The utilitarianism of U.S. foreign policy is nothing new. American presidents change allies and partners around the world according to momentary convenience. Sometimes alliances are short-lived; other times they last entire decades.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put it aptly in the 80s when he stated that “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” Sudden U.S. reversals have been most frequently on display in the world around us, such as when the revolt known as the “Arab Spring” spread through the Near East and Arab world seven or eight years ago. Within two weeks, Barack Obama threw the old American ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, overboard.
Current President Donald Trump preaches “America First.” How are we going to wind up in this world of his, if the going gets tough? The most flagrant and repulsive example of Trump’s approach is how he left Iraqi and Syrian Kurds in the lurch after they put in the most difficult work in the war against the Islamic State. Although they earned international esteem for their bravery, Trump left those in Iraq to the mercy of Shiites from Iran, and the Syrian Kurds to the mercy of Turkish air raids.
We face the issue of the steadfastness of American alliances right here in Europe. Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran without any coordination with the EU, and since he regards it as weak, he’s renewing sanctions and threatens consequences for Europe if it doesn’t join in.
A more immediate example is NATO, in which the Czech Republic has grounded its security. It’s always been perceived as a lodestar, but now it’s been shaken to its foundations. In the halls of the July summit in Brussels, diplomats were wracking their brains over whether NATO could survive Trump at all if he’s re-elected in two years.
Trump has railed against the alliance since the 90s. In his opinion, it only uses up American resources and ties the hands of U.S. policy. First he labeled NATO obsolete, and at one point he even conditioned aid in the event of an attack, as called for by Article 5 of the treaty, on the level of a member country’s military expenditures, which rocked the fundamental pillar of the alliance, its main instrument of deterring potential aggressors.
True, Europeans have fallen behind in financing their armies, but given that Trump has taken things this far, can we trust the U.S.? Many in large European cities still refuse to admit it. But if Trump doesn’t give a damn about geopolitics and conducts transactions like a merchant, then we have to ask ourselves: What next?
Do we rely entirely on ourselves? In that case we’d have to add a good deal to our military budget. At the moment we can barely afford our own territorial defense, but we should do the maximum. Security guarantees within the EU are the other option.
The Czech Republic is lighting off on that path, too. The latest solution is a project of security and defense cooperation known as the Permanent Structural Cooperation, or PESCO, whose obligatory framework was set up by 25 EU countries in November. The vision of a European army is still quite far from reality given the wide spectrum of individual member priorities.
It would be a matter of another military bloc, which would have to define the mechanism of decision-making, conditions for mutual assistance in the event of attack, financing, weaponry and military development. The EU stresses that it should not replace NATO but supplement it.
Trump could totally change that if he runs the alliance thoroughly into the ground. A purely European framework, without the U.S. and NATO, would have advantages and pitfalls we’d have to reckon with. Old rivalries could come back to life, and Washington could tug at the threads of bilateral relations with European states. On the other hand, it would reduce the risk of getting dragged into another American intervention, as with the Afghanistan war, which has lasted 17 years and has no end in sight.
At the same time, it will be important to take care that the EU and the main European powers don’t get embroiled in similar actions with no clear future result, as when Britain and France, even within the framework of NATO (and with the Czech Republic’s blessing at the time), heartily got involved in an air war against the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Its downfall led to the breakdown of the country, where Islamic extremists including the Islamic State group found nutritious soil.
Vladimir Roskot is a senatorial candidate for the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia in Prague’s second district.
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