How Trump Killed the Atlantic Alliance

And How the Next President Can Restore It

Trump, Merkel, and Macron at a commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end ofWorld War I, Paris, November 2018 Benoit Tessier / REUTERS

The Atlantic alliance as we know it is dead. The end of the Cold War, the United States’ growing weariness of global burdens, and a preoccupation with domestic affairs on both sides of the ocean had already weakened transatlantic bonds when the presidency of Donald Trump inflicted the deathblow.

A future U.S. administration, even one that is more sympathetic to the idea of alliances, will be unable to restore the old alliance. If a new alliance is to emerge from the ashes of the past, it must be one based on a more realistic bargain between Europe and the United States, and one that better addresses the needs of both partners. The alliance is dead; long live the alliance.


The alliance died slowly, then all at once. For the first two years of Trump’s presidency, European leaders behaved like abused spouses, mistreated but afraid to leave, hoping against hope that things would improve. Faced with overwhelming evidence that Trump did not believe in the concept of alliances and viewed Europe more as a rival than a partner, they clung to the vain hope that the “adults in the room”—the experienced foreign policy advisers around Trump—would restrain the president’s worst instincts. Some Americans buttressed this fantasy by imploring Europeans to pay more attention to Trump’s policies than his tweets and to take comfort in the president’s reassuring personnel choices, particularly that of Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

There will be no transatlantic alliance under Trump.

To keep Trump on side, European leaders flattered him. British Prime Minister Theresa May held his hand and offered him a state visit. French President Emmanuel Macron pretended to be his best friend and invited him to a big military parade in Paris. German Chancellor Angela Merkel held firm on values but studiously avoided policy disputes. The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker came to Washington and helped create the appearance of a trade victory for Trump without making

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