With the AUKUS deal, it is now the time for Europe to push for its autonomy.
Biden’s victory was a joyous event for many Europeans who witnessed the worst and most challenging period in the history of EU-US relations under Trump. Europeans were pleased to hear Biden saying the United States has returned to world politics to fulfill its global duty. His words raised hopes for transatlantic relations which had been dashed by the Trump administration.
Biden’s stance on the US return to the international stage was above all a show of will power to resume global relations based on the rules of the world order which was disregarded for four years by the unilateralist approach of “America First”. But Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan without consulting the European allies who spent 20 years alongside the United States rebuilding and empowering Afghanistan’s fledgling society has questioned the United States’ return as a leader and has actually widened the gap with its allies and the world order since the Trump era.
America’s European allies must now address serious concerns about US domestic policy, and in particular the growing party divide that has created uncertainty about the future of US foreign policy. It does not seem plausible now that the United States can even be trusted with basic issues on the world stage. Fruitless and sometimes unprecedented foreign policy differences between Republicans and Democrats in Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Iran nuclear deal, and the Paris Agreement have shattered the uniform political structure of the United States. Under the strategic confusion of American foreign policy, many international agreements and treaties that Europeans considered vital to the preservation of their values and interests were trampled. Therefore, it is natural that Biden’s approach to cooperating optimistically is not welcomed in Europe.
With the Afghanistan debacle, the Biden government created a quagmire for the Europeans that swallowed up all of Europe’s aspirations for future cooperation, leaving a hopeless and more isolated Europe, which must once again practice its political independence in JCPOA and Paris Agreement from the beginning.
Now, behind the gates of NATO, the G7 and the Paris Agreement, Europe must wait for years for Washington, under Biden or his successors, to ensure that the White House makes all efforts needed to repair and strengthen the transatlantic relations. Certainly, for many European people, politicians and leaders, the promises of US presidents are no longer a reminder of a triumphant return to re-establishing multilateral and internationalist approaches, and most importantly a return to normal relations on both sides of the Atlantic.
It became clear to Europeans now that Biden and his team are not politicians. The use of unusual literature, unpredictable approaches, and pursuit of short-term policies by the Biden administration have led to a wave of frustration and distrust in world politics over US performance even more than the Trump administration. There are countries that are skeptical of the United States returning to the Paris Agreement and reviving transatlantic relations.
The profound international changes that have taken place over the past few months, especially in the Middle East with the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan, has raised serious doubts even among the United States’ closest allies. In particular, profound changes in the international system have led to a gradual and continuous transfer of power from the United States to China, and from west to east.
Europeans must gradually come to believe that the uninterrupted decline of American power will eventually give away world economic leadership to China. Perhaps the time has come for Europe to begin its political independence in economic relations with the rest of the world by seeing the United States as it actually is and appearing a little more neutral, independent, and credible.
The recent G7 summit showed that the Biden administration’s main concern in foreign policy is the control of China, and therefore his foreign policy so far does not differ much, at least in terms of purpose, from US foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wherever US interests require, they will sell their partners, even to the likes of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Thus, in addition to doubts about the ability or will of the United States to return to the world stage, the continued significant decline of Europe in the blind pursuit of US foreign policy may also give rise to new doubts in Washington about continuing strategic cooperation with Europe.
If divisions in society and the unprecedented partisan tensions in Congress continue without being seriously tackled, the US economy will be in a precarious position in the future, despite its superior economic, entrepreneurial and technological capacity.
Although US foreign policy has long been immune to polarization, such immunity no longer seems to exist. Americans today are more divided than ever about key issues. These polarizations undermine the foundations of American power and have an adverse effect on the United States’ ability to conduct its foreign policy, its reputation for stability, credibility, and support of allies.
Today’s political climate in the United States prevents policymakers from addressing the most important foreign policy issues effectively. In the absence of a bipartisan consensus, the Biden government faces the problem of politicizing key decisions. A problem that has seriously jeopardized Washington’s reputation as a credible friend and trusted ally.
If Europe cannot continue to work with the United States to fill the void left by US power to exert political and military influence on the world stage, it must at least be able to decide to maintain its position as an independent European entity. EU leaders must also consider the expectations of European people and manufacturers for strategic decisions. Europe as an export-dependent geo-economic continent should also consolidate and develop its relations with India, Brazil, South Africa and especially China as one of the largest economies in the world.
Strategic autonomy, or strategic belief, involves a holistic approach that allows Europeans to pursue international policy this time around based on a set of European values and interests. If Europe does not consider this strategy, it will be the main loser in relations with the United States. Strategic autonomy is not limited to a specific area such as defense policy, but encompasses the entire external economic and political confrontation of the European Union with the world around it. To this end, Europe already has the necessary capacity and will to pursue a more independent path in the international dynamic environment.
Of course, the first precondition for achieving the European strategic autonomy is a greater belief in internal cohesion, capability and flexibility. Remember that the EU’s global role begins at the home of every European. Achieving strategic autonomy requires greater responsibility and risk both inside and outside Europe. Finally, instead of falling into the trap of protectionism leading to a stalemate with Washington, the EU should be able to manage interdependence, and balance the relationships through multilateral cooperation to avoid unilateral exploitation of the benefits. The precondition for the realization of these preconditions in today’s complex and globalized world is, above all, the belief in the creation and enhancement of the institutional, material and political capacities of the European Union, all components of which already exist in Europe.
Despite Biden’s desire to return to the past, due to the profound domestic and international changes, the implementation of this policy is facing many doubts. In the light of these developments, rather than passively following the United States, Europe should actively pursue the definition and formulation of new relations with the United States and the world. A coherent strategy by European governments is needed to counter the gradual decline of Europe’s importance and to reduce its dependence on the United States. European countries should prepare for tougher competition and confrontation on the world stage, so that Europe’s global position does not degrade alongside the United States.
*Timothy Hopper, an international relations graduate of American University