Europe in the New Era of Great Power Competition

How the EU Can Stand Up to Trump and China

Leaders at the NATO summit in Brussels, July 2018. Yves Herman / Reuters

In the run-up to last week’s NATO summit and the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, European leaders could hardly hide their anxiety. In recent weeks, Trump has gone on a rhetorical warpath against the United States’ greatest allies. In a rally in June, he claimed that the EU “was set up to take advantage of the United States.” Earlier that month, Trump attacked German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she was facing a rebellion in her own coalition over immigration. “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership,” he tweeted. Trump also reportedly asked French President Emmanuel Macron to leave the EU in order to get a better bilateral trade deal with the United States. These latest attacks came on the heels of Trump’s refusal to join the G-7 joint statement, his imposition of new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum from U.S. allies, and his proposal to readmit Russia to the G-7. On the eve of the meeting with Putin, the U.S. president called the European Union a “foe.” The message seems clear: “America first” means Europe alone. 

These recent debacles reflect not only a growing rift between the United States and western Europe but also a new reality: Europe, divided internally, is losing agency on the world stage, and the Trump administration, acting as a predator more than as a partner, is tempted to exploit this weakness. As great powers compete for influence across the globe, Europe, like the Middle East or Latin America, will become another battleground. 

In a speech in June at the Heritage Foundation unveiling the administration’s Europe strategy, A. Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, put it most directly: “Europe is indisputably a place of serious geopolitical competition. . . . We have to take this reality seriously. . . . America has to take it seriously.” Seen from Europe, this presents an existential challenge. European countries rely on the United States’

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