By Bonnie Kristian
“Europe can no longer rely on the United States for its security,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday. “It is up to us today to take our responsibilities and guarantee our own security, and thus have European sovereignty,” he continued, affirming that though alliances like NATO remain important, “sometimes the balances and habits on which they were built must be revisited.”
Macron is not the only European leader who has taken this line of late. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas likewise argued “the Atlantic has widened politically” in an op-ed for Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper last week. This is only partly because of President Trump’s NATO skepticism, Maas wrote. “The U.S. and Europe have been drifting apart for years,” he said, and rather than heed the advice of “some ardent trans-Atlanticist[s] … to sit this presidency out,” Maas counseled Europe to “assume [its] equal share of responsibility” for self-defense rather than relying on Washington.
Europe’s realization, as Macron put it, “that it must protect itself” instead of depending on America is necessary—even overdue. And though Europe may be coming to this realization unwillingly, forced to confront the matter by unanticipated antagonism from the White House, both sides of the Atlantic should welcome this opportunity to assess and reshape the structures of an outdated alliance system that undermines European autonomy and overburdens American taxpayers.
For where once it may have made sense for Europe to rely on the United States for security—and for U.S. taxpayers to largely pay for it—that era has long since passed.
The nations of Europe—collectively and in many cases individually—are wealthy and technologically advanced. Leading powers like France and Germany as well as the United Kingdom and Italy are equipped with the economic wherewithal to sustain modern militaries and nuclear weapons. Individually, they are formidable. Together, only the United States has more military might.
For nations like these to outsource their defense to a foreign country is a bizarre and ever more ill-fitting anachronism. “The difference between [NATO’s founding in] 1949 and [today] is that present-day Europe is more than capable of addressing today’s threat, without American assistance or supervision,” military historian Ret. Col. Andrew Bacevich has argued convincingly. “Collectively, the Europeans don’t need U.S. troops or dollars.”
A shift toward European self-responsibility is advantageous for Europe and America alike. As Macron’s mention of sovereignty suggests, it would give European citizens a greater say in their own defense.
Rather than tagging along on American aims and ventures, Europe should seize this shot at greater local direction of their foreign affairs. (This point holds for the United States, too, as it was significantly at European demand that the Obama administration launched its worse than useless intervention in Libya in 2011. That debacle should serve as a glaring warning for the U.S. and Europe alike that poorly organized and managed alliances can drag us into counterproductive, no-win wars.)
Maas contends the “overlapping of values and interests that shaped” the U.S.-Europe “relationship for two generations is decreasing,” and to the extent he is correct, Europe should be all the more eager to lay hold of its own path forward. Beyond sovereignty, European democracy itself is imperiled if as central a government function as defense is shaped less by each nation’s citizenry and more by a foreign power with differing interests.
Americans would also benefit from a divestiture of European security. We are taxed and indebted enough for our own government’s projects; we should not be providing a de facto subsidy of Europe’s welfare state as well. Moreover, Maas’s observation of the gap between European and U.S. interests is as applicable on our side of the Atlantic as it is on his: Washington should concern itself with our vital national interests, narrowly conceived, instead of playing guardian for an entire foreign continent.
Comments like these from Macron and Maas suggest that, three decades after the Cold War ended, Europe is finally ready to defend its own continent. That’s a good deal for Americans—if only Washington would take it.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities and weekend editor at The Week. Her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Times on August 29, 2018. Read more HERE.