The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, something that ought to have been an unqualified celebration of the beginning of an enduring, freedom-loving alliance between the United States and Europe, instead has raised troubling questions and sharp rhetoric.
President Trump, upon returning from France, tweeted his well-worn and misguided concerns about trade deficits with Europe and said the time has come for “rich” European nations to either pay more for military protection or protect themselves.
French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said he would like European nations to purchase military supplies from European sources, not from U.S. military suppliers. He also said he would like the EU to develop its own military capabilities, and went so far as to suggest this was needed in part to protect Europe from the United States.
It’s not clear whether other European Union nations share Macron’s sentiments. France has one of Europe’s largest defense-related industries, which added another aspect of nationalism to the discussion.
But what is clear is that an important alliance between the United States and key European allies, which has kept much of the world safe from the expansionist designs of tyrannical governments for several decades, is fraying in troubling ways.
That alliance has been important not just as a bulwark against foreign aggression, but as a show of strength behind important human rights, including religious freedom.
The best course right now against an increasingly hostile world would be a strong renewal of the alliance and a retrenchment toward fundamental rights and freedoms, not a splintering that weakens all parties. The president needs to lay aside his concerns about trade deficits, which in reality are manifestations of a strong economy that is attractive to foreign investment, and focus more on military alliances.
The 20th century often has been described as the American century, given this nation’s power and influence in the world. But that power was built and strengthened through alliances, the spread of human rights rather than political domination, and a tone that fostered peaceful interaction.
Even when history has been harsh in judging American foreign interventions, such as regarding the Vietnam War, it’s hard to ignore that the main motive of the United States was to pursue freedom and stem the tide of totalitarianism.
The Trump administration, however, threatens this standing through a 21st century approach to foreign relations and trade policy based on nationalism and self-interest. This may put the traditional role of the United States as a bulwark of stability and equanimity at risk.
Even when the president has a valid concern, his tone and approach sound too harsh for allies. It is true, for instance, that European nations should be investing more of their own money for military protection, and that only five of the 29 NATO countries have so far lived up to a pledge to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on this by 2024.29 comments on this story
But that deadline is still six years away, and in the meantime it makes little sense to nudge the EU toward the establishment of an independent military that views the U.S. with suspicion.
The cultivation of alliances is a delicate, but necessary, art. Like-minded allies accomplish much more together than separately.
With some of the world’s most aggressive tyrants looking to fill any vacuum of power that may manifest itself, now is not the time for the friends of freedom to part ways. That would be the wrong way to honor the heroes who, a century ago, banded together to win the first world war.