The End of American Adventurism Abroad

One year into the Joe Biden administration and most of the world has accepted two realities. First, America is not back, and Biden’s slogans notwithstanding, there simply is no going back to the pre-Trump era. Secondly, whether America keeps troops in various parts of the world or brings them home, America’s will to fight is by and large no longer there. Its implications for the trans-Atlantic relationship will be profound. Europe would be wise to pro-actively adjust its defence policies accordingly.

American decision-makers have long warned allies and partners that the United States must reduce its security obligations, lighten its military footprints in certain regions and that greater burden-sharing is inescapable. But US allies have largely ignored these warnings and pleas. Perhaps because the United States itself has sent mixed messages: When Europe begins to talk about strategic autonomy, Washington has a meltdown. When Europe continues to rely on the US’s security umbrella, American leaders rebuke Europe for freeriding.

Until Donald Trump became president, there was an equilibrium between American complaints about insufficient European defence spending and European rhetoric about strategic autonomy. The Trump presidency upended the balance. Trump lambasted America’s wars in the Middle East, asserting that the deserts of Syria were not worth fighting – or dying for. ‘They’ve got a lot of sand over there,’ he said in 2019. ‘So there’s a lot of sand there that they can play with.’

When Saudi oil refineries were attacked by drones (most likely by Iran), Trump chose not to retaliate on behalf of the Saudi Kingdom. ‘I’m somebody that would like not to have war,’ Trump said, prompting many in the Washington establishment to accuse him of abandoning the Carter doctrine. Europe didn’t fare much better, with Trump openly questioning the utility of NATO and leaving its European allies uncertain as to whether he would honour America’s Article V obligations.

Read the full article in International Politics and Society.