Friday

21st Sep 2018

Europe plays 'vital' role in Trump geopolitics

  • Trump: "From this day forward, it's going to be only America First, America First" (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

Europe is a "vital" US ally in its rivalry with China and Russia, according to Donald Trump's geopolitics.

But the US president's "America first" vision is anti-European on climate change and reduces the EU to a footnote.

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  • EU was mentioned just once in passing (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Trump's ideas were laid out in a National Security Strategy on Monday (18 December) which said "a strong and free Europe is of vital importance to the United States."

"The United States is safer when Europe is prosperous and stable, and can help defend our shared interests," it said.

The paper designated "the revisionist powers of China and Russia" as the main threats to US supremacy.

It said the Chinese military "seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region" and that Russia "seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders".

It noted that China was using state investments to gain a "strategic foothold" in central and eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

It also said Russia was "using subversive measures to weaken the credibility of America's commitment to Europe, undermine transatlantic unity, and weaken European institutions and governments".

"With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia demonstrated its willingness to violate the sovereignty of states in the region," it said.

"Russia, too, projects its influence ... through the control of key energy and other infrastructure throughout parts of Europe," it added.

In response, the Trump document said "the United States and Europe will work together to counter Russian subversion and aggression".

"The Nato alliance of free and sovereign states is one of our great advantages over our competitors, and the United States remains committed to Article V of the Washington Treaty," it added, referring to Nato's mutual defence clause.

"We will work with our allies and partners to diversify European energy sources to ensure the energy security of European countries," it said.

Reading Trump

US officials wrote the 68-page paper over the past 11 months based on Trump's public statements.

The president, in a break from normal practice, launched it with a speech on Monday, standing beside a fighter jet and a giant American flag.

"From this day forward, it's going to be only America First, America First," he said, repeating his campaign slogan. "America is coming back strong," he said.

The Chinese foreign ministry reacted in wounded tones on Tuesday, saying: "We urge the US to stop intentionally distorting China's strategic intentions and to abandon the ... Cold War mentality".

The Kremlin bemoaned the "imperialist character" of Trump's "unipolar" world view.

But parts of the document might also make sad reading for European governments.

The paper excluded any mention of climate change as a US priority, in a blow to EU efforts to lead world action on global warming.

Instead, it said Trump wanted the US to be "an energy-dominant nation" by "unleashing abundant energy resources", referring to fossil fuel exports.

It also described "climate policies" as "an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to US economic and energy security interests".

Trump withdrew the US from the Paris accord on climate change earlier this year. He also binned a free trade treaty with the EU in favour of protectionism.

The paper called Europe America's "most significant trading partner", but its bulky economic section focused on combatting "unfair foreign trade practices" and on rebuilding "our [US] economic strength".

It envisaged world affairs as being conducted by "strong, sovereign, and independent nations", not by multilateralism.

In that spirit, the paper relegated the EU to just one mention, saying: "The United States will work with the European Union ... to ensure fair and reciprocal trade practices and eliminate barriers to growth."

Realism

Commenting on the text, Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister who works with the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in London, said: "The previous US National Security Strategy in 2015 favoured a 'rules-based international order'. That concept is totally absent from the new document".

He said the Trump paper "argues that sovereign states competing with each other is the best hope for a peaceful world. It can be argued that history speaks otherwise."

But Dmitri Trenin, a Russia expert with the Carnegie Europe think tank in Moscow, said the Trump doctrine "recognises the reality of return of great-power rivalry and the demise of Pax Americana … The document is realist rather than isolationist."

The paper's omissions on climate and multilateralism aside, it also said nothing explicit on Russia's help in getting Trump elected last year.

It warned that "Russia uses information operations as part of its offensive cyber efforts to influence public opinion across the globe. Its influence campaigns blend covert intelligence operations and false online personas with state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or 'trolls'."

Those words described what Russia did to help Trump win, amid an ongoing probe by the FBI into whether he colluded with Moscow to do it.

Analysis

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The more harm Trump does to trans-Atlantic ties, the better for China's global interests, the author of a new study on Sino-European relations has said.

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