A bimonthly magazine on international affairs, edited in Germany's capital

Dealing with The Donald


Donald Trump’s victory in America’s presidential election will reshape the way the United States engages with the world. Here’s what a Trump presidency could mean for Europe.


© REUTERS/Mike Sager

Taking the Reins

Europe will need to pick up where the United States leaves off.

European leaders and policy makers were confounded, like so many Americans, by Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States. As so many others, they are now scrambling to make sense of the consequences. So what will it likely mean?

A Trump presidency will lead to profound changes in America’s engagement with the world. At its base, it will represent a transition back from the highly internationalized and engaged America that we have known since the beginning of the 20th century.

This should, in fact, come as no great surprise to Europe. This transition is exactly what America has been speaking of for decades now – the desire to step back from being the world’s policeman. The translation of this sentiment into fact has also been an underlying trend during the Obama administration.

However, it will without question be different than it was under President Barack Obama. It is likely to take a different hue and accelerate at a far quicker pace.

Trump has said bluntly that America’s allies are not pulling their weight and that under his leadership they will have to start doing so if they want American support. That differs little from the position (stated rather more politely) of the last four

US defense secretaries – Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hegel, and Ashton Carter. But unlike them, Trump expects quick action from allies in response.

So this may not be news. But there is another, more profound consequence that will now underlie this trend, one that is far more damaging. This election has fundamentally and perhaps irreparably damaged America’s soft power. The appeal of American (and Western) democracy has been greatly weakened. The Western ideal no longer holds the same glow.

Brexit Distraction

With Europe distracted by Brexit and its own internal concerns, and the US led by Trump, Western leadership is now absent. The consequences of this will be grave for Europe and the US. The institutions that have provided the basis for the current global architecture will be diminished, and the norms that many have relied upon have been cast in doubt. Others, notably China and Russia, will take advantage of this (as they have already been doing).

It is in this highly uncertain and unstable environment that Trump will insert his foreign policy objectives.

It is worth noting that his foreign policy positions are very unclear. Few candidates for president actually speak honestly and candidly about their foreign (and domestic) policy objectives; they swing to the extremes in the primaries, move more toward the middle during the election itself, and then, upon gaining office, discover that the facts are not what they had thought: Governing is far more difficult, and compromises must be made.

Thus, some of Trump’s more extreme positions, such as pulling out of NATO, can likely be put aside.

There are, however, some positions we can take seriously. TTIP will not progress during his tenure (although a trade agreement with the UK could), and Trump could presage a global move toward greater protectionism, with significant global consequences. US-Russia relations could well undergo the long anticipated “reset”, where Trump could well sacrifice things for which he has little interest (Crimea, for example) for the chance to announce he’s “made a great deal.” And Obama’s positive environmental agenda will be quickly reversed.

Still, the greatest fears of many around the world are unlikely to become reality. Trump will be constrained by his bureaucracy, by the judiciary, by Congress (there is little consensus today among Republicans, and the current conciliatory tone is unlikely to last), and finally by his cabinet (who will have far more experience governing than he does).

The world today is a more dangerous place. Trump’s enthusiasm for unpredictability will make it worse. But the steps required to mitigate the worst are clear (albeit difficult): Europe will need to step forward, to take more leadership, and to bear more burdens.  – BY XENIA WICKETT


Make Him Look Good!

Europeans should play to Donald Trump’s penchant for power – against their own instincts.

How should Europe deal with Donald Trump? According to the flood of initial reactions, Europe is now facing a massive challenge and a great deal of unpredictability.

Not necessarily. Dealing and even working cooperatively with Trump might be easier than anticipated if Europeans get the basics right from the start. Here’s an example of how to get it wrong, how to get it right, and a few ideas for Europeans trying to wrap their minds around the challenge the election poses to transatlantic relations.

The presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, addressed the newly elected president in a joint letter on November 9. “We would take this opportunity to invite you to visit Europe for an EU-US Summit at your earliest convenience. This conversation would allow for us to chart the course of our relations for the next four years.”

There was nothing wrong in writing that letter, but I doubt it was the best way to woo Trump to Europe. To begin with, his instincts certainly don’t lead him to embrace the European Union as an institution or as a partner. Trump is interested in power, and the EU has given him ample opportunity to associate it with powerlessness, and, perhaps worse, with the impression of a “rigged system” that he so fervently attacked in his own country during the campaign.

Trump’s attitude suggests that he believes power lies in the hands of strong men rather than with institutions, and the course of history has been shaped by deals from strong leaders, as Jeremy Shapiro argued in a recent ECFR paper. There is no reason to believe that Trump will have an interest in or even understand the post-World War II logic of various nations sharing power under the EU umbrella.

Early Mistakes

So the first mistake Tusk and Juncker made was to suggest the initial contact point should take the form of an EU-US summit. For us Europeans, this is the way we operate. We believe in having everyone around the table, regardless of size and prowess. But this certainly won’t impress Trump. The second mistake the presidents made was to leave the timing to President Trump: “at your earliest convenience.” It gives the impression that Europeans are fawning and needy, keen for the US president to give them a bit of his precious time.

So how can Europe do better in piquing Trump’s interest and making his cooperation more likely? Fundamentally, Europeans should play to his penchant for power, even if it goes against their own instincts, and they should clearly be the ones to set the agenda and timing. Furthermore, Trump is a newcomer in the world of international politics, and being the narcissist he is, he wants to succeed.

So Europeans should help introduce him to the international arena and make him look good in the club, as long as it doesn’t hurt them. The most important thing is for Europeans to impress President Trump with how they work and cooperate as Europeans, and with others, around one table. Europeans should therefore orchestrate the best opportunities to show their own strengths. They should utilize the various resources they have in playing old-fashioned power politics, which has seen a resurgence in Europe and the world. We can play this game of power by putting our strongest leaders out front, but we must also show the added value of the union’s institutional machinery.

A prime example is the EU3+3 in negotiations with Iran: The High Representative and the EU’s most influential countries played a pivotal role in shaping those talks. President-elect Trump will push Europeans to perform better in other areas where they can marry the strength of member states and EU institutions.

Two events will be important benchmarks in that process. As of December 1, Germany will take over the G20 presidency from China. In the run-up to the summit in Hamburg in July 2017, there will be a host of meetings between officials on various levels. European members of the G20, including EU representatives, should use these talks as an opportunity to coordinate and liaise with their US counterparts in the new Trump administration so they can build alliances at working levels. At the summit itself, Europeans should make an extra effort to show unity, and the German presidency can help a great deal in portraying a Europe in motion.

Italy will hold the G7 presidency in 2017, and this will present another important opportunity. The next meeting will be held in Sicily next May (though it’s a bit ironic to imagine President Trump in this setting). The overall subject is migration, a topic that has been hugely divisive in Europe (this will also be Theresa May’s first G7 appearance), and will likely also be a major point of discord with Trump, going by his campaign rhetoric. However, this is not necessarily an impediment to a successful display of European unity and strength, precisely because we have got to know so well each other’s domestic limitations. There is a strong interest in the EU to internationalize the challenge of migration, and Europeans should naturally be looking for points of convergence. This might be the chance.

Yes, Europeans are facing a great deal of unpredictability with President Trump. But if they manage to get the fundamentals right, they might be able to turn it into an opportunity for Europe itself. – BY ALMUT MÖLLER


Honor Your Commitments

A staunch ally like Poland shouldn’t be left in the cold.

Poland has been a staunch ally of the United States, both within NATO as well as bilaterally. It is participating in the US-led anti-ISIL Operation Inherent Resolve, spends the requested two percent of GDP on defense, and has joined the US and other allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fate of both countries is deeply intertwined, and the policies of the next US president will have profound implication on the security and prosperity of Poland.

These are uncertain times in Poland. Brexit only added to the sense of fragility of the European project and anxiety over the future of the West, both of which have been the guiding stars of Poland’s foreign policy over the past 25 years. During this time of instability, the US has become Poland’s predominant security partner. Together we face the main challenger to a stable, values-based European security order, Russia. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and covert invasion of eastern Ukraine set off alarms in every NATO capital, but particularly in Warsaw.

Russia’s determination to undermine the European security order based on the principles of the Helsinki Accords of 1975 means the region has entered a new era of dangerous competition. Russia’s aggression was met with NATO’s move from reassurance to deterrence, codified by the Warsaw NATO summit declaration in July. Security will remain the key concern for Warsaw, and security policy will remain the key pillar of Polish-American relations.

America is committed to placing 5000 soldiers on Polish soil over the coming months. An armored brigade (ABCT) is scheduled to arrive in February 2017. This is a clear commitment to NATO and European security that the next president should embrace. The troops deployments already in the pipeline are a message of resolve, and there is no need to modify military planning. The next administration should focus early on providing resources for the beefed-up US presence on NATO’s eastern flank by quickly working with the new Congress on the next cycle of the European Reassurance Initiative. Any delay or change in the pace of implementing NATO summit commitments would send the wrong signal to both the allies as well as Russia.

No Quick Deal with Moscow

In the past, every new president since the end of the Cold War made the mistake of trying to fix relations with Russia in one quick move. Under President Barack Obama this led to the infamous “reset” that many in Warsaw saw as sacrificing the interests of Central Europe on the altar of closer (but in the end unsuccessful) cooperation with Russia.

Even if an exact repeat of this situation is unlikely, there is certainly a worry in Warsaw about the next administration attempting to fix America’s relations with Russia without addressing the issues that led to the breakdown of ties in the first place. It would be a mistake to go back to business as usual without resolving the conflict in Ukraine. This would be seen by Moscow as confirmation that it can trample on Western values and interests whenever it chooses. Such a step would further embolden Moscow in its aggressive policies, which would eventually lead to a renewed clash with the US. Russia’s behavior will change only if Kremlin elites understand that Western pressure transcends US administrations.

Whenever the US disengaged from Europe in the 20th century, it always led to conflicts that required American reengagement with great loss of blood and wealth. The 21st century is no different. Poland, as well as many other front line US allies, needs an America that is engaged in the world and focused on the maintenance of an alliance system that has benefited the US so much over the past seventy years. The US remains a key European power. Post-Brexit Europe should be one of the key focal points for the next administration.

European allies need to contribute more, sharing the burden more equally – especially when it comes to spending on security and defense. Much of the work should be done behind the scenes, but the next president needs to make it clear that the US wants a strong, united EU both as a global partner and a key player in its own neighborhood. – BY MICHAL BARANOWSKI


A New Order?

The US will be a less stable and reliable partner for Europe.

President Donald Trump will be leading a country that is more preoccupied with itself and its domestic divisions than usual. He enters the White House as the most divisive first-term president since Abraham Lincoln. This bruising election campaign has cast a shadow over his judgment and suitability for office.  He will, however, have Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and an energized base of voters behind him. The Democrats will be demoralized and leaderless for some time to come.

Presidents matter on foreign policy; that is where they have the most independence from Congress. And the world is not going to allow Trump to focus solely on domestic priorities.
A Trump presidency will be a complicated one for Europe. President Trump stands for almost everything both European and German leaders have opposed: denial of climate change; an America First version of unilateral nationalism; an open admiration for illiberal regimes and leaders, most importantly Russia and Putin.

Just as President Obama came in as a correction to the nationalistic policies of the George W. Bush administration, Trump sees himself as a correction to the multilateralism and soft power approach of Obama. He will inherit the mantle from a president who many in both parties believe has been too reactive and passive, especially regarding Putin and Russia. He is likely to take a much softer line on Russia than Obama. He knows that Putin tried to influence the election in his favor and will be open to another reset in Russia policy. He views Russia and Putin as an ally in the war against Islamic extremism. He will be much more open to recognizing a Russian sphere of influence and will see Ukraine as a needless drain on American attention and resources. He will be open to lifting the sanctions regime on Russia in return for a bigger deal with Putin.

Not Merkel’s Preferred Partner

Hillary Clinton was clearly Angela Merkel’s preferred partner, but with Clinton there was a real danger of division over Russia policy given Clinton’s harder line on Moscow. Now, Merkel faces the opposite problem of Trump accommodating Russia. That would undermine Western unity built upon close ties between Washington and Berlin. Trump is also more open to giving Putin free rein in Syria as part of the larger fight against Islamist extremists.

As Robert Zoellick put it recently in the Financial Times, “Europe’s problems will probably be left to the Europeans.” Given the challenges and choices any American administration faces in the Middle East and Asia, Europe will be expected to offer more leadership and partnership. Both Clinton and Trump agreed that European allies have to boost defense spending to shoulder a growing burden with the United States, but Trump went much further and linked American security guarantees to levels of European burden sharing.

Chancellor Merkel’s commitment to expand defense spending significantly and move toward the NATO target of two percent of GDP is an important step in meeting these expectations, but it will have to be followed up with substantial improvements in German and European defense capabilities. What’s more, expectations of stronger German-American partnership in leadership in the wake of Brexit are now on life support. Hopes for a reliable European partner were already in doubt given the current disarray in the EU – not to mention next year’s elections in a number of key countries, including France and Germany.  The American election has now accelerated this fragmentation.

Trade and the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will be another important policy challenge. Trump ran on a clear anti-free trade platform and has rejected both NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). His views reflect the substantial domestic opposition to more free trade agreements among American voters. It seems highly probable that not only TPP but also TTIP are now dead.  The transatlantic partners may need to find another way to enhance economic cooperation.

Great Discontinuity

A Clinton presidency would have come as a relief to Europe. It would have signaled continuity with Obama on the Iran nuclear deal, better ties to Cuba, and the close relationship with Germany. Instead Europe faces the greatest discontinuity it has faced since at least 1989.  Something significant is going on in the West that would seem to auger an unstable and dangerous period, both at home and internationally.  America will be a less stable and reliable partner for Europe, as it will be consumed with its “civil war” at home. As Charles Lane put it recently, “Today’s Republicans and Democrats are so divided that they no longer seem like citizens of the same nation or acknowledge even the same factual reality.”

And as Zoellick points out, “The next president will need to start by deciding if the US should perpetuate the seventy-year-old order.” The American election has now put that order into serious question. – BY STEPHEN S. SZABO