Is the U.S. still an indefectible ally for Europe?
Without the American security blanket, European countries would need to heavily invest in their own military arsenals
Europe would not have been able to free itself from Nazi tyranny, nor face the totalitarianism of the Soviet regime over four decades, without American help.
However, in the wake of recent frictions between the US and its European allies, some question whether Washington remains a trustworthy partner, and if Europe should consider a strategic shift away from the American sphere of influence.
This might seem incongruous when one considers the lack of a strong common European defense or the weakness of European attempts at a unified foreign policy. Even in the rare cases when European leaders have spoken with a common voice in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the importance of their words would have been limited without NATO and American backing. Indeed, if the Russian economy is dwarfed by that of Europe, with a gross domestic product less than Italy’s, Moscow’s military power remains far stronger.
Without the American security blanket, European countries would need to heavily invest in their own military arsenals and technologies while updating its security doctrine to face its belligerent neighbor. The absence of a European military shield is well understood by East European countries that strongly welcomed the American decision to store heavy weapons in the Baltic states.
However, the question of an indefectible European alliance with the United States returned under scrutiny late last month when Wikileaks revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been closely spying on successive French presidents over the last 10 years, as well as the country’s hundred largest companies. A similar scandal has shaken the German trust towards Washington.
In both countries, governmental representative protested but European leaders are unlikely to act. Official reactions are merely intended to assuage public anger as a recent poll showed that 61 percent of French citizens wanted sanctions against Washington. In opposition with public opinion however, French President Francois Hollande again rejected Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s request for asylum, and strengthened legislation to increase the country’s intelligence capacities.
In reality, cooperation between Europe and the United States is constantly increasing as the European Union fails to consolidate its own integration. Despite growing discontent and distrust from European citizens toward the United States, Brussels has intensified its interdependence with Washington through the negotiation of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the biggest bilateral trade agreement in history.
The motivation behind the negotiation is, according to the European Union (EU), to create jobs and generate sustained economic growth. However, the content of the agreement might open a Pandora’s Box of dependency and constant litigation from American firms. The risks are real, as the experience of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) proves, with a Canadian government constantly bullied by American multinationals.
Far from revisiting their strategic positioning toward the United States in the wake of the recent intelligence scandals, European countries are thus reaffirming their dependency on Washington. Some might point to a lack of alternatives, but the real culprit is the inability of European governments to generate endogenous growth and reinforce their own security capacities.
The EU’s economic power is greater than any other global power, with a GDP which remains twice the size of China and 10% larger than the American economy. However, its development is hampered by political cowardice that could not be more obvious today than in the management of the Greek crisis.
Indeed, the current negotiation over a potential Greek exit from the euro-zone shows that the German juggernaut is unable to live up to its political responsibility, and remains more eager to sacrifice an undisciplined European family member on the altar of economic austerity, than to encourage Brussels to promote long-term investment.
Similarly the regular attempts from David Cameron to reduce the prerogatives of the European Union hampers the emergence of a common foreign policy. Every strategy designed to create a European defense have been torpedoed by London.
As long as this shortsighted and electorally motivated economic strategy promoted by Berlin and London prevails, instead of an ambitious political project called for by social democratic forces in Europe, the EU will have no other option but to rely on others for its security and development.