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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
17 Feb 2024
Robert Jenrick

The transatlantic alliance is with an America that no longer exists

In Washington, past and present are enmeshed in ways unfamiliar to Westminster. Such is the longevity of its politicians, some of those I watched from afar when interning on the Hill twenty years ago remain in power. Mitch McConnell, now the Leader of the Republicans in the Senate, has served there my whole life.

But behind this front, things are changing. The next generation sees the world through a different lens to those schooled by neoconservatism, and inhabits a vastly more competitive world to America’s unipolar moment that followed the end of the Cold War. When the Senate voted for the Supplementary Bill, which sought to provide funding to Ukraine among many other things, no one under 50 voted for the Bill.

Just before my visit to DC this week, the Polish president, Donald Tusk, raged at those Republicans who voted against the Bill. Tusk is a man whose life is inextricably linked to the events and institutions that have tied Europe and America for most of my lifetime – he was born in Gdańsk, birthplace of the solidarity movement that helped overthrow communist rule in 1989. “Dear Republican Senators of America”, he tweeted, “Shame on you.”

He was right to be concerned. The war in Ukraine has descended into a war of attrition and brave Ukraine needs our continued support. Putin, whose henchmen brought about the death of Alexei Navalny this week for the crime of peacefully objecting to his murderous regime, must fail in his quest to subjugate her.

But as an act of persuasion, Tusk’s intervention was spectacularly ill-judged. It spoke to a self-righteous, self-entitled European attitude which fails to appreciate America’s overwhelming historic support or engage with the challenges America is now weighing up.

America faces deep strategic, economic, and immigration problems. Its public is weary of disastrous foreign wars. Some of its politicians are isolationist – hardly a new phenomenon. But most of those arguing that America needs to change its relationship with Europe are emphatically not, contrary to their mischaracterisation in the European press. They believe in continued support for Ukraine and Israel, but that America’s resources are finite and the vast majority should be deployed in the Pacific to contain China – a country whose economic and military strength dwarfs what the Soviet Union realised at its peak.

The truth is that America has changed and so has the world around it. It does not have the resources to be the world’s policeman everywhere as its comparative economic and military strength has diminished. So it now has to make choices about where it priorities it resources in a way it once didn’t.

Speaking to influential republicans in DC this week it’s clear the core of the Republican Party have concluded that the greatest threat to America’s primacy is from an aggressive China, and so America must pivot its resources. As Beijing moves closer to invading Taiwan the drag on America eastwards will only grow stronger. The loss of Taiwan would be a catastrophe for the West, leaving the path open to Chinese hegemony in Asia, the most important region of the 21st century.

Europe must wake up to the reality that the traditional trans-Atlantic alliance is with an America that doesn’t exist anymore. The people and politics it has relied upon are receding into the rear view mirror of history.

America’s engagement in Europe will need to shift to a partnership rather than a dependency model.

This requires the UK to step up our support for Ukraine and to increase our own defence spending. We must concentrate on leading Europe’s defence and our near abroad, not an alluring but unrealistic presence in Asia.

President Trump did more than other recent presidents to elicit greater spending commitments out of European Nato members, but there remain glaring holes. The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz declared a “zeitenwende” – or turning point – when Russia invaded Ukraine but has since wasted two years doing little to fulfil the military plans announced. Shockingly, it still spends far less in real terms than West Germany did before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Shortly after Eisenhower assumed his post as the first Nato supreme allied command in 1951, he said “If in 10 years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defence purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project will have failed.” Seventy years on, Europe must grow up and finally take responsibility for its own defence. Given the GDP of European Nato dwarfs the GDP of Russia, this is eminently achievable.

Margaret Thatcher, the great Atlanticist, said that there are no final victories in politics. Each generation must remake arguments and rethink positions, if they are to survive. The Atlantic alliance is not finished, but it is changing and political leaders from the next generation on both sides must recognise the new reality and build a modern partnership for a new century.