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Donald Trump forces Europe to get serious

Published at: 21-01-2024

Posted on: January 21st, 2024 by RaduC No Comments

Donald Trump’s victory is becoming more and more the main scenario of the American elections. Hence, analyses assessing the consequences of such an outcome are multiplying. To this end, Mr. Trump’s decisions during the previous presidency and the statements he has made over the years, especially in the last period, are used as raw material.

While there are a variety of interpretations of his intentions, there is one point on which consensus has been reached: Donald Trump is an unpredictable person who changes his decisions swiftly and is reluctant to accept advice from others.

The first big test for Mr. Trump will be managing the over 91 legal cases currently open against him. As the polls show, they are not likely to diminish his popularity, on the contrary, they empower him as a victim of the “system” against which he promises to fight. Under these circumstances, his election could be affected only to the extent that legal rulings would restrict his right to run.

In a scenario in which he would still end up becoming president, there are several issues that create important concerns: his attitude towards the war in Ukraine, his support for NATO, his protectionist economic policy, his benevolent attitude towards some political leaders with rather autocratic attitudes.

His threats about the lack of US commitment to NATO, which go as far as the hypothesis that Europe will be left alone in the face of Russia, are already beginning to produce effects. Europe is finally starting to do what it should have done a long time ago. After a long period of time in which it has fully benefited from the economic concubinage with Russia and the “free lunch” offered by US military protection, the EU is forced to review its economic alliances as well as its military capabilities. Unfortunately, only under the pressure of the times. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has led to a forced economic and financial decoupling of Europe from Russia, a slow decoupling that is still not 100% complete.

But Europe’s slow reaction is even more evident and difficult to explain when we look at the military support it gave or rather did not give to Ukraine in 2023. In this case too, Europe has once again demonstrated its complexes in relation to Russia and, more worryingly, its inability to develop credible military power in the time it has been conveniently under the US military umbrella. At first, there was political hesitation about the appropriateness of massive military aid, especially as Ukraine seemed a sure victim. Later, when the political decisions were finally made, as time went on, it became clear that the existing military stockpiles and the European defence industry were simply not capable of sustaining substantial and continued military aid.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the map below shows in shades of blue the military and humanitarian support received by Ukraine until October 2023, as a % of the donor country’s GDP. And so we see that the southern and western European countries (except for the UK) did not excel.

Unfortunately, the EU seems to be slow to awaken from the complacency of recent decades when it comes to its own defence, with all signs indicating that its decisions can only be reactive, as a consequence of external pressure. After having promised to reach the 2% of GDP target for defence during President Trump’s term in office following his substantial pressure, this target had still not been reached by 2023 by the major European economic powers. More recently, it took the prospect of the US cutting its military aid to Ukraine due to disagreements in Congress for European countries, and primarily Germany, to mobilize in order to compensate for the lack of US funds.

The exclusively reactive behavior of EU countries is a lesson learned by Donald Trump and, therefore, he plays the pressure and threats card without hesitation. The latest statements by European leaders show a Europe deeply concerned about Mr. Trump’s return to power and his reluctance to fund Europe’s defence. As a result, Europe is beginning to think very seriously about increasing defence spending, increasing military production capabilities, and developing a military strategy to ensure its own defence without depending on the US.

Is Donald Trump bluffing? Maybe he is. Especially since in the geostrategic competition with China that Mr. Trump announces as an element of continuity and even intensification, the US will need more allies, not fewer. Not to mention that a decision such as the US exit from NATO cannot be the decision of one man even if he is POTUS. The US is a strong state that will always have internal checks and balances to prevent one-man decisions. An important signal to this effect has already been given by the decision voted late last year by the US Congress prohibiting any US President from withdrawing the US from NATO without Senate approval.

But with a GDP 25 times larger than Russia’s and similar to that of the US, yet with a population 40% bigger than the US, it’s time for Europe to finally get serious because the times and Donald Trump don’t offer it an alternative.

How threatening is a return of Donald Trump for Romania? My report is that the above statements are entirely applicable to Romania. Which, in turn, will have to prove that it takes itself seriously as a regional power wannabe on the eastern edge of NATO. And the announced increase in military spending to 2.5% of GDP is the easiest step, especially when the bulk of economic development spending is paid for by the EU. The difficult part of the road to becoming a regional power is a vision of economic and infrastructural development secured solely by own resources, sustaining both defence spending and Romania’s geopolitical position. We are talking about a regional outreach that Poland has been cultivating for years, while Romania is still hesitating.

A credible and strong Romania will only strengthen military cooperation with the US even in the event of a new mandate of Mr. Trump. Let’s not forget that, even during the previous mandate, the military cooperation between the US and Romania was excellent and even enhanced. There is no reason why this should not happen, as long as we make our fair contribution to this effort. Which, again, means a strong economy and a budget that is no longer being undermined by suboptimal tax policies or by tolerating evasion.

I think it would be naive to imagine that the future President Trump could stand by and watch Europe being militarily attacked by Russia. But he certainly wants that prospect avoided with as little American money and as much European money as possible. This is also the context in which he aims to end the war in Ukraine, where the bulk of the financial effort is being made by the US.

And the solution that Mr. Trump will have for Ukraine I think will be a winner for Romania in any scenario. A Finlandized Ukraine will increase Romania’s geopolitical importance by attracting appropriate military support. A Ukraine in NATO will enhance Romania’s security, but will probably also lessen its geostrategic relevance as NATO borders will move further east and the western Black Sea will be flanked by two large countries, both NATO members: Ukraine and Turkey.

Let us remain optimistic as Europeans and look more carefully in our own backyard, not in the others’.

Have a nice weekend!

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