Although Europe wants greater U.S. involvement, it will not sacrifice energy security.
From the NATO headquarters in Brussels and almost every capital in the European Union, praise and congratulations towards the new American president continues unabated. The political demise of Donald Trump was viewed so positively by some European leaders that their reactions are closer to a declaration of loyalty to U.S. vassalage rather than a formal diplomatic exchange.
Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, announced after Joe Biden’s inauguration that “after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House […] This day brings good news: The United States are back. And Europe stands ready.” President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said “let’s build a new founding pact. For a stronger Europe. For a stronger America. For a better world.”
For Von der Leyen and Germany as a whole, the return of the U.S. to Europe is also a relief as Trump planned to reduce the number of American. troops stationed on German soil, which amounts to 12,000 personnel. This caused panic in Berlin, which has never hidden its preference for U.S. protection instead of relying on European strategic autonomy pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Paris and Berlin differ on the degree of autonomy that the EU must have within NATO. Macron, who famously highlighted the “brain death of NATO,” stated on several occasions that Europe will not be respected by the U.S. if it is not sovereign in defense matters. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer considers the idea of European strategic autonomy an “illusion.”
Trump not only threatened German exports, but also demanded Chancellor Angela Merkel to contribute 2% GDP towards her country’s military budget. Biden will likely want this too, but not make the demand so aggressively and publicly as Trump.
The rejection of greater European autonomy in military matters has always been supported by the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, who said only last month that “the EU cannot protect itself alone and risks division if it tries splitting away from the United States.” The Norwegian NATO chief hopes that Biden will put an end to internal disputes within the organization, end French calls for autonomy, demand greater financial contributions from its members and, as de facto commander of the military alliance, issue orders for the future.
Trump’s disengagement from Europe favored the political and military autonomy pushed by Macron, who himself is attempting to replicate Charles De Gaulle’s vision of a France independent from foreign demands. When Macron spoke of NATO’s brain death, he was attempting to highlight the urgency of Turkey’s military expansionism. The verbal war between Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went beyond what was expected of so-called NATO allies. In this case, Biden’s presidency is actually to the benefit of France as the new administration has promised to deal with Turkey’s unilateralism in the aftermath of Trump’s disinterest in taming Erdoğan to protect his own personal business interests.
Meanwhile, Greece, Turkey’s number one adversary in the Mediterranean Sea despite being a so-called NATO ally, signed on Monday a deal for 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets and received a proposal to purchase French-made frigates. In another reflection of the discord between members of the so-called alliance, Athens extended its relations with countries outside of the European Union and NATO. After signing strategic pacts with the United Arab Emirates, India and Egypt, Greece signed another with Israel to create and operate a pilot school in Kalamata. The deal is estimated to be $1.8 billion and will last 20 years. The deal includes ten M-346 trainer aircrafts, a derivative of the Yakovlev Yak-130, developed with Russian-Italian cooperation.
NATO hopes that Biden will help smooth the dissensions among its members, but the new president has to make a decision on another point that directly concerns his allies, such as the renewal of the New START agreement that limits the American and Russian nuclear arsenal to 1,500 warheads each. Biden seems in favor of renewing the pact for five years, which expires on February 5. Some of his advisers prefer to extend it for only one or two years so that they can negotiate other concessions with Moscow.
Russia is, as written in NATO’s 2030 report and stated by Biden, the main enemy of the U.S. The Navalny affair serves as a lever to end the Nord Stream 2 project and sanction Russia. Merkel and Macron object, for now. Considering the famous liberalism of Germany, France and the EU, it certainly appears strange that they are vehemently defending a radical Islamophobe and anti-immigration advocate like the minor Russian political opposition figurehead, Alexei Navalny.
The Navalny issue fosters an element of consensus within NATO and the EU, but it is difficult for France and other European countries to seem willing to allow themselves to be dragged beyond minor sanctions and verbal denunciations. Although Europe is openly praising the “return of the U.S.,” it appears they are unwilling to sacrifice energy security to oppose Russia – at least for now.
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst