Image credit: Poster Collection, INT 280, Hoover Institution Archives.
As candidate, Donald Trump made a number of comments about the utility of the North Atlantic Alliance and about the virtues of European integration that left many in the establishment scratching their heads. When he was elected President of the United States, Trump did very little to soften his tone. On the contrary, the Trump White House floated the names of potential ambassadorial appointments who talked about the transatlantic relationship and the European Union in even more disparaging tones. Of course, this could all be marked down as campaign bluster and the hiccups that come with any transition into office. Other more seasoned politicians and diplomats have challenged Europe to do more for NATO, and many have expressed exasperation with the transatlantic partnership. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland are two obvious examples, but the list is a long one. Nevertheless, the positions taken by Trump with respect to Europe both as candidate and as President are unusual enough to warrant putting them into context.
Most scholars who look at the transatlantic relationship from the U.S. perspective start with two commitments:
- The transatlantic partnership benefits the United States; and,
- A united Europe offers greater advantages for the United States than a divided or fractious Europe does.
The arguments to support the benefits of transatlantic partnership touch on economics, diplomacy, and security.
- The European Economic Area is the world’s largest marketplace; U.S. multinationals have a huge and very profitable presence in that market; and European multinationals invest heavily in the United States (and so create significant U.S. employment).
- In diplomatic terms, European societies are at roughly the same level of development as the United States; Europeans and Americans hold similar values and priorities; and European diplomats are available to support a wide range of U.S. initiatives or even to take the lead where a high-profile U.S. diplomatic presence would be counter-productive.
- Finally, European countries have significant potential to contribute to joint interventions and peace-keeping operations; they have infrastructure and airspace close to areas where the U.S. has vital security interests; and they are actively involved in areas of the world where the U.S. would not want to play the leading role in security provision and where it would be against U.S. interests for the security environment to deteriorate.