting people.
George Friedman is an American political scientist and writer.Former Chief Intelligence Officer, he is Stratford with Geopolitical futures.
So far, US President Joe Biden’s European trip has revolved around a single question that almost the whole world agrees on: Biden is not Donald Trump. In the United States, those who voted for Trump — almost half of all voters — mourned this fact. Others cheered for it.
Europeans attending the G7 meeting seemed to agree that this is a wonderful thing. But of course, most European countries are not members of the G7, and some countries, such as Poland, are afraid of Biden. For many European countries, the Trump-Biden issue is not a problem.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he really thinks Trump is more interesting than Biden, but he thinks Biden will be fine, if boring.
Whether you like it or not, this trip is about the extent to which Biden will change US policies in Europe and Russia, which means that this trip is about Donald Trump. It has been said many times that the United States has returned to the European side, as it has been since World War II. The problem with using it as a definition is that it is difficult to define its meaning.
After World War II, the Soviet Union became a threat to Europe that was destroyed by the war. The United States urgently needs to help rebuild Europe so that it can deploy troops to resist the Soviet Union and stabilize countries with powerful communist parties such as France and Italy.
The US intervention is not so much sentimental as it is geopolitical reality that forces Western Europe and the United States to form a broad alliance system.
Despite talking about the virtues of piety, it is too early to talk about common values with Germany and Italy. Later, when the United States needed to build a submarine base in Spain, Washington forced itself to be polite to Francisco Franco. The relationship between the United States and Europe is based on necessity rather than shared values.
This changed in 1991. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, NATO’s purpose also collapsed. Its mission is to prevent or prevent Soviet attacks in Western Europe. Europe and the United States have established military forces suitable for missions, and each member has a designated area of responsibility.
But today, there is no Soviet Union. This is a fact that European countries have only recently discovered, and accordingly their military strength has been drastically reduced. Without the army, there can be no real military alliance. Therefore, if the Russians march westward, for example, it will be difficult for Germany to deploy an important force.
The United States will be trapped by the treaty and will have to take responsibility. When Trump proposed to withdraw 10,000 troops from Europe, Europeans believed that this was a renunciation of the United States’ promise. Trump asked other members to make the same efforts.
Of course, the early 1990s also introduced another huge transformation of the global system: the Maastricht Treaty. This is important for NATO issues, because one of the driving forces behind the creation of NATO is Europe’s lack of economic capacity to deploy effective military forces.
Once restored, there is no reason Europe cannot defend itself. It is not unreasonable for Europe to want the United States to assume more security responsibilities after the war, and it is not unreasonable for the United States to do so; it gave it the ability to avoid war and put the decision-making power in the hands of frank and irresponsible Europeans in 1914 and 1939.
But the problem now is that the GDP of the EU and the North American Free Trade Area are roughly the same. At this point, it is difficult to see what NATO’s purpose is or what value it has for the United States.
Washington mainly focuses on China, while NATO has almost no involvement. It is not unreasonable for the United States to require European military and diplomatic participation in this competition, and there is no reason to retain important power in Europe.
The establishment of the European Union also marked something that has long been obvious: Europe no longer depends on the United States economically. If anything, it has ushered in an era in which Europe pursues economic policies that challenge the interests of the United States.
The United States and the European Union may compete, while the United States is still responsible for Europe’s security. This is a strange idea. This is of great significance to Europe, but it is unbearable for the United States.
Therefore, it is difficult to understand what it means for the United States to rejoin its European partners. The environment for creating this partnership no longer exists. Considering that Europeans are not particularly sentimental towards the United States, they are interested in this kind of relationship that is different from that of the United States.
They want U.S. military guarantees, and to some extent want U.S. economic cooperation, while the U.S. wants Europe to take more responsibility for its own defense.
In addition, the United States and Europe have differences on basic issues, as do individual EU members. Take the Beixi No. 2 pipeline as an example, which transports Russian natural gas to Europe. Poland is frightened, Germany is eager, and Portugal is indifferent.
The European Union is weakening under the pressure of the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Britain has left, the European Union threatens to drive away Poland and Hungary, and the European Union is trying to figure out how to meet the needs of countless countries through a central bank.
On geopolitical issues, Europe must either make a commitment or refuse to participate. One is Russia, which is actually much weaker than what it has shown. Even so, the military strength of a country is relative to its opponents.
At present, Europe cannot withstand the remote but not zero possibility of Russia moving westward. This is especially important given that the United States is confronting China. Europeans must either coordinate and share risks with their allies or make it clear that they will not.
Europe can choose to rejoin the military-capable transatlantic alliance based on its economic strength today rather than 40 years ago. Alliances are based on common risks, and it is certain that there are risks, even if their existence is not as good as the risks during the Cold War. If Europe chooses not to take action, then individual countries may take action.
The EU is only an economic treaty, not a nation-state, and it is not responsible for national defense policies. But economic policy defines defense capabilities, and if the EU’s irrational structure that separates economic power from military power was meaningful before 1991, it would certainly no longer make sense.
If Europe does not change direction, the United States has two options. The first is to withdraw from Europe, leave the defense of the mainland to the mainland, and set its sights on China.
The second is to ignore the EU and deal with individual European countries on defense and economic issues, effectively bypassing the EU. For the United States, both of these strategies have problems. The EU seems unwilling to take far-reaching actions against China, preferring to take milder and less risky actions.
Cooperation with individual countries may not work, and may involve the United States in internal European politics. NATO’s clear mission in the Cold War no longer exists. On a core issue in the United States, the return to Europe is minimal.
In general, a meaningful alliance will benefit the United States, but the question is whether Europeans want a meaningful alliance. Going to a meeting without insulting the host does not constitute returning to Europe.
Considering that Europe is unwilling to make the painful decisions needed to modernize relationships, it is difficult to understand what it means to return to Europe, other than having dinner with some interesting people. It is 2021, and if Europeans want to form an alliance, they should realize that this issue is playing a modern role.