In the face of the crises and wars in the world, an existential need for a bold new realpolitik exists. The cooperation between Washington and Moscow shows what is possible.

The Atlantic is becoming wider and the Europeans in general, Germany in particular, must do something about it – but if they only knew what. More national colors than ever before wave in front of NATO headquarters on Brussels’s Boulevard Leopold III and it looks similar in front of Berlaymont, where the European Union has its center.

But one should not delude oneself: Without the final guarantee of the United States of America, the European chess board would at first slowly and then faster and faster become unbalanced. The European construction does not rest on itself.

Russia is the power factor that has not yet found a permanently stable, therefore calculable and predictable, role after the collapse of the Soviet Union – whether it is a matter of the annexation of the Crimea, the hybrid war in the eastern Ukraine, the pressure on Georgia and the frozen conflict on the lower Danube.

Much of today is reminiscent of the cautionary words of George Shultz, Reagan’s worldly-wise secretary of state, who warned that Russia resembles a badly wounded grizzly bear – strong, unpredictable and with a long memory. No one can seriously believe that the Western sanctions are a sufficient means of communication.

Leadership and Recklessness

Whether it is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, whoever is elected in November and moves into the White House in January and communicates with the world from the Oval Office – the United States will continue in its historic tendencies and turn inward and toward the Pacific.

They will, however, presumably still remain a world power in all dimensions, from pop culture and cyberspace to the aircraft carriers and the capability of shattering rockets with rockets. But the strength and readiness to save the Europeans from their self-chosen weakness and global political dependency is lacking.

The old sense of mission that most recently as hubris spurred the invasion into Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is lost, the “manifest destiny” crushed in domestic warfare. The American claim to specialty – “exceptionalism” – manifests its dangerous double meaning: leadership and recklessness.

That “partnership in leadership” offered to the Germans by the elder George Bush on the eve of the great upheavals remained unanswered and open at the time, but was still sufficient to together bring home German unity. But would it be repeated again today outside of G8 and G20?

Europe is no longer the “Central Front” of the Cold War – and one rushes to add a “thank God.” But Europe is also not the strong reliable Atlantic partner that the U.S. needs, but rather President John F. Kennedy’s never realized “second pillar.” It is encouraging that further dramatic withdrawals according to the model of Brexit have failed to materialize, but no guarantee that the status quo would be stable, reliable and defining for the future.

Security Architecture for Europe Only on Paper

That presents the Europeans with tasks, namely in questions of security. Europe, occasionally grumbling and unwilling to pay, was glad to leave to the United States and their control. This was true mostly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the omnipotent “lone surviving superpower” stood there, the rise of China to a world power played out beyond the horizon and Russia was occupied with itself and with the search for the lost empire.

In a nutshell: The security architecture of Europe only exists on paper. In the real world, it cannot be relied on very much. The much-heralded Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is not the “ironclad guarantee” of the security of Europe against Russian adventures, as the American president formulated it not long ago on his farewell trip through the Baltic States.

Article 5 gives a promise of assistance of undefined content – not less, but also not more. That candidate Donald Trump wants to make that too dependent upon punctually paid bills by allies, to the pleasure of Kremlin powers, shows how shaky the ground is upon which the Atlantic system stands.

The contractual forgoing of deployment in the course of the NATO eastward expansion since 1997 – no nuclear weapons, no substantial troops, no missile defense – doesn’t only give the Russians a legal claim to have a say in NATO questions, but also all too quickly opens the dilemma to escalate into nuclear or to abandon. The Europeans will be mercilessly tested in crises and wars of the present age.

It is almost exactly 70 years to the day since the American Secretary of State “Judge” Byrnes promised the post-war Germans better times and gave the post-war Europeans the assurance that America would stay in Europe as long as the situation required and the Europeans wanted.

Out of the double containment, the German past and the Soviet future, a world blueprint emerged in quick succession whose benchmarks were the Marshall Plan and the NATO Pact, and that Atlantic system’s pull was sufficient in the end to overcome the Soviet power.

What did not succeed, from American as well as Russian reasons, was the permanent cooptation of Russia in a European peace and security federation. It is late, but not too late, to work on it. The magnitude and importance of the common interests are not slight, from combating drugs to nuclear proliferation, terror and wars in the Islamic arc of crisis to the rising mass migration. The current agreement between Washington and Moscow on the matter of Syria shows what is possible.

None of it is to be dealt with without earnest, long-term cooperation between Russia and the West. That cartel of war prevention of the nuclear powers which made the last years of the Cold War predictable and defused the management of the end game did not come from an uplifting of hearts, but was instead the result of fear and reason.

In the face of the crises and wars in the world today, who would not want to say that an existential need for a bold, new realpolitik does not exist? There is no greater task.