Seven expert views: America first, Europe alone?

Opinion piece (Clingendael Spectator)
19 March 2024

If Joe Biden is re-elected, and the Democrats control both the US Senate and the House of Representatives, then there would be scope for increased transatlantic co-operation. In this scenario, Washington would probably provide more assistance to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression, and Europe and the US would have similar policies towards China. The transatlantic relationship would not be perfect; Biden is instinctively more protectionist than most European leaders. But this would be the best outcome for Europe.

If Biden is re-elected, while at least one Congressional chamber remains in Republican hands, Europe could expect continuity: a broadly helpful administration but a powerful isolationist majority in Congress able to block assistance to Ukraine. And even more internationally minded Americans would probably press the administration to shift resources from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region. Europe would find itself more exposed to Russian pressure and would need to step up its support to Ukraine.

The nightmare scenario is Donald Trump becoming president again, with his supporters controlling Congress as well. His comments in the election campaign have already undermined the credibility of NATO’s Article 5 defence guarantee. Trump has long been protectionist and isolationist; he would have a Congress that would enable him to turn his instincts into actions.

Europe cannot afford to hope for the best; it needs to prepare for the worst. Even if Trump is not elected this time, his brand of isolationism will remain a powerful force in US politics. European leaders need to be honest with their voters: Europe is in an increasingly rough neighbourhood, and the police may no longer turn up when called. The householders and their friendly neighbours need to ensure they can fight off intruders if necessary. That means more defence spending and less worrying about arbitrary deficit targets.

Read the full article here.