Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Trump, the EU, and NATO

by Allison Wheeler (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

This blog post was written for the course "Current Issues in Global and EU Affairs", which took place from February 11-May 9, 2019.

Secretary Pompeo and Secretary General Stoltenberg deliver
opening remarks at the NATO Foreign Ministerial
Image Credit: US Department of State/Ron Przysucha, 
Public Domain

This year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), celebrated its 70th birthday.  Founded in 1949, NATO has bound western Europe and North America since almost immediately following World War II and has created a close defense alliance between what has grown from just 12 countries to now 29 countries.  NATO at this moment in history is at the center of a potentially pivotal conflict for the transatlantic partnership between the US and the EU.

The EU, regarded most prominently and historically as a normative and economic power, has heavily relied on the “hard power” the US provides within its contributions to NATO missions.  NATO, aided with American military power, has been crucial in defending Ukraine from Russian encroachment and invasion of Crimea, for example.

Pressure has been put on the EU from the US, especially from President Donald Trump, and expressly for member states to step up their spending toward the NATO budget if it is to continue protecting its borders.  Trump, within the time of his administration, has pushed NATO members to contribute to the 2% goal for the overall NATO budget; meaning that, ideally, every member state should be contributing 2% of its GDP towards NATO.  At this moment in time, only 5 total members contribute 2% or more: Estonia, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  Trump has been hardballing the concept of even “burden-sharing” amongst the member states, which has, in fact, had an effect within the EU.  After singling out Germany, for example, the German Defense Minister agreed to action that would increase their spending from 1.2% to 1.5% of its GDP by 2025—it may not now seem like much, but to the appeasement of Trump, it is a start.

The US-EU defense alliance that has formed via NATO has sparked conversations within the European Commission on the viability of becoming a more independent security actor.  The Trump administration is still wary to the amount of US defense resources that are pored into protecting the European continent, thus putting strains in the transatlantic partnership.  Member states’ stances on the EU as its own self-sustaining security and defense actor vary greatly and would encroach upon the several states that have historically had a neutral standing (Austria, Sweden, Ireland, and Finland).

While nothing in terms of a “European Army” has come through in any form of legislation, the Juncker administration has passed the provisional agreements for a European Defense Fund.  According to the European Commission, 525million euros have been allocated for this fund, and will be utilized for the defense innovation and research. 

With the UK’s exit from the European Union on the horizon, the EU must also prepare for one of its largest defense contributors to leave.  And with the UK gone, 60% of NATO members will be non-EU states, thus bolstering President Trump’s discourse and dissatisfaction with EU member states’ contributions.  With the EU exploring new territory as a security actor, that relies less on NATO, and de facto the US, the transatlantic partnership may be able to avoid a contentious fallout.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Transatlantic Figure

by Léa Gaudron and Nicolas Dünkelsbühler (KU Leuven)

This blog post was written for the course "Current Issues in Global and EU Affairs", which took place from February 11-May 9, 2019.

Schwarzenegger meeting with Austrian
Chancellor Christian Kern in 2017.
Image Credit: SPÖ/Zach-Kiesling, via Creative Commons
Being born in a small town in post-war Austria in 1947 is an unlikely start for anyone to live the American Dream. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, born as the second son of a poor and conservative family in a rural area near Graz, with a father who had a Nazi past, made it. He also became an important figure in transatlantic relations, showing that it is possible to reach the highest ranks of politics in the US, while having an influence on the political and cultural sphere in Europe. Schwarzenegger’s success story started when he moved to the United States. He had been interested in bodybuilding since age 15; at the end of his career he won Mister Universe and Mister Olympia seven times, becoming the most successful bodybuilder of all time. This era was not only a tale of success. Schwarzenegger later admitted to the use of steroids to enhance his sportive performance during his active time as a bodybuilder. While this was common in the bodybuilding environment, this mistake would later still have a negative influence on Schwarzenegger’s reputation.

Still, his bodybuilding career caught the attention of Hollywood directors. His movie career started with roles in action movies. His Austrian accent, that would later become his trademark and remind the public of his European background in his career in politics, was still a handicap to getting roles beyond his stereotypical “Arnold Strong” stage name. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1983 and managed to keep his Austrian citizenship. Schwarzenegger became one of the first former bodybuilders to appear in protagonist roles in Hollywood blockbusters that were successful both in Europe and in the US. His signature role as the “Terminator” in the 1984 action thriller was perhaps the most successful and gave him his nickname “The Governator”.

During his career in Hollywood, Schwarzenegger started showing interest in politics, and started his political ambitions in some minor roles for the Republicans in California. His Hollywood peers were generally more leaning towards the Democrats; Schwarzenegger’s political opinions could be best described as moderate. In the 2003 recall elections, when he ran for office to become the Governor of California, his background as a movie star helped his campaign to get national attention. He won the elections; and during his time in office he already showed some tendencies to integrate bipartisan policies in his agenda, he also appointed a Democrat as his chief of staff. His popularity helped him get re-elected in 2006.

Schwarzenegger remained a public figure after his time as governor. He has taken an interest in election reforms and also launched the University of Southern California Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, whose main focus is to highlight the responsibility of leaders to overcome partisanship in a series of crucial issues, including education, energy, and the environment. Schwarzenegger has gotten particularly involved in the latter since the beginning of his first Governor mandate, California being one of the most vulnerable states to climate change. He co-founded the “Regions of Climate Action” (R20) organization, dedicated to helping sub-governmental entities globally to take action against climate change, to communicate on the importance of low-carbon emissions and to finance climate-resilience projects worldwide. Thanks to this action, he was recognized in 2012 as a Global Advocate by the UN Correspondents Association.  He was also rewarded for being the “Renewable Energy Leader of the Decade” by the American Council On Renewable Energy, and received the “National Leadership Award” by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

In his article “The Strange Political Afterlife of Arnold Schwarzenegger” Edward-Isaac Dovere argues that the reason behind Schwarzenegger’s current political engagement lies both in his resemblance with and opposition to Donald Trump, comparing them to twins separated at birth. On the one hand, they are both the same age, Republicans coming from the show-business before getting involved into politics. They were both underestimated, mocked as not being serious candidates, one because of his Austrian accent and impressive physique, the other for his bold declarations and overall behavior.

On the other hand, when Trump announced the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Austrian met with a series of high-level politicians, including the French president and the mayor of Paris in order to create a partnership between Paris, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the R20. When the President failed to condemn the actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville, he donated to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and accepted, for once, to reflect on his father’s Nazi past, in order to remind everyone of the dangers of antisemitism.

Even though his political life is mostly based in the US nowadays, Schwarzenegger remains an important figure for Europe. He started as an embodiment for the American Dream, showing many Europeans that they too can “make it” in the States if they set their minds to it. Today, he is a federating figure, with both the Americans and the Europeans able to identify with him. Furthermore, his implication in the fight against global warming echoes the wave of concern in the old and the new continent, despite climate sceptics.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

NATO and the Transatlantic Relationship

by Jordan Evans-Kaplan (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

This blog post was written for the course "Current Issues in Global and EU Affairs", which took place from February 11-May 9, 2019.

NATO Military Spending by member state GDP.
Image Credit: Creative Commons
The EU has always been and will likely always be the most key strategic partner to the US regarding NATO. However, the future of NATO remains cloudy amid a disruptive US presidency, and critiques of NATO on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite opposition and naysayers, it is quite an achievement of the European project that NATO has managed to exist this long, as it represents a solution to a problem from a bygone era. Created as a bulwark against Soviet aggression, this strategic partnership has stood the test of time since its creation in 1949 and remains the cornerstone of US-EU military cooperation. But what does the future hold for this critical component of transatlantic integration?

NATO’s key role has always been European Defense and transatlantic security cooperation, however, modern politics within the US and EU have challenged this role. On the US side, apathy and lethargy regarding NATO have increased after President Trump’s critiques of nations not meeting the 2% GDP threshold. However, the number of nations meeting this mark has only increased over time. In 2014, only three nations met the threshold of 2% ofnational GDP, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Greece. In 2019, this is up to seven NATO nations, including Estonia, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. On the other side of the Atlantic, France has issued their own responses, despite being on the precipice of the 2% target. In response to these spending critiques and threats if non-payment continues, Macron stated that “we must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States.” This push towards a new European military represents a concern to scholars of transatlantic integration, as these policies are staunchly divergent from NATO and the United States.

It is quite interesting to note that despite the broad cooperation found in NATO, and the importance it holds in Europe, several European nations have opted for neutrality. These countries include Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden.  In many ways, NATO represents a sort of transatlantic barometer, a measure of not only the strength of the transatlantic relationship but as an evaluation of cooperation's value in geopolitics. Following the Cold War and shifts in geopolitical goals, security cooperation took on a different flavor. As the power politics of nation-states took a backseat to addressing terrorism and non-state actors, cooperation became downsized and focused on peacekeeping. Examples of this new role include the missions in Kosovo, and the NATO Training Mission- Iraq in which NATO provided training and assistance to Iraqi security forces in hopes of crafting a sustainable internal security structure capable of fending for itself. As a result, the trend in NATO seems promising as we approach the future, despite resentment and a souring political dialogue. When viewed as a whole, the number of nations meeting spending targets has only increased, and security partnerships have deepened in dealing with insurgent groups and instability. The geopolitics of tomorrow are less clear-cut, less driven by the bold, national power politics of yesterday’s era, and more demanding of transatlantic integration. While NATO handled the threat of Communist incursion with relative ease, today it battles a much more formidable opponent: Transatlantic politics.