How they see us: Europe starts to doubt the U.S.
NATO ministers used to meet annually to talk about external threats to the West, said Simon Tisdall in The Guardian (U.K.). But at the Munich Security Conference last week, European NATO members were more concerned about a threat coming from inside the alliance: President Trump’s America. Trump has shown contempt for U.S. allies in the European Union by applauding Brexit and calling on more nations to leave the bloc. And he has destabilized NATO by blasting the alliance as “obsolete” while showering Russian President Vladimir Putin with compliments. European leaders now fear that the Kremlin will “exploit and manipulate a vain American president and his gullible advisers,” and intensify its bullying of Russia’s Western neighbors.
“Trust has been fundamentally damaged,” said Carsten Luther in Die Zeit (Germany). U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence, both in attendance, tried to reassure Europeans with placid speeches in which they reaffirmed America’s commitment to NATO and declared that Russia would be “held to account” for its aggression in Ukraine. But whether they are “considered believable is another question.” The doubts became plain when German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen spoke, warning that NATO is based on common values that prohibit torture and targeting of civilians and that the West should fight terrorism and not Islam. We believe that Mattis agrees with von der Leyen and all the other defense ministers— but does he speak for his boss? “Nobody knows.”
Even the attending U.S. officials seemed doubtful of how much authority they had, said Julian Reichelt in Bild (Germany). They weren’t allowed to answer questions or “speak one syllable” beyond their prepared remarks—a noticeable departure from their accessibility most years and a kind of tyrannical muzzling “otherwise seen only in dictatorships.” Members of the American delegation told me “in fearful whispers” that they can’t be truthful with the president if they wish to keep their jobs. A kind of “putsch paranoia” reigns in the White House, and Trump’s own appointees don’t know when he might undercut their solemn pledges to allies with some ignorant, capricious tweet.
Clearly, Germany must step up, said Daniel Brössler in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). Echoing Trump, Mattis told the summit that the U.S. can no longer shoulder the bulk of NATO’s costs, and that member states must honor their pledge to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. If they don’t, he warned, the U.S. will “moderate its commitment to the alliance.” But even if Germany could hit that target by doubling its defense budget to $75 billion, throwing “massive amounts of money” at defense is not the answer. We must spend wisely, not just more. That leaves Britain to do the heavy lifting, said Edward Lucas in The Times (U.K.). We are already “the indispensable outside military power” in the Baltic Sea, where Putin might launch his next offensive, and our nuclear deterrent is strong. “The end of Europe’s Pax Americana” will mean a greater defense role for Britain. ■