A United States of Europe will be replacing the NATO and American presence.
Since the end of World War II, U.S. policy toward Europe has drifted, without deliberate thought, far from its initial premises—while Europe itself has changed beyond recognition. It is time that the U.S. recognized this fact. The incoming President should direct the National Security Council (NSC) to oversee a comprehensive study of U.S. policy toward Europe, a study to be based on the enduring American interests in Europe, the lessons of the post-1945 era, and on the new facts of Europe that have emerged since 1989.
The U.S.’s Post-War Europe Policy
After 1945, U.S. policymakers wanted, and expected, to withdraw U.S. forces from Western Europe in relatively short order. But the emerging Cold War rendered this impossible, and it soon became obvious that the U.S. would have to remain committed to a security role in Europe. Simultaneously, the U.S. realized that Western Europe was more economically, socially, and politically fragile than it had expected, and it embarked on an extensive program of support for the embattled democracies of Western Europe, a program epitomized by the Marshall Plan, launched in 1948.
But, by the same token, the U.S. did not want to support Western Europe indefinitely. The U.S. wanted to find ways to set the European democracies on their feet, so that they would be able to defend themselves, and make a contribution to the worldwide struggle against the Soviet Union. To that end, the U.S. regularly urged the Western European nations to increase their defense spending and to lower their internal trading barriers, on the grounds that freer trade would make the Western world better off economically, and more democratic politically. But behind these priorities, the basic U.S. interest in Europe was always centered on national security.
The Changing European Environment
By and large, this U.S. policy was remarkably successful, because it arose from a coherent and reasonable diagnosis of the causes of the rise of Nazism, and thus of World War II. The U.S. certainly succeeded in preventing a renewed European catastrophe.
After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. believed it could, at last, safely reduce its exposure to Europe. Thus, the U.S. increasingly came to see support for the European Union as the be-all of its European policy. U.S. backing for the EU is a sign not of U.S. commitment to Europe, but of the waning of that commitment, the end of serious U.S. thought about how it should uphold American interests on the continent, and—instead—the outsourcing of those interests to the EU.
But when the restraint of the Cold War was removed, the EU could suddenly go much further and faster—and the resulting instability led only to calls for it to go further and faster still. The EU, for example, embarked on fundamentally political projects, such as the EU-wide euro currency. When the euro failed, it badly exacerbated the economic and political divides between northern and southern Europe, and played a major role in the still-ongoing European financial crisis. Suddenly, an EU institution, for the first time, touched the lives of all the peoples of Europe in a visible way, one that many of them resented. Yet the instinct of the EU bureaucrats was not to slow down, or to reverse: It was to speed up.
At the same time, the Russian invasion of Crimea and Ukraine exposed yet again—after the disastrous farce of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s—the hollowness of the EU’s pretensions in the security realm, while the casual way that Germany’s Angela Merkel invited over a million Middle Eastern and North African refugees into the continent testified to how EU-wide policy can, in practice, be made by a single individual. These failures have, inevitably, led to calls for yet more Europe: A recent, but by no means final, EU demand, backed by leading German politicians, is for a European army that would slowly sideline NATO.
What the U.S. Should Do
The incoming President should direct the National Security Council to oversee a full-dress reassessment of U.S. policy toward Europe—not to reject all current U.S. commitments, but to examine, starting from first principles, how to secure enduring American interests in Europe in the post–Cold War world.
As in 1945, the first U.S. interest in Europe is peace. As contributions to peace, and for their intrinsic value, the U.S. also values prosperity and democracy. In short, the interests of the U.S. in Europe have not changed. But the U.S. has not reassessed its approach to Europe since the end of the Cold War. Instead, it has drifted lazily into an increasing reliance on the European Union, in a way that, as demonstrated by President Obama’s intervention in Britain’s EU referendum, has become unthinking dogma.
The threat to peace in Europe today derives from its troubled periphery, from an aggressive Russia to the chaotic Middle East. It is still in the interests of the U.S., as it was in the 1940s, to help Europe’s democracies defend themselves from these threats, and the best tool for that purpose is still NATO. Any organization, including the EU, which detracts from this transatlantic instrument does a profound disservice to basic American and European interests.
If the U.S. continues to base its European policy on unthinking support for the EU, it will continue to see more economic strains, rising illiberalism—and a weaker transatlantic security relationship in the bargain. That is not in the interests of the nations of Europe—or of the United States. The true interest of the U.S. is to return to the ideas that saved Europe after 1945—the ideas of economic freedom, multilateral cooperation for security and prosperity, and democratic national government.
Full article: America’s Outdated Europe Policy: In 2017, the Next President Must Adapt to New Reality (The Heritage Foundation)