How to Save the Transatlantic Alliance

Waiting Out Trump Won’t Be Enough

At an European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium May 2019 Piroschka Van de Wouw / REUTERS

When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at this year’s Munich Security Conference, he seemed to speak not to the audience facing him—the leaders and representatives of important U.S. allies around the world. Rather, his “America first” rhetoric seemed like a courtesy for his boss in the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump.

Pence’s performance in Munich was symptomatic of the state of transatlantic relations. At the highest administrative level, U.S. rhetoric toward Europe alternates between silence and verbal assault. Constructive dialogue, cooperation on common interests, and a commitment to shared values are all on the retreat.

The damage need not be permanent, but simply waiting out the current U.S. administration will not do. The repercussions of Trump’s tenure will outlast his term of office, and the United States will be a different country for it. To save the transatlantic alliance, both sides must make a significant effort. The United States needs to understand that to blame and threaten allies while withdrawing from multilateral agreements provides no basis for cooperation and trust. Europe, for its part, needs to develop a common foreign and security policy, and that will, at the very least, require real investments in its defense capabilities. If both sides do their part, the relationship could emerge from the current crisis more balanced and therefore stronger.


Trump has dramatically changed the manner in which the United States deals with international partners. He shows little interest in open dialogue on an equal footing; rather, he expects other countries to follow his orders, even if that means breaching international treaties that the United States once helped negotiate. If a so-called partner nevertheless dares to make an independent decision, Trump threatens to impose sanctions. This trend has intensified over time, as the inner circle around Trump has grown more and more homogeneous and dissenting voices have been sidelined. Moderating advisers who engaged in constructive dialogue with their European partners, such as former Secretary

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