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Towards an Imperfect Union: A Conservative Case for the EU
The transatlantic partnership has seen better days. Europeans are ill-equipped to handle President Donald Trump’s open disdain for liberal pieties and his behavior online. Worse yet, expressing disapproval of the administration’s views — or, even better, signaling one’s moral superiority — has become an easy way to score political points among Europe’s mainstream politicians.
That, alongside Secretary Rex Tillerson’s lack of a coherent strategy for US diplomacy, has made it difficult for Americans and Europeans to work on subjects on which their interests align: keeping Russia at bay, solving the conflict in Syria, and confronting China’s increasingly aggressive posture. Here are three steps that Secretary-Designate Mike Pompeo can take to improve the transatlantic partnership — and perhaps even make it great again.
1) Signal that the United States is standing with the UK after the Russian poison attack.
Whether or not Mr. Tillerson’s abrupt departure had anything to do with his statement on the Russian attack that left the former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in critical condition — and possibly contaminated hundreds of others — America’s allies expect Washington to stand with them at a time like this. Although those inside the Beltway are mostly aware that Pompeo is no Russia dove, he needs to let policymakers in European capitals know as well. The first step would be to take full use of CAATSA and impose sanctions on the listed individuals from Vladimir Putin’s inner circle — as well as look for other coercive measures that would show the Kremlin its foreign policy choices have consequences.
2) Welcome the EU’s progress on defense, and encourage Europeans to do more.
Defense spending in Europe is growing, albeit slowly and from a low base. The European Union is also exploring new avenues to pool their defense capabilities, invest in shared military infrastructure, and make their own militaries available for joint operations — most notably in the form of Permanent Structured Cooperation in the area of defense (PESCO). Although supported by overwhelming majorities of citizens in member states, the EU’s efforts have met with skepticism in Washington thus far, partly because of reflexively anti-EU attitudes on the political right.
To be sure, there are reasonable concerns as well — tighter EU cooperation, especially in the area of military procurement, might go hand in hand with preferential treatment given to European companies over US arms suppliers. But that is a minor issue compared to the objective need for NATO to develop a real European pillar.
Mr. Pompeo should encourage the EU to continue on the current trajectory, urging them to invest more into defense and to do so wisely. Furthermore, for all the differences that currently exist between the Trump administration and European capitals — from Iran to climate change — he ought to reiterate US support for the broader efforts to turn the EU into an effective and coherent geopolitical actor.
3) Make it clear that he is no friend to Europe’s aspiring authoritarians.
Isolated in Europe, the increasingly authoritarian governments in Warsaw and Budapest are looking to the Trump administration for validation. The political style and substance of the Law and Justice Party in Poland and Fidesz in Hungary often echo the nationalist, anti-immigration, and protectionist rhetoric of the president and the GOP’s populist wing. But that should blind nobody, regardless of ideology, to the real risks involved in the political takeover of the judiciary in both post-communist countries, their government’s attacks on civil society and independent media, and rampant corruption.
The two countries face now a real risk of repudiating all of their post-1989 achievements and joining the ranks of regimes such as Turkey and Russia (which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán singled out as models of “illiberal democracy” he intended to build in the heart of Europe). Providing US backing of any form to that political drift — which is squarely not in America’s interest — would generate the added cost of confirming the worst suspicions that many Europeans already harbor about the Trump administration and poison transatlantic relations for years to come.
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