U.S. President Donald Trump blackmails the European Union as if he were a mafia boss: protection in exchange for cash. Europeans cannot put up with this much longer.
Those who still had doubts regarding the tsunami which threatened to hit NATO on Wednesday, July 11 and Thursday, July 12 were set right by Donald Trump's rally in Montana. The U.S. president got immediately to the point. No sooner had he welcomed the local political celebrities than he reached the subject: NATO and the Germans’ scandalous (according to him) refusal to finally pay its fair share.
"They kill us on trade,” he said in his rant against Europe. “On top of that they kill us with NATO.” Only a couple of minutes into the speech, held in Montana no less, in the middle of nowhere, he got to the subject of Germany. “I said, ‘You know Angela, I can’t guarantee it, but we’re protecting you [...].’ They go out and make a gas deal, oil and gas, from Russia,” Trump continued.
First Talk, Then Eat, Then Scandal?
Beginning on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., Chancellor Angela Merkel and Trump will be sitting opposite each other at the NATO summit, first in the circle of allies, then at the festive dinner with the European Union leaders, Sweden and Finland. NATO diplomats no longer rule out a scandal. Is the U.S. still going to uphold the promise of collective defense in Article 5?* These 24 hours may determine the future of the West.
Sure, the U.S. has always known how to exploit disagreement in the EU to its advantage. But now, Trump is splitting Europe from the outside and undermining the community of NATO and the EU from within. Trump is the first U.S. president who seriously means to harm Europe (and Germany). Europeans cannot let this happen any longer.
Fighting Over the 2 Percent
Trump demands that Germany and the other allies increase their defense spending in order to put Europeans in a corner. To make things worse, he actually has a point. Trump's strongest arguments are the decisions of the NATO summit in Wales, over the course of which the members of the Alliance agreed to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense from 2024 onwards. Sure, experts point out that this promise is dressed in soft language, but the “2 percent” is there.
In addition, few politicians deny that countries like Germany will have to spend more on its military in the future. The deplorable state of the Bundeswehr** is no secret: In her latest video podcast, Chancellor Merkel rightfully points out that increasing military spending also makes sense from the German point of view.
However, it is crucial that Europeans and not the U.S. president decide what to pay for. Just because Trump blackmails his allies in the style of a mafia boss – protection exclusively in exchange for cash – it does not mean that Europe should simply open its coffers. However necessary they may be, higher defense expenditures will not be accepted in Europe if the impression is that Europe only wants to serve Trump. In addition, it is clear that the Europeans would fare much better in military matters if they finally worked closer together, built airplanes and planned operations.
Friendship with Europe Is Not Intrinsically Valuable to Trump
Climate deal, Iran nuclear deal, punitive tariffs: Trump has long demonstrated that he does not care about European interests. The friendship with Europe is not intrinsically valuable to him, so he has the upper hand in the debate with Merkel and Co. If the U.S. president wakes up and decides to bully Chancellor Merkel on Twitter, there is little she can do about it. Moreover, if Trump views car imports from the EU as a threat to the American economy, he will impose punitive tariffs, no matter what arguments Europe present to him.
Merkel is right; Europe must become a little more independent from the United States. Trump only understands resistance, harsh words and fights.
Absurdly, this knowledge is not widespread in Europe. European and American interests are simply too different, whether they concern security, trade policy or even the rules under which Europeans themselves wish to coexist with each other.
Understandably, Poland and the Baltic States do not want to rely on lofty undertakings such as stronger EU cooperation on security issues for their countries’ defense. They gladly sign every check as long as Trump offers security and soldiers in return. France, on the other hand, is pushing for a tough attitude toward Trump in the trade war. Germany’s main priority is protecting its auto industry, therefore it is more willing to make a deal.
A Slow Poison
In addition, Trump's election has been acting as a slow poison inside the EU. The authoritarian leadership style of the U.S. president has no lack of admirers in Europe. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is among them, but even some members of the Bavarian Christian Social Union party are considering to what extent Trump's message of isolation and national selfishness should be employed in the upcoming election campaigns.
It may hurt, but the truth is that maybe Trump has not humbled the Europeans enough for them to finally realize that they have to work together and defend themselves against him.
*Editor’s Note: The 2018 Brussels Summit of NATO was indeed held on July 11 and 12, 2018, where President Trump caused controversy by stating that Germany was beholden to Russia due to the Nord Stream pipeline project, though he signed onto an agreement that included Article 5. Article 5 of the NATO Treaty commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state, in Europe or North America, to be an armed attack against them all.
**Editor’s note: The Bundeswehr are the German armed forces.