Whose Problem?

Today I spoke to a friend in the UK. We often talk about politics and foreign policy. But today he said something that I think speaks volumes about the US/European relationship.

The conversation got started by my mentioning that there is a growing feeling of isolationism in the US. When you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, eventually there is a tendency to simply give up. I think that there is such a feeling emerging in the US, particularly on the political right.

I also mentioned that it might be wise for the US to concentrate on developing good relations in Asia, and leave Europe to its own defense. There is a growing feeling in the US that NATO is less an "alliance", and more of a massive expense that essentially subsidizes European social/welfare programs.

Meanwhile, many Americans think our future is more with a dynamic Asia, than a Europe on demographic and strategic decline. Leading thinkers like Tom Barnett have said that we should be pulling up stakes from Europe and establishing an Asian version of NATO.

My friend's reaction to all this was interesting. He told me that the US should really be worrying about the rise of Russia. After all, he seemed to say, an emboldened Russia threatens the energy security of Europe. My answer was that that sounded more like a problem for Europe than for the US.

There is a presumption in Europe that the US is responsible for Europe's security. (There is also very little recognition that the EU would not exist if not for American military power.) Although Europeans believe the US is a clear danger, they also feel that we should step in to protect them when the going gets rough. Many Europeans assume that our interests are inexorably tied, and are surprised to hear that there are Americans who don't quite see it that way.

Some Europeans are starting to feel the pressure of a newly emboldened Russia. Yet even as the danger increases, they continue to demonize the US. My view is that unless we make it clear that the US military is not at their disposal, they will continue to take it for granted.

The time is now to make them pony up for and in their own defense.