A United European Front Against Trump – for Now

The decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aka the Iran nuclear deal, has quite obviously evoked sharp reaction in Europe.

Naturally predisposed to multilateral actions in general – and with the U.S. as a partner in particular – Europe finds itself confronted with a different kind of leadership in the White House. 

The Trump administration has threatened to impose tariffs on steel imports, chastised NATO allies over their lack of military investment, berated Germany over its trade surplus, and now walked away from a deal forged by his predecessor – despite the protestations of European leaders. Furthermore, the new U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, followed up Trump’s declaration by noting sanctions would be imposed on Iran and that German companies conducting business in Iran should “wind down operations immediately”. 

This is hardly smooth diplomacy in action. European leaders should not be expected to endure disruptions to the (largely U.S.-crafted) “rules-based order” with nary a complaint, particularly when they come from a single administration conducting international relations in an unpredictable, often indelicate manner.

Now European leaders are pushing back publicly, threatening to utilize a blocking statute to protect its companies conducting doing business in Iran from U.S. sanctions. They are also publicly vocalizing their displeasure at the current occupant in the White House, though – to add a touch of fairness and honesty to the debate – this is hardly a new tactic for European public consumption when the occupant is the leader of the Republican Party.

Yet while the Trump administration plays the bad cop with one hand, it continues to uphold the U.S. commitment to European security with the other.

In fact, the Trump administration is actually increasing U.S. commitment to European security while defense budgets among the major European nations (see: France, Germany and the United Kingdom) for 2017 either languished or proved insufficient to mask emerging/growing capabilities gaps.

We shall see how all this plays out, but a Europe seeking to push back against the U.S. – perhaps rightfully – cannot also ask Washington to underwrite its security. And a Europe divided over adopting cohesive policy approach to Russia is equally susceptible to splintering over a common approach to the continent’s most important ally.

That Trump – in all his unpredictability and thinly-veiled dislike for existing international arrangements – presents a challenge for Europe is not in question. How Europe chooses to respond – and at what length it wishes to risk playing its own part in sundering longstanding trans-Atlantic ties over a president who will depart from the Oval Office in seven years, if not sooner – is a question.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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