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History's Barriers to European Joint Security

Although France and Germany are more reliant on each other than ever, the two heavyweights at the heart of Europe still have vastly different ideas about defense and security policy. And, because these attitudes are deeply rooted in history, reconciling them will require perpetual compromise.

BERLIN – Ever since the United States began reconsidering its engagement in world politics, it has been withdrawing – strategically and mentally – from many regions and pivoting toward the Indo-Pacific, particularly China, its only real rival for twenty-first-century global leadership. In this new context, what should Europe aspire for? Can the European Union at least partly fill the resulting security gap?

When it comes to forging a common security and defense policy, the EU has been moving at a snail’s pace, even as its rhetoric has raced ahead. Despite experiencing four years of former US President Donald Trump’s Euroscepticism, the increasingly aggressive rise of China, and Russian revisionism in Eastern Europe, there is still a yawning gap between European expectations and reality.

As one of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced regions, Europe certainly could afford to pursue its own defense and security strategy. European thinking, however, has not yet united behind that idea. Historical experience still has too much weight, as does the deeply held assumption that America will always step in if push comes to shove.