After a string of recent polls has shown Donald Trump neck and neck with President Biden, European leaders are growing increasingly anxious about the possibility of a second Trump presidency — and what that would mean for the future of NATO and the war in Ukraine.
European diplomats and officials have launched a charm offensive towards the MAGA wing of the Republican party in a bid to convince Trump and his team that the U.S. commitment to European security is in America’s interest. Finland’s ambassador Mikko Hautala has reportedly reached out to Trump directly to seek to convince him of Finland’s value to NATO, the New York Times reported, while both current and former European heads of NATO have met with conservative Republicans in recent weeks to emphasize NATO’s merit and the importance of aid to Ukraine.
Even as European embassies in Washington D.C. have grown alarmed, Trump’s concrete stance remains unclear. His campaign website contains a single sentence addressing the NATO question: “We have to finish the process we began under my administration of fundamentally re-evaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.” Trump and his team have refused to divulge more about their plans for the U.S.’ role in the alliance, the Times reported.
European leaders acknowledge need to prepare for a world without US security guarantees
The uncertainty about Trump’s plans for European security have already sparked a renewed focus about how to “Trump-proof” the continent, according to Foreign Affairs. French president Emmanuel Macron said earlier this month that Europe “must be ready to act to defend and support Ukraine whatever it takes and whatever America decides.” Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party, a bloc that is expected to become the largest group in the European Parliament after the June election, told Politico that the EU must dramatically increase its defense capacities over the coming months to prepare to protect Europe without U.S. support. And in Germany, where the population has traditionally had a strong opposition to nuclear arms, a debate has sprung up about the need to establish an alternative to the U.S.’ nuclear umbrella. Germany’s former foreign minister Joschka Fischer said that given the uncertainty about U.S.-Europe relations, “the EU needs its own nuclear deterrence.”
Despite talk of autonomy, Europe may struggle without US backing
Despite talk across the continent about developing Europe’s military autonomy, U.S. support would not be easy to replace. As one analyst wrote in Le Grand Continent, a French magazine, the war in Ukraine has demonstrated that U.S. military power has no equivalent in Europe. In particular, Europe lacks the capacity to resupply Ukraine with ammunition, and does not have enough tanks and aircraft to contain Russia without U.S. support, Bruce Stokes of the German Marshall Fund wrote. While Europe has taken steps towards increasing its defense capacities, analysts and former officials have warned that these efforts fall far short of what would be required in the event of a Russian invasion.