In a stunning historical twist, some 241 years after Declaration of Independence, US has its own mad king.— Stephen Walt (@stephenWalt) July 4, 2017
And he's on his way to Europe this week for the G-20 Summit in Hamburg on Thursday. There will be the usual supply of protesters, including an "autonomous and anticapitalist" alliance calling themselves Welcome to Hell. which is advocting for militant disruptions: "With mass blockades and further actions we will sabotage the summit. We will hinder logistics in the port and make it clear that we can intervene in the capitalist flow of goods." (Hamburg City Strike)
But the biggest disrupter could be our current mad king, who has adopted a relatively hostile stance against the EU. And they aren't really in a mood to take it passively. Spiegel International reports on a recent broadcast made by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to Angela Merkel and one of the business groups whose interests she and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party serve (Merkel Concerned G-20 Summit Could End in Fiasco 06/30/2017):
Standing next to an American flag, he read out a speech that was being transmitted to Berlin via video link. Specifically, it was being broadcast into the ballroom of a luxury hotel where German Chancellor Angela Merkel and several hundred guests of the Economic Council, a German business association that is closely linked to Merkel's political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), were listening.And the differences are likely to show up at the G-20 Summit: "Environment, refugees, trade: On a long list of issues, Trump and his America-first administration are sabotaging the search for joint positions among the world's industrialized and emerging economies. The discrepancies are 'obvious,' Merkel said during a speech before German parliament on Tuesday, the discussions 'will be difficult.'"
Ross had initially wanted to travel in person to the German capital, but he canceled at the last minute because, he said in the video, "urgent unexpected matters required that I remain in Washington." The commerce secretary then straightened his glasses and monotonously recited what his president expected of the Germans.
He demanded that Germany buy raw materials from the United States instead of from Russia, lower tariffs on automobile imports from the U.S. and ensure that America "obtain a larger share" of the European market. Otherwise, he added, the government in Washington, D.C., would have no alternative but to "engage in self-help."
Ross had been allotted a speaking time of 10 minutes, but when he still hadn't finished after 30 minutes, the event participants had heard enough. They turned down the sound and switched off the video link. The U.S. commerce secretary disappeared from the screen, silenced like a political gadfly. Some in the audience laughed.
Given Trump's obvious goal of weakening if not destroying the European Union, it is very much in the interest of the EU nations to stand more united than ever and to cooperate more closely.
But we say in the Iraq War crisis that the Cheney-Bush Administration was able to exploit different national perspectives to split off not only eastern European countries but Britain, Spain, Portugal and Italy away from the the antiwar position taking by Germany and France and supported broadly by the European publics.
The EU survived that crisis, as did NATO, the alliance more immediately affected by that controversy.
The post-Second World War US leadership was certainly focused on securing power and economic advantages to the United States. Within the framework of the bipolar world division that became the Cold War, the US leadership did pursue a visionary and bold approach to building international alliances, from the Marshall Plan to Bretton Woods to NATO to the grudging acceptance of decolonization in Asia and Africa. (Though obviously in some places like Indochina, that acceptance was very grudging.) The possible alternatives to the Cold War are always worth revisiting, especially now when much of the US foreign policy establishment embraces a New Cold War seemingly without much serious reflection. But within the context of the Cold War and the nuclear confrontation between the US and the USSR, the Western alliance did achieve the not inconsiderable accomplishment of preventing any new major war in Europe.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Pact, the US under Old Man Bush's Administration and under Clinton's favored the formation of the EU and its expansion. But the US also favored a broadly expanded but relatively weaker EU, as opposed to a smaller and more unified version. The bipartisan approach was to prevent the EU from becoming a "peer competitor" to the US in world affairs.
While it's possible to see the policy of the US toward the EU as a pragmatic but cautious internationalism, the post-Cold War policy on NATO was considerably less visionary. The purpose of NATO was to defend Western Europe against a Soviet invasion. Once the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union had fallen, NATO became an alliance in search of a mission. And each new step in eastward NATO expansion added to the risk with diminishing returns. Adding the Balkan states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia incorporated areas that had previously been parts of the Soviet Union and effectively placed the credibility (foreign policy mavens consider Credibility the holy of holies) and effectiveness of NATO on the line for countries that would be physically a big challenge to defend if Russia should decide on some kind of military aggression against them. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the decision to incorporate them into NATO was done with a lack of real seriousness.
Now in times of increased tensions with Russia - in part clearly a result of the NATO expansion itself - it would be much harder to redefine or replace NATO. And it would take a far more visionary and capable President than the current resident of the White House to do that. It would also take an Administration that understood the importance of diplomacy and the State Department whose job it is to conduct it.
The Trump Family Business Administration's so-called America First approach is raising a number of areas of potential confrontation between the US and the EU: tariff on steel, beef and other products; international enforcement against money laundering; Germany's trad deficit; environmental regulation.
But there is a basic problem with European unity: the austerity economics on which Germany and its currency Chancellor have insisted, a true triumph of hardcore rightwing dogma over pragmatism and moderation. In the economic crisis and most dramatically with the unending Greek debt crisis, insistence of austerity dogma has encouraged some genuinely bitter nationalist hatreds, the very thing the EU was founded to dissipate. That nationalism and lack of genuine cooperation and solidarity spilled over into the also unending refugee crisis. Europe can't end the movement of refugees in its direction on its own. One obvious immediate source of the refugee influx has been the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. The overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi as ruler of Libya with the active military intervention of NATO and the US, Britain and France in particular opened an additional stream of refugees from Africa. And for the EU countries to effectively oppose such wars, they will require a unity in foreign policy even in opposition to the United States beyond what they have shown so far. And they will also have to make decisions to oppose such wars, which certainly wasn't the case in the Libyan intervention.
In a longer term, the increasing effects of climate change are also driving immigration to Europa. Europe is more united on constructive climate policy than on Middle Eastern wars. But the need for a decently human response to immigration and improving the integration of immigrants is also a long term one. And, as it turns out, EU countries like Greece and Italy that were particular targets of nationalist contempt in the debt crisis from their richer EU partners have to bear much of the immediate brunt of the influx of refugees.
With Trump and Putin agreed at the moment on the need to weaken the EU, the EU badly needs to ditch austerity economics and bring their economic policies at least into the 20th century (Keynesianism) and to come up with a genuinely cooperative solution to immigration to replace Merkel's chronic extend-and-pretend approach.