United States President Donald Trump gave a stirring speech on June 6 on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the successful Allied return to France in force, leading to the defeat of Nazi Germany and its Axis allies.
In his speech, Trump told stories about the brave men who fought in that battle, and some of the most courageous had survived and returned to the battlefield and the cemetery next to it, for the anniversary. The US president saluted them and interacted with them affectionately.
Standing with Trump as he delivered his remarks was the president of France, Emmanuel Macron. Macron was a dutiful and gracious host, proud that the US president saluted French troops and partisans who fought at D-Day and after, contributing to the liberation of France.
Trump made clear his sense of the importance of the Allies who all took part in the war, and in particular about the enduring nature of the alliance. In the context of the heroes present at the ceremony, the message was powerful.
A troubled alliance
Yet at the same time, it came at a difficult moment in the story of the alliance, which is deeply troubled, particularly by a revisionist attitude in Europe about the United States and its role in the future defense of Europe.
That attitude argues that the United States is only present in Europe for its own gain, and not out of any love of Europe. Those who push this view say the United States won’t defend Europe if there ever is a crisis, and that America benefits economically and dominates European politics.
A manifestation of the argument about the United States is a push inside the EU community, a push Macron is personally promoting, to rid Europe of American weapons and to finance European defense products, excluding the United States.
The implications are, of course, a true disaster for Europe if they were to be adopted: The United States invests so much in defense and research and development, and backs its defense program with a huge civilian high technology infrastructure, that without access to America’s vast defense and commercial resources, Europe would quickly end up with worse than a third world defense capability.
The signs of decline are already quite apparent even without blockading US defense companies. Germany hardly has an army any more – few of its tanks function, German Air Force aircraft are in poor repair and aging, and Germany’s defense budget is way below the minimums for a rich country, the wealthiest in Europe.
It isn’t much better elsewhere in Europe, but all the European defense companies function largely because of their access to American technology. Should the pipeline shut down, one can expect the collapse of many of these industries on the European continent, whether it is Thales, Leonardo or MBDA, to name only a few.
Beyond defense cooperation, military cooperation is also threatened by European Union ambitions. Last November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her support for a Macron initiative to create an EU army.
Part of the reason for her decision to support an EU army was to bolster the sovereignty credentials of the EU, even though European voters in 2005 rejected the idea of a single sovereign European-wide entity, with France notably voting against.
But in November 2018, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave his annual State of the European Union speech titled “The Hour of European Sovereignty.” In it, he contended that the EU needed to play a greater role in global affairs.
The EU had already set up a European military command center, part of an EU-backed idea to establish “permanent operational planning and conduct capability at the strategic level.” What the EU and European political leaders in effect have done is to disregard the implications of the 2005 failed attempt to create a new constitution for Europe, and go ahead with the substance of it anyway.
A big red flag
For the United States, these moves raise a big red flag about the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, since an EU army would almost certainly dilute NATO’s deterrent value, create confusion in the chain of command and waste limited defense resources on a mission that until now has never existed.
The problems between the United States and some of its top European allies, Germany and France in particular, continue to fester unresolved, at least in the American view.
President Trump took the highest of high roads in his D-Day speech, where he praised the allies and the heroes and stayed completely away from politics.
Yet it is also true we may be witnessing the last days of NATO and the alliance unless there is a turnabout in Europe, and soon.