U.S.-European Security Relations under the New Administration

Laura Rockwood (Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation) starts the panel discussion by reminding that the U.S.-EU security relations were challenged by two events, namely the 2016 referendum in Great-Britain and the election of Donald Trump. As an example, the new US president refused to reaffirm the article 5 collective defence clause of the NATO treaty. After the NATO summit, the German chancellor Angela Merkel has declared: “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over”. In addition, the Russian Federation under the strong presidency of Vladimir Putin may take advantage of a transatlantic relationship characterised by tensions and uncertainties. The visit of Donald Trump to Europe last month has revealed deep ideological contradictions and has undermined trust on both sides. Could we consider that such a context may offer a great opportunity for Europe to take its destiny in its own hands?

Steven Pifer (Brookings Institution) affirms that the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA is challenging seriously European and Transatlantic security. The panellist is insisting on the relationship with Russia and arms control. For the moment, it is difficult to understand Trump’s strategy concerning Russia. The US president maintains that he wants to develop a better relationship and in this context, the key actor seems to be the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The negotiations about arms control could be a good vehicle to improve US-Russian relations, nevertheless the current American administration does not seem strongly preoccupied by such a topic. According to Mr Pifer, the USA will continue to observe the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) because it allows transparency, verifications and data exchange. In addition, such a treaty may represent a model for missiles or conventional forces control. Considering the The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the panellist regrets Europe silence because it is a wrong signal sent to Moscou and Washington, namely that the EU appears not to be concerned by the topic. However, arms control may improve the relationship between the USA, Europe and Russia and provide a better cooperation.

Referred to as “most dangerous legacy of World War II”, nuclear weapons non-proliferation and disarmament represented a fundamental concern for the Obama administration. However, Angela Kane (International Institute for Peace, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation) believes that the new US president´s nuclear strategy is obviously related to modernization, militarization and a new arms race with a real risk of escalation. The panellist totally agrees with Steven Pifer´s statement about the unfortunate silence of the EU in such a context of Russian and American militarization. Angela Kane insists on a fundamental difference of perception and outlook between the USA and Europe, namely the fact that economic development aid is becoming an increasing part of defence policy. The new US foreign policy focused on American interests and national security will not help to improve a transatlantic relationship, which has provided stability during several decades. As Angela Merkel already underlined it, the European Union has to take its destiny into its own hands. A new European security should be defined with taking into account Donald Trump´s half-hearted NATO stance. According to the panellist, the strong power projected by the transatlantic relationship will create a vacuum that will be undoubtedly exploited by others and not necessarily for the improvement of global security.

To begin with, Heinz Gärtner (International Institute for Peace, University of Vienna) will focus on non-nuclear weapons states, and more especially on Austria because they share experience and flexibility when it comes to disarmament and non-proliferation. Nowadays, Austria is sponsoring humanitarian initiatives related to the use of nuclear weapons and the country is participating to negotiations in New-York about the ban of nuclear weapons. According to the panellist, it is not by chance that Austria hosted negotiations concerning a “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) when we consider the long tradition of neutrality and the strong presence of international organizations and NGOs engaged in disarmament and non-proliferation. Professor Gärtner points out a fundamental difference between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states: the former think they are protected due to their nuclear arsenal whereas the latter feel more secure because they do not have nuclear weapons and consequently they are not a prior target.

            Considering the transatlantic relationship, there is worth mentioning the strategic concept of “extended deterrence”, in other words, the promise of a nuclear weapon state to use its arsenal in order to defend NATO allies. Such a concept is related to the principle of collective defence (article 5 of the NATO treaty), nevertheless when Donald Trump came to Brussels in May 2017, he did not explicitly showed commitment of his countryto this famous article 5. Heinz Gärtner considers that Trump´s statement is linked to a long tradition in American defence policy of reducing the US international engagement.

            During the question and answer session, Heinz Gärtner evokes the recent talks among several EU member states to develop a common army as well as to become a nuclear power. This will be a disaster for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) due to the fact that each EU country will be a nuclear weapon state. In addition, it raises the problematic question of who will be in charge of the command on the use of nuclear weapon. As concerns the relationship between the USA and the Russian Federation, most of the panellists believe that the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will play a central role in order to find an agreement on nuclear weapons.  

Steven Pifer acknowledges that Donald Trump’s visit in Brussels for the NATO summit was a failure and he considers that the method used by the new US president is certainly not the right one. Considering North Korea, it could represent a serious for global security and it requires a better cooperation between the USA, Russia and China. However, Angela Kane suggests that terrorism and radicalism represent a daily threat to international security and she regrets that Donald Trump maintained a strong bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia which is doing more to export extremism than any other country in the region.