Europe and the United States: Diverging Destinies?

by Peter Jenkins

What are we to make of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s remarks at a political rally in Munich on May 28?

The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans really have to take our fate into our own hands, Naturally this must be in friendship with the United States and Great Britain, and as a good neighbour wherever appropriate, even with Russia. But we must know that we must fight for our own future, for our destiny as Europeans.

A BBC report of further remarks the next day at a conference on sustainable development in Berlin suggests that this cri de coeur was prompted by President Donald Trump’s intransigence on climate change at the G7 Summit in Taormina—not by President Trump’s failure to reaffirm NATO solidarity at the NATO summit in Brussels, as many journalists have surmised.

On Monday Mrs Merkel said it was right not to gloss over differences with the US. She reiterated her call for Europeans to take their fate into their own hands. The debate at the G7 meeting in Italy had shown it would be difficult to make the 2015 Paris climate deal work. Those putting on “national blinkers” on matters of international sustainability were going about things the wrong way, she said.

But that may not be the whole story. Also on May 29, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel hinted at another major frustration: the Middle East policy that was on display during President Trump‘s visit to Saudi Arabia. According to a BBC report, the minister accused the US of “short-sighted policies” that were against EU interests, and said: “Anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to resolve religious conflicts politically is putting peace in Europe at risk.”

Middle East Policy Differences

It is not hard to understand why Minister Gabriel may have lost patience with the one-sided nature of US Middle East policy, or to imagine Chancellor Merkel sharing his irritation.

Since 9/11, Middle East problems have more often divided Germany and the United States than brought them together.

Germany declined to support the US and UK bid for UN Security Council approval to invade Iraq in 2003 and viewed the invasion as a blunder. Under Chancellor Merkel, Germany did not participate in military operations in Libya in 2011 and has not shared US, UK, and French ambitions for regime change in Syria. Within Europe, Germany has borne the brunt of the humanitarian consequences of those ambitions.

Furthermore, Germany does not regard Iran as the malign source of all instability in the Middle East or as the leading sponsor of Islamic terror. In 2005, Germany would gladly have concluded with Iran a nuclear agreement as good if not better than the agreement finally concluded in 2015, had the George W. Bush administration not anathematised the deal. Germany policy now builds on the 2015 deal as it aims to integrate Iran into the global community and increase the cost to Iran of any future violation of its nuclear non-proliferation commitments. Germany doesn’t believe in shaking a clenched fist at Iran and issuing hollow threats to isolate her.

(The French used to joke about British arrogance: “There is fog over the English Channel; the continent is isolated.”)

As for US logistic and political support for Saudi aggression in Yemen, Chancellor Merkel told reporters during a visit to Riyadh on May 1 2017 that Germany does not believe in a military solution to the conflict there and called for an end to Saudi-led air-strikes, according to Der Spiegel.

Taking Their Fate into Their Own Hands

There are of course broader questions. Can Chancellor Merkel, assuming she is re-elected in September, persuade other Europeans to “take their fate into their own hands,” and what will that entail?

It is highly improbable that Chancellor Merkel has it in mind to “tear up” (as President Trump would say) the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, whether or not she was disappointed that last week President Trump failed to reaffirm US commitment to the collective security of NATO members. She knows that NATO was designed in part to insure against German militarism. Now that Germany dominates the EU economically, and is having to exert greater influence politically, that insurance is more important than ever.

Instead, Chancellor Merkel likely wants the EU to play a more prominent role on the world stage and to do a better job of developing and promoting distinctive EU approaches to global and regional problems.

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU will facilitate that. Whether as a “Trojan Horse” or a “friend at court,” the UK has long sought to minimize policy differences between the United States and EU. This has tended to result in the EU being seen as not just an ally of the United States but also as a subordinate, scarcely capable of independent thought, let alone action.

Historically, it is France that has chafed at this most. Ironically, this has been less the case since 2007. Under her last two presidents, France has been happy to work as a junior partner of the United States on the situations in Libya and Syria and on the Iran nuclear dilemma, and to echo US demonization of Russia. But what little we know about President Emmanuel Macron suggests that his instincts will be closer to those of General De Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand, and that he is likely to support the development of a more independent global voice for the EU.

So, free of British interference, and with France and Germany pulling in the same direction, the emergence of a Europe that takes greater responsibility for its own destiny is a possibility.

That may be no bad thing. The core values of Europe and the United States continue largely to overlap. But many of Europe’s interests differ from those of the United States, especially where Russia is concerned, as De Gaulle understood in the 1960s, in South West Asia, and in relation to China. And, if the international order in the 21st century is going to be multipolar, it is time for Europe to stake out a place for itself at the top table.

Photo: Angela Merkel and Donald Trump (Wikimedia Commons).

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.


One Comment

  1. Great minds think alike(?). Stephen Walt has a piece at FP “In praise of transatlantic divorce.” It’s high time the apron strings were cut — as Pepe Escobar might say, No more poodle parades.

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