United We Should Stand

A perspective on EU-US Relations. We are living in a period of unprecedented challenge to the rules-based international system and to our democratic freedoms.


Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

We are living in a period of unprecedented challenge to the rules-based international system and to our democratic freedoms. This is not some novel development brought about by a new-style US President, or indeed Brexit. In his prophetic 2008 book “The Return of History and the End of Dreams”, Robert Kagan saw that “the democracies have been divided and distracted by issues both profound and petty” just at the time when the “the autocracies of Russia and China have risen and the radical Islamists have waged their struggle”. That was eleven years ago - pre-Ukraine, pre-Syria, pre-Bataclan. To face these challenges, all the democracies need to stand together. It is certainly not the moment for European nations, chasing the Napoleonic dream of a continental European superstate, to alienate the United States, or for that matter, the United Kingdom.
Just beneath the surface of the EU, for all its expressions of transatlanticism, there is a bizarre antipathy to America.  This comes not just from the communist recidivists in countries such as Greece, Germany and Spain but is deeply entrenched in the French establishment. The French have never forgiven “les Anglo-Saxons” for liberating them and have spent the post-war decades trying to remove American influence from Europe. The pursuit of “EU strategic autonomy” with a European Defence policy, separate from NATO, is the most egregious and worrying example of this. Last November, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the formation of a  ”real European Army” to protect the continent “with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.” European Council President Donald Tusk has also lumped the US in with Russia and China as a threat to Europe.
It would seem that the ambition among certain EU leaders to integrate Europe economically, militarily and politically has become so intense that all other considerations are cast aside. As further evidence of this we might also see the way the EU has handled the Brexit negotiations with the UK with a complete absence of goodwill, flexibility or willingness to overcome difficulties in the interest of the greater good. As many of us know, in the EU nothing is possible and everything is possible - provided there is Franco-German agreement.
It has become convenient and commonplace among European politicians to blame President Trump for the current malaise. But Kagan was writing some 7 years before Trump took up the office of President. And many forget that it was Barack Obama who was alleged to have ‘pivoted’ from Europe to Asia or that, since the 1950s, America has sought greater burden-sharing by European allies in the defence of Europe - it’s not some fresh demand.
For the record, we should note that the US commitment to European security has been reinforced under President Trump. In addition to the massive US commitment to NATO and its forward deployment of US military and logistic capabilities, the European Deterrence (Reassurance) Initiative has been increased by some 650 % between 2015 and 2018 to its current annual $5.9 billion.
Furthermore, perhaps most significantly, the US and the EU countries taken together have the largest and most integrated trade and investment relationship in the world. Preeminent within this is, of course, the US/UK relationship.
Just as greater Western solidarity might have averted the second Gulf War, the same may be said about dealing with Iran. You might aver that it was the US not the Europeans that withdrew from the JCPOA. But who would reasonably doubt that Iran saw the 2015 deal as a licence to promote terrorism, insurgency and instability across the Middle East and more widely. Iran-linked terrorists were very recently caught with a stockpile of explosives near London. Iran’s Quds Force has been setting up terror cells across a swathe of African countries, mainly in the Sahel. Iran has been President Assad’s main backer in the Syrian civil war, while Hisbollah and Hamas are Iranian proxies. Iran has continued with development of its missile armoury and can now threaten Europe. Who would doubt the intensity of its ambition to acquire WMD and to develop delivery means, including through terrorist affiliates.
The EU can continue to pursue the essentially French policy of separatism from the historic transatlantic alliance, highlighting difference and protectionist policies.  Or it can adjust to the run up to the 2020 Presidential elections in the US and the maturing of Brexit, and capitalise on the optimism and novel approach of President Trump. Any criticism should be voiced behind closed doors. It should signal that it attaches primary importance to solidarity with the United States, and indeed the UK, and to the NATO alliance, as we gear up for an increasingly perilous competition of the autocracies and their unseemly proxies versus the democracies. It’s time to get real.

A former senior military officer, for 20 years Geoffrey Van Orden has been a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and of its Defence sub-Committee. He was Vice Chairman of the Special Committee on Terrorism. He has now been re-elected for his 5th parliamentary mandate.



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