Treffen der NATO-Verteidigungsminister im Mai 2016 in Brüssel, Bild: US Department of State, gemeinfrei

Meeting of NATO defence ministers in May 2016 in Brussels, Picture: US Department of State, public domain

Andreas Marchetti


The election of Donald Trump has caused shockwaves throughout Europe. Many fear that the unscrupulous way Trump conducted his campaign will also reflect his style as President of the United States. In addition, even his more radical proposals will presumably have an influence on concrete policy making, despite the constraints of office.

With regard to the precarious geopolitical situation of Europe, Trump’s victory sheds a new light on the future of the transatlantic security architecture. Although Trump revised his initial assessment of NATO being obsolete already during the campaign, he nonetheless made very clear that he expects Europeans to contribute much more substantially to the alliance. Despite the core of this claim being not new to the American discourse, Trump might be much more demanding than his predecessors. However, even more importantly, not only Eastern Europeans, facing a disturbing Russia, fear to question whether the United States will continue to really guarantee the security of all NATO members.

A reasonable answer to the outlined insecurities would be the effective buildup of the European security architecture. This does not imply an inevitable marginalisation of NATO, Europeans are rather demanded to finally assume real responsibility. While this can and should be done within NATO, Europeans will have to critically assess, whether their efforts will also be sufficient for fulfilling basic security and defence tasks in case the Americans choose not to get engaged.

Ever since the begginings of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) within the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the American administration has underlined that European efforts should neither lead to any strategic decoupling from the United States, nor imply expensive duplication of resources and capacities, they also should not give way to discrimination of non-EU NATO members (1). Besides, ever since the end of the Cold War and the decreasing strategic relevance of Europe for American foreign policy, the United States have demanded a fairer burden sharing with European partners. Despite these demands, most European NATO members have cashed in a substantial “peace dividend” since the beginning of the 1990s, thereby not living up to the agreed NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence. In addition, Europeans still cultivate the luxury of national, small-scale procurement, leading to a much less favourable value-for-money ratio than in the United States (2).

Seen positively, the election of Trump might just be the external stimulus that was still missing to make Europeans work more closely together in foreign, security and defence policy. By doing so, politicians would not only respond to a continuously voiced demand of European citizens to have more integration in this souvereignity sensitive policy field (3), Europeans would also increase their factual capacity to act on the international scene. Effective multilateralism, described as the desired structure of the international system in the “European Security Strategy” of December 2003 (4), could, despite new uncertainties, be supported by a more united Europe, just as the “principled pragmatism” as propagated in the “EU Global Strategy” of June 2016 could become more relevant (5). In this sense, the election of Trump might well play into the hands of those who have long been demanding to finally depart from the somewhat cosy “political absence” (6) of Europe, still dating from the Cold War. After all, unity is possible, as the geography of Europe, situated on the outskirts of the Eurasian landmass, implies similar requirements for any European countries’ foreign, security and defence policy.


1) These “3 d’s” have first been formulated by Madeline K. Albright: “The Right Balance will Secure NATO’s Future”, in: Financial Times, 7 December 1998, available in: Maartje Rutten (ed.): From St-Malo to Nice: European defence: core documents (Chaillot Paper, 47), Paris: Western European Union Institute for Security Studies, p. 11f.

2) Concerning the military gap, cf. Andreas Marchetti: “Transatlantische Annäherungen? Divergenz und Konvergenz im militärischen Bereich”, in: Peter-Christian Müller-Graff (ed.): Europäische Union und USA – Europas nordatlantische Aufgaben (Schriftenreihe des Arbeitskreises Europäische Integration, 87), Baden-Baden: Nomos 2016, p. 115f.

3) Cf. the relevant Eurobarometer surveys, e.g. concerning the approval for a common defence and security policy.

4) A Secure Europe in a Better World: European Security Strategy, Brussels 2003, p. 9.

5) Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe, Brussels 2016, p. 16.

6) Peter Sloterdijk: Falls Europa erwacht: Gedanken zum Programm einer Weltmacht am Ende des Zeitalters ihrer politischen Absence, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1994.


Allemand Anglais