In the midst of difficult domestic political battles, Barack Obama begins a lengthy European trip today. He should encourage the continent to increase its defense capabilities and take on greater regional security responsibilities.
Presidential visits typically result in little of substance. President Obama’s latest trip will be no different if he reinforces the status quo. His policy mantra once was “change.” No where is “change” more necessary than in America’s foreign policy, especially towards Europe.
Despite obvious differences spanning the Atlantic, the U.S. and European relationship remains extraordinarily important. The administration should press for increased economic integration, with lower trade barriers and streamlined regulations to encourage growth.
At the same time, however, Washington should encourage development of a European-run NATO with which the U.S. can cooperate to promote shared interests to replace today’s America-dominated NATO which sacrifices American interests to defend Europe. Americans no longer can afford to defend the rest of the world. The Europeans no longer need to be defended.
Although World War II ended 66 years ago, the Europeans remain strangely dependent on America. Political integration through the European Union has halted; economic integration through the Euro is under sharp challenge; and military integration through any means is reversing.
Indeed, the purposeless war in Libya, instigated by Great Britain and France, has dramatically demonstrated Europe’s military weakness. Despite possessing a collective GDP and population greater than that of America, the continent’s largest powers are unable to dispatch a failed North African dictator.
President Barack Obama starts with visits to Ireland, the UK, and France. In the latter he will consult with the heads of the G8 nations, which include Germany and Italy.
His message should be clear: while America will remain politically and economically engaged in Europe, it will no longer take on responsibility for setting boundaries in the Balkans, policing North Africa, and otherwise defending prosperous industrial states from diminishing threats. Washington should expect the continent to become a full partner, which means promoting the security of its members and stability of its region.
The president should deliver a similar message when he continues on to Poland. Part of “New Europe,” which worries more about the possibility of revived Russian aggression, Warsaw has cause to spend more on its own defense and cooperate more closely with its similarly-minded neighbors on security issues.
In fact, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, members of the “Visegrad Group,” recently announced creation of a “battle group” separate from NATO command to emphasize regional defense. The president should welcome this willingness to take on added defense responsibilities.