It is obvious that the European members of NATO depend on the United States for their defense. And why wouldn’t they want that dependence to continue? Only Russia currently poses a direct military threat to Europe.
However, for all its meddling—both military and nonmilitary—in European NATO members, Russia would hardly want to risk a shooting war with the United States, the world’s only military superpower. Plus, American protection allows Europeans to spend relatively less on defense and more on other things.
Yet, because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s vacillating rhetorical commitment to NATO’s mutual defense, it is becoming fashionable for some European politicians to argue that Europeans will increasingly have to look after themselves.
Explaining the rationale behind the need for the EU to expand its military role, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told an audience in Prague on June 9 that the United States was “no longer interested in guaranteeing Europe’s security in our place.”
It is understandable that some European politicians use Trump’s wavering words to garner support for deepening EU military cooperation, which is welcome if it results in Europeans taking more responsibility for their own security.
However, greater responsibility is not the same thing as strategic autonomy, and few European governments seem serious about reducing their military dependence on the United States. Apart from the speculative musings of some think tankers, there is no official proposal to develop a full-blown plan B, meaning a collective European military alliance distinct from NATO. (Despite Brexit, to have any military credibility, such an alliance would have to include the UK because it is the largest European defense spender in NATO.)
To illustrate: consider the strategic outlooks of the three biggest European spenders in NATO. France is the exception that proves the rule, having often suggested before Trump took office that Europeans should be more able to look after themselves.
Paris has also been the most militarily active European member of NATO in recent years—including by acting alone. The French would generally prefer not to act alone, but the French ambassador to the United States noted on July 4 that “Europeans can’t think of building a future without the Americans.” (end of excerpt)
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