It is chest-thumping time in Europe. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, the new voice of America, has threatened the country’s allies of 70 years: Pay up or we ship out—no more freeloading on Uncle Sam. Actually, there isn’t that much left to cull, given the work of outgoing President Barack Obama, who whittled the American garrison down to 30,000, or one-tenth of what it once was.
The allies, just now coming out of shock, have gone into fighting mode, arguing that if Trump is not going to protect them (even as he cozies up to Russian President Vladimir Putin), then they must unshackle themselves from their grating dependence on the United States. Invoking the Trump presidency, the United Kingdom’s defense minister, Michael Fallon, called for “spending more.” His German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, wants to seize the moment, too. “Europe,” she said, “must shoulder greater responsibility.” Austria’s vice-chancellor thundered, “Europe first!” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, chimed in to urge a “more effective and credible” posture, while EU President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us.”
NATO’s borders have always been America’s as well.
In turn, the EU Commission has proposed a five-billion-euro ($5.28 billion) fund from which member states could draw for research and re-equipment. That is a magnificent pledge of resolve, especially since the commission has pointed out that the EU as a whole has cut real defense spending by around 12 percent over the last decade. Today, it spends about 200 billion euros ($211 billion) on common defense, one-third of the U.S. total. So why shouldn’t 500 million Europeans provide for their own security, given that their combined GDP is equivalent to the United States’ and that two countries—the United Kingdom and France—field their own nuclear deterrents?
The answer, as always, is that the 28 EU members, soon to be minus the United Kingdom, are not e pluribus unum. For a thousand years and counting, these ancient nations have not been able to achieve what Alexander Hamilton counseled in The Federalist Papers, no. 70: a strong executive who embodies the “energy essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks” and would act with “decision and dispatch.”
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