Washington, November 9 – This weekend, President Donald Trump will depart for a long-planned trip to France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and meet with French President Emmanuel Macron. Landing just weeks before the G-20 Summit in Argentina, Macron and Trump will likely discuss immigration, Russia, trade and tariffs, climate change, and Iran. Vladimir Putin will also be in attendance for the military celebrations, though it is unlikely that Trump and Putin will have a substantive one-on-one meeting while in Paris.
Trump’s trip to Europe (his first to the continent since the NATO and Helsinki Summits) comes at a precarious time. Merkel is severely weakened in Germany after announcing that she will not seek leadership of the Christian Democratic Union at the party’s conference in December and, according to recent polls, Macron’s popularity at home hovers around a paltry 29 percent. On top of this, Trump is immensely unpopular in Europe; a recent Pew survey shows that 82 percent of individuals in 10 European countries polled said they have “no confidence in Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs.”
Beyond these leadership dynamics, policy disagreements between the US and Europe are mounting. The US’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the Paris Climate Accords, and the JCPOA have repeatedly left Europe and the United States on opposing sides. Trump has also pursued a number of actions he likely views as reasserting American power – levying tariffs, insulting European leaders, and labeling the European Union a “foe" — that are ironically, hastening its decline. Trump is operating from an assumption that he can bully our allies into correcting imbalances in our relationships and that our bonds will not suffer. In an era of strategic competition, operating under these assumptions is wrong and dangerous.
President Trump should use this trip to change course on Europe. Trump has rightly recognized that America must do more to stand up to Chinese threats to US interests. While most agree that this policy of strategic competition is wise and warranted, the administration is falling short in how it is executing the strategy. To effectively balance against a rising China, the US will need strong European allies and cohesive relations with Europe. Trump should use his trip to Paris, therefore, to chart a new course that seeks to build—not undermine—a coalition of European partners. Doing so will give the US an advantage in the great power competition the president has embarked upon.
Andrea Kendall-Taylor is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
Rachel Rizzo is the 1Lt Andrew J. Bacevich, Jr., USA Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Transatlantic Security Program.
Kendall-Taylor and Rizzo are available for interviews. To arrange one, please contact Cole Stevens at (202) 695-8166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.