Protecting Europe in the Age of Trump

BRUSSELS – Just like the polls prior to the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, the polls in the run-up to the United States’ presidential election were wrong. And just like Brexit, the unthinkable has happened: Donald Trump is now President-elect of the US, signaling the triumph of nativism over internationalism. In the contest between open and closed societies, the latter are clearly winning, and liberal democracy is quickly becoming a resistance movement.

With Trump in the White House, the US will become obsessed with itself. It is safe to say that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the European Union is now a nonstarter. But a Trump presidency will adversely affect Europe in more ways than that. The EU’s territorial integrity itself is now at stake.

Trump has made it abundantly clear that his foreign-policy priorities do not include European security. He doesn’t recognize NATO’s strategic necessity, and he has shown an interest in transatlantic relations only when he has alluded to unpaid bills. A Trump presidency will lead to an epic geopolitical shift: for the first time since 1941, Europe cannot rely on the US defense umbrella; it now stands alone.

Europe has been only too happy to make life easy for itself. For the past century, transatlantic relations have adhered to a perverse, unspoken dynamic, whereby the more active the US has been, the more Europe has dozed off. When the Americans have intervened abroad – as they did in Iraq – Europe has responded with grandstanding lectures about “imperial overstretch.” And when the Americans have failed to intervene, or intervened late or ineffectively – as in Syria and Libya – Europeans have demanded more American leadership.