Feb 27, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Wake for the Atlantic alliance

FDR and Churchill, 1941. Photo: Print Collector/Getty

Again and again, President Trump has laid body punches into America's foremost allies, calling them deadbeats and threatening to withdraw from NATO, the military alliance that for 7 decades has helped prevent a new great power war.

The big picture: While they will dispense with Trump's firebrand rhetoric and threats, a Democratic administration in 2020 — should Trump lose his re-election bid — would not bring the Atlantic alliance back to what it was.

"The Atlantic alliance as we know it is dead," write Philip Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro, both former officials in the Obama State Department, this week in Foreign Affairs.

  • In that framework, they look at how both a Trump or Democratic 2020 victory would play out, making their assessment from both sides of the Atlantic — Gordon as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and Shapiro as research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
  • If Trump wins, "the alliance could be reborn as a populist, nationalist, and racist partnership between the United States and governments in Hungary, Poland, Italy, or others."
  • Should a Democrat win, "we hope the new president will be more on the same page with Europe on climate change and Russia. But don't expect the nostalgic past in which Americans pay for Europe's defense and not expect Europe to pay its part," Gordon told Axios by phone today.

What would change under a Democratic administration, Gordon said: It would not question the legitimacy of the alliance. But Derek Chollet, executive vice president at the German Marshall Fund, said President Obama, too, drubbed European allies for a failure to meet the NATO spending floor of 2% of GDP on defense, and griped about "free riders" on the U.S. dime abroad.

  • One of Obama's signature foreign policy moves was a pivot to Asia, which upset Europeans. Chollet tells Axios that the Europeans saw their relations with the U.S. "in zero-sum terms."
  • Six straight U.S. defense secretaries have "banged the drum on spending more for defense," Chollet said.
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