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Feb 05, 2024

Trump-Proofing Europe

How the Continent Can Prepare for American Abandonment
Trump-Proofing Europe
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As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third year, Europe has performed far better than expected. For decades after World War II, it counted on the United States to be the ultimate guarantor of its security. However, European leaders cannot count on a friendly United States. They must prepare for the possibility that, a year from now, the United States will again be led by Donald Trump. 

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As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its third year, Europe has performed far better than expected. For decades after World War II, it counted on the United States to be the ultimate guarantor of its security. The continent relied on Washington to guide NATO policy, provide nuclear deterrence, and forge consensus among European countries on controversial questions such as how to resolve the 2009–12 European debt crisis. Europe continued to take the U.S. security umbrella for granted after the Cold War ended, slashing defense spending, failing to stop the Bosnian genocide in the early 1990s, and refusing to play a political role in resolving the crisis in Syria, even as it remained the region’s biggest provider of humanitarian aid. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, many anticipated that Europeans might balk at helping Kyiv. The last time Russian President Vladimir Putin marched over Ukrainian borders—annexing Crimea in 2014—Europe responded with weak sanctions and halfhearted attempts at diplomatic compromise while increasing its dependence on Russian gas.

But over the last few years, the world has seen a glimpse of a stronger Europe. European countries have sustained a united front in resisting Russia’s aggression, hosting millions of refugees, coordinating painful decoupling from Russian gas supplies, imposing strong economic sanctions and export restrictions on Russia, training Ukrainian soldiers, and inviting Ukraine to join the European Union. The $53 billion EU aid package to Ukraine that was slated for approval in February set Europe’s combined economic and military assistance to Kyiv, including its multiyear commitments, at double the amount the United States is providing. For the first time since 2007, the EU has even gathered the confidence to substantially enlarge itself. In December 2023, it extended candidate status to Georgia and launched accession talks with Moldova and Ukraine.

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This article has first been published by Foreign Affairs on February 2, 2024.