On a recent visit to Europe I was most struck by the latent and open anti-American sentiments that are contaminating the political elites across the continent. This is especially strange in a year when we commemorate the end of the Cold War, the ending of the divide across the continent, which would never have happened without the perseverance and determination of the United States.
The visit coincided with the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. I was curious why the U.S. president was not there at the Brandenburg Gate with German Chancellor Merkel. Perhaps it would have caused a diplomatic, organizational and protocol avalanche, but it would have been the right thing to do. If my memory serves me well, the U.S. was the advocate and steadfast supporter of German reunification and helped overcome resistance by other major powers. Obama's presence would have sent a strong message about the U.S. commitment to the transatlantic relationship and would have afforded the opportunity for Germany and the rest of Europe to demonstrate its collective gratitude. Whatever the reason for his absence, it was a missed opportunity.
In my discussions about the state of the transatlantic relationship, I have concluded that with the exception of the Baltic and Nordic countries, and Poland, Europeans do not have a sense of urgency to strengthen their security. The complacency of the past twenty-five years seems to continue. Russia is as a rule seen as a nuisance, a challenge at most, but rarely as a threat. Too many Europeans seem to have bought into Russian propaganda, which suggests the Ukraine "crisis" was in many ways justified, mainly caused by the expansion of NATO. In their view Russia was provoked by the West, meaning the United States. Even the shooting down by Russian backed rebels in Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines 17 was not enough to turn the public around. Too many do not seem to understand the long-term disruptive efforts of Russia, its strategy to divide and weaken Europe and thus the transatlantic relationship. It is key that Europe's leaders stay on course when the next generation of sanctions are imposed.
Europeans take their freedoms for granted. But they shouldn't. They do not like to be reminded of their weakness, of the responsibility they carry for their own security. The everlasting U.S. demand to Europeans to increase their defense budget is barely heard. Pledges are made by European allies and then forgotten. Creative ideas like "pooling and sharing" or "smart-defense" are great, but are becoming nothing more than thinly veiled disguises of the unwillingness to invest seriously in defense.
I was also surprised by the lack of understanding for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), as if this was primarily an American interest. The negotiations are going well. But in an air of anti-Americanism, even if the negotiations come to a conclusion as scheduled, the public and parliamentary support is not at all guaranteed. This is dangerous. The geopolitical consequences of a failed TTIP would be devastating, serving only those who would like to see the two sides of the Atlantic drift apart.
Europeans should be aware of the demographic changes taking place in America; soon the majority of Americans will have no European roots. The mood in America is changing and the next generation of politicians might just not want to pay for Europe's security the same way their predecessors have been doing for the last 70 years. There is a growing sentiment in America that perhaps Europe, if it is so damn self-confident of its moral superiority over America, it should also be ready to foot the bill to support its own security.
Some European leaders recently declared bravely that they refuse to see the world as "black and white." This is a clear reference to the United States. This is also nonsense. The issue is not whether we see things black and white or in sophisticated colors, but whether we see the true nature of the challenge.
Here is a small warning: the next president, democrat or republican might not be as easy on its allies and on burden-sharing as has been President Obama. She or he will almost certainly feel an obligation to show strong leadership for the West, and in so doing will be a lot tougher on its reluctant European brothers and sisters. Keeping America at arms- length, not too close but close enough, will not work forever.
The world is an unforgiving place. Its toleration for those who cannot or will not defend themselves, or stand up for their values and beliefs will not last forever. For now the US is there when and if we should need it, but Europe should not continue to count on America as a 911 number.