Since the end of World War II, U.S. leaders have sought to lead their European allies and, as a corollary, frowned on any steps by Europe toward greater self-sufficiency in defense. Europe has wanted autonomy without providing adequate defense resources, while the United States has wanted greater European defense contributions without diminishing NATO and U.S. political influence.

The U.S. government favors a strong Europe but it also wants Europeans to remain dependent on U.S. protection and even compliant when it comes to U.S. preferences on matters of security. The idea of Europe developing a self-sufficient military capability outside U.S.-dominated NATO has long been disliked in Washington.

The U.S. security guarantee to Europe has been in place since NATO was established in 1949. Multiple generations of European leaders have internalized the belief that U.S. leadership is irreplaceable and that their continent cannot survive without it, never mind that Europe has long since become an economic and technological powerhouse itself, one that produces an array of advanced weaponry.

If the U.S.-European security relationship is to change, what Europe needs is not more resources but greater political will and self-confidence. Washington, for its part, must jettison the axiom that it has no choice but to serve as Europe’s perpetual protector par excellence. Such a shift is nowhere on the horizon. It will happen only when foreign-policy experts in the United States and Europe rework their assumptions and have an honest, fact-based strategic discussion about the obsolescence of the current trans-Atlantic security relationship.

The move toward a new arrangement, one appropriate to the times, could include:

  1. Alternating the position of NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe between an American and a European;
  2. Having Europe assume sole responsibility for deployments on NATO’s eastern flank;
  3. Sustained increases in European defense spending; and
  4. Substantially greater pan-European cooperation in armaments production to avoid duplication and leverage comparative advantages.

These changes will take time—but they can begin now.



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