The impact of the US election on Europe by General (ret.) Harald Kujat, formerm Chairman NATO Military Committee, Berlin
No sooner is the election over than expectations are mounting on both sides of the Atlantic that the President-elect will seek to overcome the upheavals in the transatlantic relationship. Nothing would be better suited to restoring the priority status of the Alliance in transatlantic relations than an early NATO summit.
The extent to which American and European security interests have diverged is illustrated by the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the INF treaty. This was tantamount to abandoning a founding principle of the North Atlantic Alliance: the strategic unity of the Alliance’s territory with the same level of security for all allies. Russia has been given a free hand to build up a euro-strategic nuclear potential that can threaten Europe but not the American continent.
High expectations in Europe
Europeans justifiably expect President Biden to restore a normal situation among allies and correct the increasing disregard for its security interests by focusing more strongly on the common defence alliance.
It should not however be forgotten that President Biden will of course determine American external and security policies on the basis of American interests and that problems between the US and Europe were apparent before the start of the Trump Administration. The greatest challenges for the new President are the intensification of rivalries between the great powers, primarily with China but also with Russia, and also the need to revert to its role as a global superpower, prepared to take on the challenges of crises and conflicts.
Biden must therefore, with limited resources and at the same time as improving relations with his European allies, focus specifically on the Indo-Pacific Region. The former Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, as recently as early October 2020, released a new strategy document, “Guidance for Development of Alliances and Partnerships/GDAP”, the thrust of which is the need to strengthen the US’s alliances and build partnerships. This will involve building up allies’ military capacities and capabilities and improving the interoperability of their armed forces.
The importance of the Indo-Pacific region
Because of their geostrategic position in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan, India and Australia are particularly important in the confrontation with China, whereas NATO continues to play a key strategic role in the US’s bilateral rivalry with Russia. American security experts even advocate closer involvement of NATO with US partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
German politicians have signalled a willingness to spend more on their own security and increase defence expenditure. President Biden knows only too well however that such promises have been made repeatedly since 2014 but not kept. The precise yardstick is the commitment by all Alliance members to increase their defence spending to 2% of GDP and invest more than 20% of their defence budgets in modern equipment and weapons systems by 2024. If the European member states of NATO were to fulfil these commitments, the Alliance would have a higher European profile, focus more on European security interests and be more evenly balanced in terms of security and defence.
Europe’s profile in the
To maintain the transatlantic security and strategic alliance with the USA on a sound and sustainable basis in the future, Europe should strive for greater sovereignty over the basic questions of the continent’s security. For it is only as a close ally of the United States that Europe will be able to assert its political, economic and military interests vis-à-vis the great powers.
Capabilities: Strengthening the military of NATO’s European pillar would enable Europe to exert more influence on the Alliance’s conceptual and strategic thinking.
Structural change: As a visible token of their greater commitment, Germany and France should appoint, within the future NATO command structure and on a revolving basis, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), a position which has traditionally been held by an American. In exchange, an American could become the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, a position currently held by a French officer.
Capacity for intervention: The NATO Response Force (NRF) should have a dedicated command headquarter and would, as originally intended, be trained and equipped according to binding NATO criteria. During their tour of duty in the NRF, national contingents should come under NATO command (NATO Command Forces). The consequence would be much greater interoperability and a substantial improvement in operational readiness and speed of reaction.
Europe’s profile within NATO
The result of all this would be to give Europe a higher profile within NATO and send a clear signal about its readiness to take on greater responsibility for its own security. This would be an important and even essential contribution to overcoming transatlantic upheavals and restoring greater unity in security and strategic questions within the North Atlantic Alliance. I am convinced that the United States would welcome proactive overtures on these issues from its European allies. And basilcally, in this way, the nucleus of a European army, as proposed by President Macron, could emerge, once the political conditions arise.