‘America is back’ in ‘transatlantic alliance’ — Did we ever leave?

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

“I’m sending a clear message to the world: America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back,” President Joe Biden affirmed to a high level assembly of European leaders.  I didn’t realize we had left.

“The transatlantic alliance is a strong foundation, the strong foundation, on which our collective security and our shared prosperity are built,” the President intoned on video link to the Munich Security Conference (MSC).

I could not agree more. This clearly represents the collective security policy which defended Western Europe in the post-war era from Soviet aggression and allowed the continent to regain its prosperity in freedom and liberty.

NATO headquarters in Brussels

Despite all the rhetoric and occasional rancor across the Atlantic during the earlier years of the Trump Administration, the United States did not reduce its troop commitments in NATO nor did it renege on the critical Article 5, the mutual security guarantee that an attack on one is an attack on all.

But in the sphere of transatlantic policy, it’s the old style over substance argument.  The Europeans clearly didn’t like the Donald’s style; the U.S. President, ever the bottom line businessman, pushed for fulfilling financial commitments and demanding results.

Joe Biden on the other hand, told the gathered Euroland leaders what they wished to hear, but without making clear commitments.  European leaders appreciate the change in tone.

Regarding substance, the Trump Administration despite its initial bluster, did not reduce the American military footprint in Europe.  Between 2006 and 2018, (largely before Trump) the number of American forces stationed in Germany more than halved, from 72,400 to 33,250, reflecting a changing global security situation.

President Trump wanted to rotate a contingent of 12,000 troops from Germany to Belgium, but this was fortunately scrapped.

President Biden stated, “I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined — determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.”

The prestigious Munich Security Conference held in the Bavarian capital, emerges as the epicenter of global diplomacy, setting the gold standard for transatlantic relations.

Just last year, at this very same Conference, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scoffed at the idea that the USA was disinterested or disengaged from Europe; he stated, “I am happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly over-exaggerated.”  He exclaimed, “The West is winning. We are collectively winning. We are doing it together.”

On China, President Biden warned, “we must prepare together for a long-term strategic competition with China…  Competition with China is going to be stiff.”

Just last year Secretary Pompeo stated, “China encroaches on the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia… China has had a border or maritime dispute with nearly every nation bordering it.”

To President Biden’s chagrin, the European Union entered into a major trade deal with China.

Viewing the threat from Russia, Joe Biden stated, “The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try to undermine our system of governance.” He added, “Putin seeks to weaken the European project and our NATO Alliance.  He wants to undermine the transatlantic unity and our resolve.” That’s certainly true but not the first time.

Former Secretary Pompeo underscored similar Russian security challenges; “Let’s talk about territorial integrity, or rather, those nations that have contempt for it.  Russia has seized Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine and Georgia.”

The point is that on substance, the Transatlantic weather vane has not shifted dramatically with the Biden Administration as the adoring mainstream media suggests, but rather still reflects the post-war bi-partisan consensus which helped win the Cold War.

Yet a very disconcerting poll taken among 15,000 Europeans in ten EU member states reflects their view of the American commitment. The European Council on Foreign Relations poll states, “Very few Europeans believe the United States will intervene on their behalf in the event of a military crisis. Just 10% of those polled held the view that the US was a ‘reliable’ security partner that will always protect Europe, while at least 60% of respondents in every country polled, felt their country could not depend on US support in the event of a major crisis.”

There is deep unease towards the United States in the event of conflict with China or Russia, with many Europeans keen to be neutral in such a scenario…  “in no country did a majority want to take Washington’s side against Russia.”  This is seriously troubling.

Is this the cherished Transatlantic solidarity?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]