The Iran nuclear deal, cosigned by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, was hailed as a success for Europe’s style of multilateral diplomacy, so President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement sent shock waves through the Continent’s capitals.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, for the second time in a year, that Europe could no longer rely on the U.S. to protect it. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, tweeted: “Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies.” Some commentators even proclaimed the end of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
There is a crisis all right, but it isn’t in diplomatic relations. It’s a crisis of European weakness. In a world increasingly defined by great-power competition, Europe is finding it increasingly hard to defend its preferred model of multilateral decision-making and soft-power diplomacy. As Mr. Trump decided to make his U-turn on Iran, he looked to other American allies: Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Trump’s snubbing of Europe is a continuation of the broader trend in U.S. foreign policy. President Obama came into office intent on a pivot to Asia. His administration canceled a missile-defense system for Poland and the Czech Republic in 2009, and retired two U.S. Army brigades from Europe in 2012. As of 2016, there were 62,000 U.S. troops on the Continent, down from more than 300,000 at the end of the Cold War.
When Mr. Trump calls on Europe’s wealthy nations to invest in the common defense, the diplomatic establishment practically faints. But Mr. Obama made the same point, at one point saying that “free riders aggravate me.”
During Mr. Obama’s tenure, European leaders similarly resented being left out of White House decision-making, such as when American policy on Afghanistan was being reviewed. On issues like Syria or even during the Iran negotiations, which began through a secret back channel in Oman, Mr. Obama prioritized his view of U.S. interests.
Yet America is still doing the heavy lifting to defend Europe. The European Deterrence Initiative, which positions allied troops in Eastern Europe, was reinforced by the Trump administration with $4.8 billion in 2018. American funding is expected to grow to $6.5 billion in 2019.
In April, Ukraine received U.S. Javelin antitank missiles to defend its territory against Russian military incursions in the Donbas region. The Pentagon has requested an additional $200 million to support the Ukrainian military. Meanwhile, the administration has eased some sanctions against Moscow in response to complaints from France and Germany, which have substantial business ties with Russia.
Mrs. Merkel can say she doubts America’s reliability, but Germany shows no signs of taking the mantle to protect Europe. Leaked documents from the German defense ministry showed that it could provide only nine of the 44 tanks it promised for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern flank. Germany says it will increase defense spending to 1.5% of gross domestic product by 2025. This would still leave it well short of its 2% NATO commitment, and much of the additional funds will go to military pensions.
If Europe wants to strengthen the trans-Atlantic partnership for the long run, its best path is to invest in defense and security. Wounded tweets hardly help.