Last February, Nancy Pelosi led a bipartisan delegation of over 50 US lawmakers on a trip to Brussels in order to reaffirm US support for NATO and US-European relationsThere, at the Munich Security Conference, a senior German official anonymously spoke with the New York Times about the diplomatic crisis to which Pelosi was responding, stating “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken”. This division among American leadership shows just how far  off Trump stands in relation to many traditional conventions of US foreign policy.

Trump ran for President on a platform which blamed China and Mexico for the lack of economic security in the US, but it didn’t take long for his derision to spill over onto Europe. Central to Trump’s ideology is a strong skepticism of multilateral agreements and a transactional view of foreign relations – a position which does not fit with the European strategy of previous presidents. In July of 2017, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the restrictions it placed on US production capabilities. Last year, Trump went on to end the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran Deal – two deals Europe depended on for assurances of security. The INF treaty reduced the danger of further Russian expansion into Eastern Europe, while the Iran Deal prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program that could easily target Europe. Trump has also tried to leverage Europe on trade, including them last year on steel and aluminum tariffs originally targeted against China, and more recently threatening to tariff automobile imports.

Any possible interpretations of these actions as the rectifying of an uneven but collaborative alliance were negated last July when Trump named the EU first when asked who he sees as being the “foes” of the United States. “In a trade sense, they’ve really taking advantage of us and many of those countries are in NATO and they weren’t paying their bills,” Trump told the BBC.

EU leaders have slowly accepted this new paradigm, with French President Emmanuel Macron stating last November that “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia, and even the United States”, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel joining him in advocating for the creation of a European Army which would complement NATO. These leaders no longer see a point in combating Trump over the issue of American defense expenditure in Europe, and would rather take threats such as that posed by Putin into their own hands.

However, it hasn’t only been rivals that Trump has found across the Atlantic. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish President Adrzej Duda have both earned Trump’s appreciation as they drift further from the EU and take a more nationalist tone. Duda is hoping to have a US military base built in Poland to deter Russian aggression, publicly offering to name it “Fort Trump”. Trump also complimented Poland for “standing up for their independence, their security, and their sovereignty” while the country was in the midst of a conflict with the EU over its undermining of its own Supreme Court. Viktor Orban has earned the support of Trump due to his similar policies of blaming immigration and globalism for the breakdown of  Hungarian identity. Trump also complimented the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK, viewing it as a parallel accomplishment to his own election later that year.

While Trump often picks out specific issues with the EU, it seems that his eventual goal is the dissolution of the Union.  What is less clear is how much of Trump’s support for these nationalist, anti-EU movements is rooted in his desire to surround himself with like-minded heads of state or the belief that a more fractured global order will be easier to dominate economically and militarily.

Engagement Resources:

  • Human Rights Watch – An international human rights organization which has worked to support Crimean autonomy against Russian aggression.
  • Roots Action – An online activist group devoted to pushing US domestic and foreign policy in a progressive direction.


Photo by Hoil Ryu

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