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[Analysis] Faced with the Trump threat, Europeans take up arms! Nine ways to react (v2)

(B2) The hypothesis of a return of Donald Trump is not a simple speculation today. And his remonstrances against NATO and the Europeans are still as strong. Europeans must take each other by the hand and react. From aid to Ukraine to the nuclear umbrella, Europeans must learn autonomy to be able to say to Washington tomorrow: Europa First !

Donald Trump's martial air on the campaign trail (Photo: DonaldJTrump web)

What Trump said, how to interpret it

During a meeting on Saturday (February 10) in Conway, South Carolina, Donald Trump resumed his little refrain: make the Europeans pay. However, you must listen carefully to the entire passage, and not two short sentences repeated everywhere. He does not speak in the future but in the past.

You don't pay, you are not protected

What does Trump say? : “ NATO was destroyed until I arrived. I said: everyone has to pay. They told me: well and if we don't pay, are you still going to protect us. I said: Absolutely not! They couldn't believe it. (...) One of the presidents of a major country then asked me: If we don't pay and we are invaded by Russia, will you protect us? he asked me. I replied to him: You have not paid, you are in default. (Well) No, I wouldn't protect you. I will encourage them even attacking you. You have to pay your bills” (1)

Jens, my biggest fan

Donald Trump doesn't stop there. “And then the money flowed in! (...) Hundreds of billions of dollars have been injected into NATO. And that's why they have money today, because of what I did! ". Evolution is real, it’s true (2). But it is not really due to Donald Trump, but rather to Vladimir Putin and the Russian offensive in Ukraine. But D. Trump doesn't care. NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, who is one of my biggest fans, (told me) : all my predecessors arrived, made a speech (...). And that's all. (Me) I got there ". With a strong argument he repeats: “Either you pay the bill or you have no protection, it's very simple "!

Europeans must pay for Ukraine

An example intended to justify his position on Ukraine. “ Why do we have to pay $200 billion. Where Europeans only pay $25 billion ". An obviously false numerical comparison (as is often the case with Donald Trump) which compares on the one hand total American aid (civil, humanitarian, military) to European military aid alone. And again, it only counts aid from Member States (not that of the EU). However, in total, Member States and the European Union have provided more than €85 billion in various aid between 2022 and 2023 (or around $92 billion), including around €28 billion in military aid. And this aid will amount to more than €150 billion (or approximately $162 billion).

A bragging move?

We could therefore qualify this statement as a verbal outburst or a simple campaign statement. An extra bit of bragging. Certainly. But it responds to a constant doctrine of the presidential candidate which seems uncontested in his camp: Europe must pay. This is nothing new in the mouth of the Republican leader. There were regular bloodshed (see box). And sometimes distorted numerical comparisons (read: Where is NATO's 2% target? Is Trump telling the truth?). Even if, fundamentally, he is not wrong: shouldn't Europeans take responsibility for their own security.

A risk of instability

Beyond the words, whether we believe it or not, this carpet-bending argument nevertheless presents a serious risk for the Alliance: instability. In a world where Russia observes every intangible sign of weakness, this could appear as a notable green light to any attempt to destabilize countries on its border. A breach in theArticle 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, i.e. the mutual defense clause.

Nine ways to react

A reaction is required on the European side. In a vigorous, political, technical and military way.

1. Assert yourself towards the USA: Europe First!

The Europeans must immediately steel themselves in the face of such attacks, demonstrate that they are doing as much as the Americans, and even take the sword by warning the Americans against a reduction in their aid. Faced with a vociferous Trump, placid calm is not enough. We must move on to the verbal counterattack. Precisely, by confronting the Americans today with their responsibilities. It is they who are procrastinating on aid to Ukraine today, not the Europeans. The time of European hesitation during the 2017-2021 Trump era must be over. The argument "let's not anger the USA" no longer carries much weight in the face of the turmoil in American domestic politics. Europeans must overturn Donald Trump's favorite slogan: Europa First!

2. Dare to be autonomous, take power in NATO

The Europeans will have to learn to do without the Americans, if only because their protection, their commitment to transatlantic solidarity will now be conditional, at least in words. This means an accelerated revolution in European defense instruments. It does not matter in itself whether they go through the European Union or a possible European pillar of NATO, or even as a multinational, the Europeans will have to act in a more grouped way if they want to both influence and appear as a deterrent force on the Russian side and not depend on American goodwill. Europeans will also have to prepare to occupy major positions in the Alliance. Why would the supreme command post (SACEUR) not be occupied by a European?

3. Bring support to Ukraine under European auspices

The organization of aid for Ukraine should not be organized under the aegis of NATO, as Jens Stoltenberg proposed in the Reuters. That's a very bad idea. It would not at all resolve American questions about burden sharing. She would be at the mercy of the slightest veto (American, Turkish or Hungarian).

A smart possibility would be to move the current multinational cooperation (the Ramstein Group) under EU leadership. This makes it possible to accurately count what each person gives and avoids Trump-style shortcuts. The Europeans could consider extending their system to their European partners. Which is not very complicated. Norway is already half part of it (Oslo contributed to the European Peace Facility for EUMAM Ukraine and is a stakeholder in the European Defense Fund). Nothing would prevent the United Kingdom or even Canada from doing so (both of which are already associated with certain PESCO projects).

To the disgruntled people who say, yes, but it’s complicated, we can reply: nothing could be simpler. It is enough to make military support for Ukraine one of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects. Which would have the advantage of eliminating any temptation to veto (e.g. Hungary). Like being able to stimulate different funding (community and intergovernmental, even external to the EU) and bringing together the different aid clusters (artillery, aviation, maritime, etc.).

4. Decide faster, put an end to quarrels

Europeans will have to learn to decide more quickly and more frankly. What was the case at the start of the Russian offensive in February 2022 has significantly softened since last summer. The 27s seem to have returned to their main fault: procrastinating! Thus the proposal from the EU High Representative to put five billion more into the European Peace Facility, proposed in July 2023, has still not been adopted. And it is not the fault of Hungary, contrary to what some say, but of the largest Member States, France and Germany in the first place (read: [Exclusive. Assistance funds for Ukraine: what works, what blocks). The Franco-German couple must resolutely resolve all its internal dissensions.

5. Resolve the question of European preference

This question comes up in every discussion on a European instrument. Should we buy “off the shelf”, where the equipment is available and effective? Or should we favor the European industrial base? The proponents of each position have very intelligible arguments (didn't France buy a moment of Reaper lack of other materials). We must manage to overcome this antagonism. One of the solutions could involve stronger interaction between large European groups (Airbus, Thales, Mbda, etc.) in Eastern European countries. Like Rheinmetall in Slovakia. A sort of industrial trickle-down that would make each Member State feel more concerned. Why not take up the project of a Polish shareholding in Airbus?

6. Make full use of existing instruments

We will therefore have to make full use of existing European instruments, such as the European Defense Agency, which will have to be transformed into a real European acquisition agency. We must also no longer be afraid to prioritize certain productions. Even if it means breaking a few liberal taboos. The European Commission had nevertheless proposed it under the aegis of Commissioner Thierry Breton as part of theAct of Support for Ammunition Production (ASAP). The Member States had refused it. A mistake.

7. Develop other European tools

Today there is a European defense fund for research and development and another instrument for joint acquisitions (EDIRPA and ASAP). There is therefore no shortage of funding. But there remain singular gaps. There is no support system for a State wishing to acquire stocks in a sensitive and incomplete segment (drones, etc.) which could be made available to other Member States (on the RescEU model in terms of civil protection). There is also a lack of an instrument (bringing together financing, loans, donations of used equipment, maintenance, training, etc.) to provide a complete offer allowing a State to purchase from a manufacturer like the FMS. American (Read: Don't we need a European FMS?) . Why not develop them, with a view to helping Ukraine but also to assist Member States in replenishing their equipment...

8. Equip yourself with a European anti-missile and nuclear umbrella

This taboo will undoubtedly have to be broken. The idea of ​​extending the French nuclear umbrella – mentioned subliminally by Emmanuel Macron in Sweden – should be a possibility to be studied quickly and concretely with willing countries. Not discreetly as one might think, but visibly so that Russians and Americans alike know that the Europeans are capable of it and are financing it. Berlin and Warsaw could be the first beneficiaries. In the same spirit, France should stop resisting the anti-missile defense project launched by the Germans (European Sky Shield Initiative). The two devices are in fact fully compatible.

9. Permanent bases of European power?

Finally, the Europeans could consider transforming their rotational presence as NATO forces into permanent military power bases in the countries closest to Russia (3). Why not a maritime base in Constanza (Romania) and a land base between Poland and Lithuania, near the Suwalki corridor? It would also be useful to plan a presence in Moldova against the Russian forces in Transnistria. This has a cost and requires mobilizing troops and resources. But it is a presence just as dissuasive as those of the Americans if the Europeans want to take the trouble.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. The American president confuses (as always) the contribution to NATO that all countries pay, in proportion to their gross domestic product, and the contribution to Euro-Atlantic defense, that is to say the defense budgets. Which is another story.
  2. According to B2's analysis based on the latest statistics published by NATO, eleven countries of the European Union had either exceeded the 2% mark, or were close to it (± 1,90%) in 2023 (read: [Decryption] Allied defense spending is skyrocketing)
  3. The phony Gorbachev-Baker agreement not to set up permanent bases in the countries of former Eastern Europe only concerns the Americans and the Russians (NATO). In no way, bilateral agreements between European countries...

Read also: [Analysis] Europe still plays in the second division in defense. Paradoxical in a troubled context (2023)

To remember the Trump era 2016-2020

Updated - clarifications provided on figures for European aid to Ukraine and NATO defense budgets

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “[Analysis] Faced with the Trump threat, Europeans take up arms! Nine ways to react (v2)"

  • A good analysis of European independence from the USA.
    When I remember the one displayed by De Gaulle in his time. What a visionary. He understood everything. Besides, he was a soldier.


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