The stability of the unbreakable alliance between North America and its European allies has become a kind of mantra that is repeated in each and every public speech delivered by a high-ranking US, NATO, or EU official. “Together we can do anything,” they claim, emphasizing the need to strengthen the Western unity they so celebrate. Sounds great, but does this much-vaunted unity exist?
President Donald Trump announced on March 1 that he would impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum to protect American manufacturers. The move would deal a heavy blow to the EU’s alliance with America. There is the risk of retaliation from major US trade partners like Europe, China, and neighboring Canada that would hurt US carmakers. The warnings have already been issued. Brussels is already preparing a list of $3.5 (€2.8) billion worth of US goods, such as Harley Davidson motorcyles, that would then be subject to a 25% tariff imposed by Europe. This would breach no agreement – the planned measures would comply with WTO rules. So, a tit-for-tat trade war is brewing that will turn these Western allies into belligerents. Some commentators compare this new American policy to Brexit. Meanwhile, Washington has been engaged in a futile dispute with Canada, a NATO ally, as well as Mexico, over amendments to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
America has reason to be concerned about Europe’s defense plans, especially the program known PESCO, which may diminish NATO’s role. It is viewed as “a protectionist vehicle for the EU.” US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison openly expressed concern about the program at last month’s annual security conference in Munich, which revealed the widening rift between America and the EU over the independent military might of Europe. Germany and France said the EU should not be dependent on a NATO that is dominated by the US.
The idea of creating an independent EU defense force has been backed by Germany’s new coalition government. The plans are to be implemented in partnership with France. European influence worldwide could grow at the expense of the US.
The US has reason to worry, because PESCO and the creation of an EU defense fund could potentially lead to joint purchases of European defense products, which would hurt American arms exports. This is a serious bone of contention. The disagreements will probably escalate. It’s really hard to see how these diverging interests could be aligned. Last May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe can no longer rely on the US and the UK. It needs to build its own future independently.
The US and the EU have opposing views on Iran. It has become clear that Washington is close to tearing up its nuclear deal but Europe wants to keep it intact. This is a very serious rift. The US insists the deal should be renegotiated or nullified if changes are not accepted by Tehran. The EU is standing firm and rejecting the idea. If the US walks away from the Iran deal and Europe does not, which is a very likely scenario, the West as we know it today will find itself deeply divided over a major international issue. This brings to mind the split between NATO allies before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with Germany and France in open opposition to the adamant American and British plan to unleash war. This time it’ll be worse because Europe has significant economic interests in Iran.
Europeans are well aware that whatever Washington says or does, that nuclear deal will remain in effect, due to the fact that any changes require the consent of the other signatories: Russia, China, and Iran.
The EU is far from being united. The bloc is torn apart by divisions of all kinds. Those are going to be exacerbated as a result of the Italian election held on March 5, in which “populist” parties scored big. The Visegrad V4 group, which is sticking to its guns on immigration and other issues, is just one of the alliances within the alliance. The popular concept of a “multi-speed” EU will certainly drive the last nail into the coffin of European unity.
There are so many smoldering conflicts dividing the West and they are close to breaking through to the surface. The unity of the West is a myth. It is about to break apart and thus alter the global political landscape. The anti-Russian policy has failed to unite the countries of the West and makes no sense, given the deep divisions undermining them. It would be wiser to concentrate on the burning problems challenging the West’s very existence, rather than inventing enemies. The “West vs. Russia” paradigm is no longer viable. This confrontation is at odds with the West’s own interests and is a distraction from the real issues that need to be urgently addressed. This would be an opportune time to recognize this new reality.