Strained relations after last year’s revelations that Washington was spying on its EU allies seem to be a thing of the past as President Barack Obama visits Europe.
Transatlantic unity is now the order of the day for Americans and Europeans, amid the current crisis over the annexation of Crimea.
NATO needs a regular presence in eastern European countries that now feel vulnerable to Russia, according to Obama. But he has also voiced concern about declining defence budgets among some in the alliance.
Yet, despite renewed tension with Russia, economic times are still hard in Europe, leaving limited scope for more military spending.
To discuss relations between the US and its NATO partners in Europe, we spoke to Guillaume Xavier-Bender from the German Marshall Fund.
euronews, James Franey: “It is interesting that Ukraine is going to be a key foreign policy issue for Obama over the coming months. Could we say that this rebalancing, or pivot, to Asia…whatever you want to call it…is going to have to be radically reviewed – that in fact Europe’s borders are again going to be the centre of American foreign policy, going forward?”
Guillaume Xavier-Bender, German Marshall Fund: “Well, Europe has never been out of the picture, despite the pivot or the repositioning. It’s always been part of American foreign policy, with Americans entrusting Europeans to make sure things were in order at their borders as well. Ukraine will maybe not recentre American foreign policy, but it definitely sends a strong signal to the Americans that their relationship with Russia and their relationship with the EU are very important and must stay very high on their agenda.”
euronews: “Do you think that the Ukrainian crisis, as well, could launch a renaissance of NATO?”
Guillaume Xavier-Bender: “NATO has always had a big role to play in Europe, despite the new operations much further away from the borders of Europe but it’s always had a role to play. But I think the positioning of the Europeans and the European Union itself will be instrumental – whether member states decide themselves to really act in building a real defence policy for Europe or if this crisis in Ukraine shows how relevant NATO still is for European defence and if more of their capacity actually goes to NATO.”
euronews: “…because that was one of the things Obama was saying when he was in The Hague. He gave an interview to a Dutch newspaper very bluntly calling for higher European defence spending. How politically realistic is that, given the current state of some budgets across the EU?”
Guillaume Xavier-Bender: “In the current situation in Europe, there will not be any major increase in spending. I think trying to prevent further decreases is a first step. The European Union has done a lot but it is still not sufficient. The defence summit last year (in December) showed a first step towards more pooling, more sharing of resources. The UK, France, Germany, Poland – these
are countries committed to making sure that they have the capacity to defend Europe, but it’s true that NATO is still here as well. It’s something that Europeans are very conscious of: that you cannot defend Europe without the United States.