Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Transatlantic tensions

James Traub recently described a basic difference of perspective between the US and the EU countries when it comes to escalating confrontation with Iran (RIP the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, 1945-2018 Foreign Policy 05/11/2018):
As a simple matter of geographical proximity, Europe is threatened by conflict in the Middle East as the United States is not. The tidal wave of asylum-seekers from Syria in 2015 upended European politics and exposed a popular vein of xenophobia and illiberalism that has thrown a terrible scare into European elites. Europe simply cannot afford to follow the American lead if the United States is prepared to sow further chaos in the region.
He has a dramatically pessimistic diagnosis of the US-Europe relationship:
The Atlantic alliance, built to contain the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II, began to die when the Cold War ended. What kept it alive over the last three decades has been less strategic necessity than a convergence of values — the values of the liberal postwar order. Now, the senior partner of the alliance, the United States, has lost interest in those values. The alliance was already a corpse, but Donald Trump drove the last nail into its coffin when he decided this week to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran.

I wouldn't say that "the values of the liberal postwar order" loomed quite so large as that in the considerations on both continents. The US saw NATO also as way of amplifying its own standing and capability for power projection in the world. And as a way to enforce and enhance its dominance in the famous "unipolar moment." European allies, particularly those of the former Soviet bloc, wanted the continued protection of NATO in case Russian ambitions became threatening to them.

So the deterioration of liberal values in the US under the Trump Administration can scarcely be said to be the main reason for the current troubles in NATO right now. And Traub does discuss some of the conventional power-political considerations that affect the alliance.

Traub also uses the nails-on-the-blackboard characterization of Trump's foreign policy as a "Jacksonian moment," presumably on the mistaken notion that Jackson pursued an aggressive foreign policy as President.

But no breach of the NATO alliance itself is immediately in sight. One of the ways that could change would be if Trump's reckless Middle East policies wind up with a direct clash between US troops and those of our NATO ally Turkey.

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