2. No more “West -concept”
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 04.06.2018
Balkans Germany USA
* The West is more and more divided and global strategic interests are diverging.
Loyal Americanophiles from Central and Eastern Europe still remember Reagan, the US president who beat the Evil Empire. His election slogan was similar to Trump’s, ‘Let’s make America great again’, and in the first year in the White House he introduced a tax cut and raised military spending (which in turn lured USSR into the economic abyss). By the way, the combination of those policies led to an explosion in the budget deficit, hitting close to six percent of gross domestic product in 1983 – a path that Donald Trump has taken by borrowing nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year.
Reagan also tried imposing protectionist elements but unlike Trump today, he had negotiated those steps with European partners ahead of adopting them (and soon thereafter removed them). Today, with the increased steel tariffs, the US federal government is about to alienate its friendliest neighbour, Canada, as well as a number of European governments. A similar pattern emerged around the recent adoption of sanction against Russia by Congress: it happened without consultations with the EU, although the economic ties between Europeans and Russia are far more significant than the US-Russian ones.
The parallel to Reagan would probably be most telling in relation to Russia. While his policy had a clear goal to ‘write the final pages of the history of the Soviet Union’, Trump’s is beyond ambiguous. Not only does he stand out against his hawkish administration on the topic, but also his ambiguity on Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election has solidified a cross-partisan majority against him.
The schizophrenia of Washington does not seem to bother leaders in Poland or Hungary. US military support in Poland has satisfied Warsaw’s expectations of the US in security terms. The Polish leadership is now preoccupied with assuring his American counterparts that ‘nothing’ will happen when a widely-criticised law against Poland’s role in the Holocaust takes effect. Poles, of course, are grateful to Reagan for defeating communism, advancing freedom and democratic principles (he was posthumously awarded Poland’s highest honour for foreigners — the Order of the White Eagle — by President Lech Kaczynski in 2007). Today, Jaroslaw Kaczynski may relate to Trump’s populism but Trump’s unformulated crusade against liberal democracy actually goes against Reagan’s legacy in Poland.
In Budapest, the soft autocrat Orban had celebrated Trump’s victory. But his hopes for a close relationship have to be realised yet: because of his sympathetic stance towards Putin and his (quite successful) attempt to transform Hungary to resemble Putin’s Russia, an invitation to the White House has so far been denied by its staff. To Mr Orban’s regret, Hungary is not important enough to become ‘Chefsache’.
One thing Mssrs Kaczynski, Orban and Trump share beyond their ability to speak on behalf of the people and the resentment of liberalism, is the lack of love for Mrs Merkel’s Germany. Next to the Reagan statue in the Liberty Square of Budapest a new monument to the victims of the Nazi occupation of Hungary has been erected. It is interpreted by its critics, at best, as an attempt to gloss over Hungary’s complicity in the tragedy of the Second World War, but mostly as expression of Hungary’s new nationalism. The stark contrast between Reagan’s call for re-unification (‘Mr Gorbachov, tear down this wall!’) and Orban’s isolationism who did build a wall against the immigrants, points again towards the feebleness of the Reagan-Trump parallel in US-European relations.
The presidency of Donald Trump will have undoubtedly lasting implications on Europe, the transatlantic relationship and the world, and those effects will be probably felt on global security, the international trade system and global governance beyond his tenure. But what is already a fact, the destruction of the West as a concept has come closer. It may well have been in the making before Trump’s surprising victory and may have arrived slightly later with another candidate but the truth is that the 45th president of the US has infused the mistrust, allowed hostility and started actions that fundamentally undermined that concept. If there is coming back, is difficult to see.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: ecfr.eu