Citizens of several European countries considered traditional allies of the United States believe that other allies should be sought to replace Washington, Bloomberg said in an article on the current situation of the Europe-US alliance.
In his article published on Monday 18 February, Leonid Bershidsky examined new perspectives that are being formed on alternative alliances to the transatlantic alliance.
As the US-led world order continues to collapse, second-tier powers are trying to save what they can. But in Germany and France, at least, voters do not really want the United States to be part of the process.
The Munich Annual Security Report, which is the starting point for discussions at the annual security forum held in the German city, is often a good indication of the current state of mind of the Western security community. The 2019 report, entitled “The Big Puzzle: Who Will Collect the Pieces? “is a little less concerned about tone than the 2018 version, which raised the spectre of a large-scale conflict. This danger seems to have become a competition as the United States takes up China’s long-term challenge and Russia’s most immediate one.
However, the way the United States manages these tests does not really inspire confidence in its long-standing allies. President Trump and his administration show contempt for international institutions and agreements. According to the authors, European politicians hoped that the “adults in the cabinet” of Donald Trump’s White House would lead the president in the right direction. But the allies became disillusioned, focusing instead on attempts to consolidate the liberal world order by assuming a more global role.
The lack of a secure and economic infrastructure that does not include the United States complicates the task of the second-tier powers – Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan – to achieve an independent policy. The result is an act of balance between an American state acting as a competitor with a tendency to bully and a security architecture based on the fact that the United States is an ally.
For the public in countries whose leaders are marching in this direction, maintaining the transatlantic partnership does not seem particularly important. The survey data, particularly from France and Germany, are perhaps the most striking.
In all second-tier powers except Japan, people consider the United States a major threat. Even in Japan, the American threat seems to worry more people than Russia. This perception seems to be linked to Trump’s policies: according to data from the Pew Research Center cited in the Munich report, in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and France, people trust Chinese President Xi Jinping to do the right thing in international affairs more than Trump. Even more overwhelming, more French and Germans say they have more confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin than in Trump.
However, I would not want to dispel the concern about the American threat, simply in response to Trump, who will disappear once he leaves the White House. The Munich report contains other survey results: a large majority of French and Germans want their countries to pursue a more active foreign policy and play a more important role in crisis resolution, but 59% of Germans and 42% of French people would like them to do so as neutral countries.
It is difficult to see how a change of power in Washington could undermine this pacifism and strong support for neutrality. Many people living in countries of critical importance to the Western alliance simply do not want to take sides in the new superpower competition.
Of course, all the usual warnings about surveys, question wording and the influence of the flow of daily information on specific opinions should apply. But Western leaders who are trying to save the transatlantic alliance without becoming Trump’s pawns should still take the data seriously. Although many voters who believe that neutrality is not only desirable, but possible, is only an illusion, they may well support the politicians who strengthen it. In many cases, it will be populists and nationalists who insist that Germany and France can survive and prosper without following a leader.
Apparent change requires a coherent “option B”; intellectuals accustomed to the old paradigm of American domination must seriously consider different scenarios for second-tier powers as potential guarantors of mental health while the larger actors confront each other.