Afghan Fiasco Shows Pre-Trump 'Old Normal' in US-Europe Ties 'Isn't Alive Anymore', Ex-Minister Says
18:16 GMT 06.09.2021 (Updated: 10:44 GMT 07.09.2021)
The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the rapid collapse of Kabul's government which the West propped up for nearly 20 years, has led European leaders to reevaluate their security policy and ties regarding Washington. Last week, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell argued for the creation of an EU army outside the auspices of NATO.
The crisis in Afghanistan has “scarred” European nations’ relations with the United States, and demonstrated that the pre-Trump ‘Old Normal’ in US-European relations no longer exists, former senior European officials have told the BBC.
“[Biden’s] ‘America is back’ suggested a golden age in our relations. But it didn’t happen and there’s been a shift in a fairly short period of time. The complete lack of consultations over the withdrawal [from Afghanistan] has left a scar,” Bildt lamented.
“There was a time when the US talked about upholding the global order. But that is not the language now coming out of the White House. Expectations for a revival of the transatlantic relationship have deflated. And one is resigned to an America that does things does its own way,” the former premier said.
Nathalie Loiseau, former French secretary of state for European affairs, echoed the disappointment of the former Swedish leader. “Many EU countries were in a state of denial [over Afghanistan]. They thought they should wait until Trump was gone and we’d go back to the ‘old normal’. But that ‘old normal’ isn’t alive anymore. I hope it’s a wake-up call for us.”
Loiseau pointed that as well as France, “some other countries”, including Germany and the UK, believed they could rely on the US for security. “So, of course, they’re fearing times have changed. But we’ve often said we should rethink how NATO works. We should not remain in a state of denial,” she stressed.
For European Union foreign and security policy chief Borrell, the Afghanistan calamity served as the wake-up call Loiseau describes. Speaking to EU defence ministers in Slovenia on Thursday, Borrell called Afghanistan one of those “events that catalyse history, that create a breakthrough.”
Borrell suggested that Afghanistan demonstrated the bloc’s need for its own common defence forces, including a 20,000-troop rapid reaction force which would enable Brussels to deploy soldiers quickly anywhere in the world without depending on US support. The official indicated that a draft proposal on the “first entry force” would be presented later this year.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg expressed alarm over the idea of a European army, stressing that a European defence force “can never replace NATO” and that Europe and North America need to continue to “band together".
5 September 2021, 10:25 GMT
“Any attempt to weaken the bond between North America and Europe will not only weaken NATO, it will divide Europe,” Stoltenberg warned in an interview with daily newspaper, The Times, on Saturday. He went on to suggest that the alliance’s “scarce” ($1 trillion) resources would be overstretched if a European army were set up with “parallel structures” and efforts made to “duplicate the command structure".
Speaking to the BBC, Nathalie Tocci, an adviser to Borrell and visiting professor at Harvard, insisted that there was still no reason to fear that the Afghan crisis would result in Europe becoming decoupled from America.
“The main rift under Trump had less to do with specific foreign policy decisions and more that we didn’t share the same values all of a sudden,” Tocci said.
“The real trauma of Trumpism was not only ‘America First’ but that he seemed to get on more with the Xis and Putins,” she added. Tocci insisted that the unilateralism shown by Biden in the decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan was nothing new. “It’s always been the European complaint about the US. But now it’s the Americans acting without coordinating their leaving, not going in.”
2 September 2021, 21:43 GMT
Afghanistan is just one of the reported reasons the post-Trump honeymoon between Europe and the Biden administration has ended, with the EU complaining that he has yet to lift Trump-era trade tariffs, and continues to keep coronavirus-related travel bans on EU nations in place. The latter move prompted Europe to reciprocate by removing the US from its “safe list” for travel.
Crisis of Confidence
The sudden collapse of Afghanistan’s pro-western government in the middle of the US withdrawal has prompted many of Washington’s allies and client states to question the value of their relationship with the world's greatest power. Potential German chancellor-in-waiting Armin Laschet called the Afghan crisis “the greatest debacle that NATO has suffered since it was founded". Czech President Milos Zeman suggested that “the Americans have lost the prestige of a global leader” and Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks argued that the era of western nation-building abroad was “over”, and that “the West, and Europe in particular” are now “weaker globally". Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the British parliament’s defence committee, described it as “bewildering” that “this big, high-tech power” was “defeated by an insurgency armed with no more than [rocket-propelled grenades], land mines and AK-47s”.