Many establishment foreign-policy experts blame Donald Trump for the poor state of relations with Europe. However, a Biden presidency cannot resolve enduring differences and dysfunctions that stress trans-Atlantic cooperation.
For example, Joe Biden can stop blocking World Trade Organization dispute settlement, and rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord but the fundamentals won’t change.
Weak international organizations
The WTO lacks the tools to address Chinese mercantilism but Beijing’s consent is needed to write new rules—that’s hardly likely. COVID-19 demonstrated WHO must be reformed to adequately alert the global community of emerging threats from China—Beijing’s assent for that is also unlikely.
Trump notwithstanding, the American private sector has been going green and cutting CO2 emissions but the real problem is not U.S. climate accord participation but the goals that the agreement establishes for India and China.
The European Union is much richer and more populous than Russia, yet it must rely on the United States to protect it from Russian aggression. The United States faces a tremendous challenge from China in Asia, and every dollar spent in NATO can’t be spent in the Pacific.
For the first time since the War of 1812, the American military faces the risk of armed conflict with a foe that is more populous, will soon have a larger economy, and enjoys the home field advantage. Without spending considerably more, the United States is at risk of a humiliation in the Pacific akin to Carthage’s defeat at hands of Rome in the First Punic War—that established Rome as the pre-eminent Mediterranean sea power.
The Europeans will continue to be told, albeit more politely, they must deal with Russia more on their own.
German economic interests
Germany prioritizes economic interests over national security. In the face of aggression in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin’s poisoning of political rivals such as Alexei Navalny and other provocations, Germany will only endorse weak sanctions and stills pursues the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Through natural gas purchases, Berlin puts hard currency into Russian pockets that can fund its military rather than purchase more expensive American liquid natural gas.
Important EU foreign-policy decisions require the unanimous consent of 27 states or unilateral action, making President Emmanuel Macron’s talk of European sovereignty incongruent with reality. The EU lacks the tools to craft a comprehensive, effective foreign policy.
Individual states make their own external immigration policies. And with the Schengen Agreement, the Syrians that Germany resettled may effectively travel elsewhere. The recent knife attacker in Nice entered the EU illegally through the Italian Island of Lampedusa, and Cyprus and Malta are selling European passports.
Cyprus recently held up sanctions against Belarus for a rigged presidential election until it got meaningful sanctions against Turkey for exploring for natural gas in disputed Eastern Mediterranean waters. Rather farcical ways to craft EU foreign policy toward either autocracy.
Macron still vaults the idea of a European military but will the Germans ever be willing to pay or fight? And armies are not well run by committees.
Negotiations within the EU and between Europe and its allies outside areas of Brussels’ strongest regulatory control—tariffs, state aids and competition policy—can be surreal. The idea of the United States negotiating a complimentary approach to Chinese mercantilism with Europe would be as sane as whimsically dropping Donald Trump into “Duck Soup” to negotiate with the Marx Brothers a peace and friendship treaty for Fredonia.
If Berlin is inclined to save a buck by buying gas that will finance Russian missiles, why should we reasonably expect it to upset China whose threats are more distant? Alas, Germany is reluctant to join the United States on Huawei even though the alternatives are EU suppliers Ericsson ERIC, +1.43% and Nokia. NOK, +1.18%
Across Europe, China’s state and private enterprises have infiltrated a vast array of European businesses.
With all this, the atmospherics may be more cordial with Biden but the prospects for substantively improved relations appear distant.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.