President Donald Trump has rightly recognized that America must do more to stand up to Chinese and Russian threats to U.S. interests. While most agree that having a national security strategy centered around strategic competition is wise and warranted, the administration is falling short in how it is executing that strategy. If the United States wants to retain our competitive edge over our rivals, this administration must embrace and strengthen our greatest assets: our vast network of alliances and commitment to democracy. As Trump heads to Paris this weekend to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, therefore, he would do well to recognize that supporting strong European allies and transatlantic cohesion will be the best way to counter rising Chinese and Russian influence.
So far, Trump has treated our European allies not as a strength to be developed, but as a problem to be corrected. Actions he views as reasserting American power—levying tariffs, insulting European leaders and labeling the European Union a “foe”—are ironically, hastening its decline. By straining our relationships, Trump is weakening America’s capacity to deter Russia and compete with China. The United States’ withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Paris Climate Accords and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, widely known as Iran nuclear deal, have repeatedly left Europe and the United States on opposing sides. 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.
Trump’s upcoming trip to Europe provides the president with an opportunity to correct his course. Building strong alliances and partnerships in Europe should be at the heart of any competitive strategy with China and Russia. By 2032 China’s economy will surpass that of the United States. It is also building military capacity that, very soon, will be on par with that of the United States. As China rises, states have two options: they can bond together to balance this growing power, knowing that their collective might and influence are sufficient to contain the rising threat, or they can bandwagon with the hope that by aligning with China they can avoid attack and share the spoils of geopolitical victory. History shows that balancing by coming together with others and forming strong alliances is the best way to avoid becoming a victim. This raises the imperative that Trump ensure continued alignment with Europe in order to balance China’s growing power.
Read the full article in The National Interest.