In a letter sent this month to the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, US Defense Department Undersecretary Ellen Lord said the US was “deeply concerned” that approval of the European Defense Fund (EDF) rules and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) would “produce duplication, non-interoperable military systems, diversion of scarce defense resources and unnecessary competition between NATO and the EU”.
The warning comes while over the past year, the Trump administration has been pressing the EU to increase its military spending to help cut the US spending in NATO. What does Washington seek in its policies regarding the EU?
EU-US economic and security cooperation
Following WWII, the US adopted its Marshal Plan, an initiative passed in 1948 to help largely-destroyed European economies recover by rebuilding Europe. The plan read that it came to address the post-war problems and provide security and welfare to the European nations in a bid to remove the ground for the emergence of dictatorships. The US aid plan, worth of $13 billion then and over $150 billion now, sought other goals.
One American condition required Europe to collectively demand for the aid. This condition meant to make as many as allies in Europe. Additionally, the Marshal Plan created a huge market in Europe for American goods. The US dictated for the trade tariffs it favored.
The most important outcome took place for the US. When the Europeans had to demand US aid, they founded the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But the Soviet Union came against it and argued it violated the nations’ sovereignty and independence. The pro-Soviet countries avoided to join it and so Europe was rocked by division and the US dollar became a common global trade currency. Two years after the Marshal Plan, the US established NATO with Europe. The Soviets launched the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) in response. They also founded Warsaw Pact as a military organization for Eastern bloc.
During the Cold War atmosphere, it was thought that there is an ideological division between Europe and Russia. But after the Cold War and mainly under President Donald Trump, the world understood that that the US interests largely lies in sowing division between Europe and Russia.
Trump doctrine and relations with EU
When Trump assumed the power at the White House, he unveiled his policy in the form of a mixture of “neo-isolationism and offensive realism”, in an effort to save American hegemony while the US-dominated unipolar world order is fading away.
By neo-isolationism Trump moved away from any spending-requiring international commitment and by offensive realism he started maximizing the US power and sought to prevent rival blocs power gain. In a uni/multi-polar world order, there is a superpower and some regional powers. The EU, China, and Russia are the emerging powers the US does not want them to be so. The dispute with China and Russia is old. But with regard to the EU-US similarities of political regimes, it was supposed that confrontation risks were removed forever. Many experts used the “democratic peace” theory, which argues the democracies do not fight each other, to identify the American-European relations. But Trump’s paradigmatic shift in the foreign policy practically turned on their head all of the calculations, indicating that the US is worried about the EU’s power gain as much as it is about China and Russia’s. He introduced the “America first” policy, presented a new definition of American exceptionalism, and put the American interests even if this came at the cost of other actors’ interests.
EU measures and US concerns
When James Mattis resigned as Defense Secretary, Europe lost the last figure in Trump cabinet who put into account the European interests under the traditional transatlantic relations. The EU worries enlarged as a result. Carl Bildt, former Sweden prime minister, commented on the issue, saying it was an alarming time for the EU. The abrupt Trump decision to remove the US forces from Syria and Afghanistan further pushed the European leaders towards considering to forming security mechanism independent of Washington. Last year, Jean-Claude Junker, the President of European Commission, said the European bloc will found a “European army.”
Trump’s unpredictability is prompting EU efforts for an independent security system. Last month, the EU approved €13 billion to finance the EDF. The fund is meant to bring the Europan nations into joint projects to produce strategic arms, including highly-advanced combat drones. This pact was in line will other moves taken a year before, like PESCO, to form a purely European military alliance. Germany and France, two EU leaders, laid the foundation for PESCO.
Having in mind that Britain was in the exit process when PESCO was founded, London stayed away from its membership. However, as words about Brexit cancelation spread, London could come on board PESCO. That is what renders the US anxious.
In his national security document, Trump, unlike his predecessors, only once refers to the NATO and asks the EU to raise its NATO spending share to 2 percent of its GDP. The paradox here is that despite the past demands of military spending increase, in the recent letter it expresses deep concern about PESCO and EDF spending, arguing that the laws put monopolize the military contracts to European companies. PESCO laws are passed collectively and the US is put outside its mechanism.
EU defensive pacts’ repercussions
1. Trump becomes confused in the face of an acceptable and clear security strategy by Europe. Karen Heupel, director of a London-based military studies institute, suggests that Trump thinks that he can have two paradoxical things simultaneously. He removes troops from the combat zones, he cut funds to the international organizations, and he gets the US aside from Libya and Syria peace processes and still wants to save Washington’s important position in the world.
2. One policy Trump relies much on is dividing the potential powers or broadening the existing divisions. Russia and the EU are already divided over Ukraine. But Trump at the same time is afraid about China involvement in greater trade partnership with the EU. Trump pushed the EU to join the sanctions on China’s giant smartphone maker Huawei. But in April, Europe said it will not join the anti-Huawei actions. Europe and China are very close in the World Trade Organization. An independent Europe needs close trade ties with China because it does not have to set its relations with China with the US’s just in return for its security provision. It can provide its own security and save ties with Beijing. That happens to be an essential threat to the US, however.
3. The biggest risk an independent Europe poses to the US is ideological. The EU can replace the US in the liberal-democratic norms Washington have been seeking to implement globally for seven decades.
4. EU military industry will grow even more advanced in an exclusive market. This will represent prospective damage to the American arms manufacturers. The US hold 34 of the global arms market. Holding over 23 percent of the same market, the EU makes the biggest rival to Washington. France and Germany rank third and fourth respectively in the global weapons suppliers list. So, it is not surprising that Gordon Sondland, the US envoy to the EU, threatened the bloc with sanctions in response.