Now, however, we are on the cusp of a reversal. Americans, on the populist right, the socialist left, and most points in between, have lost their appetite for armed intervention, and the country’s chief conflict in the coming decades is likely to be a protracted cold war with an increasingly powerful Beijing. Europe, meanwhile, has no choice but to look southward, to the fragile states of Africa, which hold the key to its future. As Trump forces Europe to think about a future in which it provides for its own security needs, he may be pushing it toward a more Martian future, in which it is European militaries that go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
Just last month, nine of Europe’s NATO members declared their intention to work together on a “European Intervention Initiative,” or “EI2,” that is being championed by French President Emanuel Macron. Since the start of his presidency, Macron has been touting the idea of a pan-European security force capable of intervening in crises in North Africa and the Sahel, and it appears to be inching closer to reality.
To get there, though, Europe would first have to invest heavily in building its capabilities, as Sven Biscop, writing in Foreign Affairs, explains: “The main gap between the European and American arsenals has to do with strategic enablers—tools and resources such as intelligence and surveillance, transport, and precision-guided munitions, which allow countries to project military force safely and swiftly.” Without these strategic enablers, European strategic autonomy, as envisioned in Macron’s EI2, is but a mirage. For now, it is the United States that provides these strategic enablers to its allies, and that can always choose not to provide them. If Europe is to truly share in the burden of ensuring global security, it will have to pool its resources and replicate some of America’s existing capabilities. In short, the training wheels will have to come off.
The Trump administration, schizophrenic as ever, is both urging European NATO allies to boost their military spending while condemning their tentative efforts to build up their own Europe-wide strategic enablers. Biscop attributes American wariness towards European strategic autonomy to a straightforward domestic consideration: fear that European governments will favor European defense contractors over their U.S. counterparts. But this underscores the deeper question: Does America really want a more independent and capable Europe? If it does, well, U.S. defense contractors might have to take it on the chin. Moreover, the United States must accept that such a Europe could, at some point in the distant future, serve as a check on American power, a prospect that some Europeans will relish and that many Americans will dread.
A more likely outcome, to my mind, is that a more autonomous Europe will devote itself almost exclusively to Africa. A decade or so from now, I suspect it is the European powers that will find themselves mired in armed conflicts, peacekeeping missions, and state-building efforts in the world’s most volatile regions, and the United States that will, regrettably, be standing aloof. Europeans will spend more on defense not in response to hectoring from Trump or his successors. Rather, they will do so out of necessity. The European Intervention Initiative, conceived in the wake of France’s military operations in Mali, is a sign of things to come.