It’s not true that the United States isn’t interested in Europe any more. It might look that way if you think about Donald Trump as being more isolationist than previous administrations. But the United States can’t be without our continent, and the fact that US bases have remained in Europe since World War II demonstrates this. Similarly, Washington’s influence on the policies of all European countries.
When the Cold War was over, ending with the fall of the Soviet Union and the victory of the Western Bloc, many people at the Pentagon were asking themselves what Europe’s future would be from an American perspective. After NATO’s expansion to the east, what would Europe’s future be from Washington’s perspective? Would it still make sense to keep military bases and soldiers in Europe if there was no enemy to hold back or defeat? The answer to these questions was more or less positive from all the various administrations that took over the helm at The White House. Europe may not have been top of the United State’s list any longer, but even if attention was turning to the Pacific or the Middle East, Europe still remained an essential part of the US’s global strategy. Controlling it inevitably means having control over all global policy. And this is why all superpowers compete to have the upper hand.
Trump is no exception to this theory. There are those who believed that his motto “Make America Great Again” stood for an America withdrawing into itself, an isolated giant which only controlled its “own backyard” no longer thinking about “old” Europe. But the way things look the reality is totally different. This is being demonstrated by the position adopted by his administration with regard to Germany and a Franco-German driven EU, the challenge of Russia, the blockades involving China which is penetrating the Mediterranean through the New Silk Road, but also through a series of bilateral relations with countries which currently represent the most important thorns in the side of the European Union: Italy and the United Kingdom.
As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the US president’s visit confirmed the head of state’s intention to totally focus on London in the post-Brexit period. The White House’s support for the United Kingdom’s divorce from the European Union is obvious. So too is the meaning of this support. Trump is interested in Europe. Not the European Union, which is by now considered an extension of Germany’s power rather than a community that the US is interested in to maintain its own supremacy. The United Kingdom is fuelling the decline of this Franco-German “offshoot”, inflicting the first big split within the European Union through Brexit.
The United State’s biggest ally in Europe, in NATO and in the European Union, the one with which it has a special relationship, is deciding to leave the EU and openly challenge the German market. A golden opportunity for The Donald, who didn’t give his blessing to Boris Johnson as the future Prime Minister by chance and pledged his fullest support to Nigel Farage and his party. It should not be forgotten that it was the US president who wanted to confirm his desire to sign a large trade agreement with London at all costs as soon as Brexit is concluded. We can also clearly see Trump’s logic for Europe from all of this (and, in general, the US strategy of recent years): agreements with individual countries, preventing the strengthening of the Germany-centric EU, opposing the multilateral logic.
The same ideas that inspire Trump’s intentions with regard to Italy. The emphasis and vision is, however, different compared with the United Kingdom. While London has always considered its relationship with the European Union a marriage of convenience, Rome immediately made it clear that it genuinely wanted to build a unified, strong Europe. So much so that it was one of the founding members of the EU. Italy’s adoption of the euro, all Union agreements, its involvement in the European Defence Agency as well as governments very open towards Brussels, have always confirmed Washington’s greater difficulty in considering Rome as a thorn in the side of a Franco-German driven Europe.
But the rise of strong criticism of the EU system and forces which are closer to the Atlantic axis have ensured that relations between The White House and Palazzo Chigi have made a comeback. A closeness which, at times, appears shaky (as demonstrated by the tension caused by Italy supporting the New Silk Road) but remains essentially unchanged. Italy is a full and involved member of NATO (the Naples hub is a demonstration of this). It has US troops on its soil and relations with the present American administration are very warm, with Giuseppe Conte and particularly Matteo Salvini‘s Lega a perfect ally in his challenge to the Berlin-Paris axis.
Trump’s idea is clear: he needs bridgeheads to deal a blow to German supremacy in Europe and the European Union as a single bloc. London and Rome, for different reasons, are the two points on which to build this triangle with Washington which, in order to complete this “siege”, can also hope to open up a third front: the Europe of Visegrád. Eastern Europe appears to be an area straddling German influence and the Russian border. The US has NATO troops and defence systems in this middle ground, but, from a political point of view, the governments of Budapest, Warsaw, Prague and Bratislava are hovering between the inevitable axis with Berlin’s industry and full membership of the Atlantic alliance in an anti-Russian stance. Trump doesn’t accept compromises, and the fact that eastern countries have started to buy American liquefied gas to keep Donald happy demonstrates this fact. But it’s clear from a political point of view that the game is very complicated: eastern countries cannot abandon Germany, but they can abandon the Franco-German axis slotting in as another European hub. Viktor Orbán has already been very clear in this respect.