Hot on the heels of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting and the G7 summit came German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration during a recent election campaign rally in Munich that the European Union must “embark on a major self-strengthening initiative”.
Many believe her declaration is likely to have profound and far-reaching implications for the entire Europe in the days ahead – politically and militarily.
She told the crowd: “Things that happened over the past few days are indeed a wake-up call for the European people that it is time for them to start taking their fate into their own hands now, because the era that has lasted for decades in which we can completely rely on our ally is about to come to an end.”
According to media reports, the crowd responded to her appeal with deafening cheers that lasted for over a minute.
Although Merkel didn’t specify who that “ally” is, everybody knows she was referring to US President Donald Trump, who had upset his European allies during the latest NATO meeting in Belgium by openly and bluntly reminding them that they owe the US a lot of money on NATO spending.
And it just got worse. At the G7 summit that followed, the hard-boiled American leader again caused dismay by refusing to fulfill the pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on US soil made by the previous Obama administration under the Paris Agreement concluded back in 2015.
The fact that Merkel was urging Europe to launch its “self-strengthening movement” strongly indicates that she has grave concerns about the future of the EU.
And she is definitely not being paranoid for having such worries, given that Britain has recently toughened its stance on the upcoming Brexit negotiations with Brussels, and more importantly, the US and Europe are drifting apart quickly ever since Trump took office and started shying away from commitments on preserving collective security in Europe.
Apparently, the EU is facing an imminent dual-front struggle against the US and Britain simultaneously.
However, pitching “self-strengthening” is one thing, putting it into practice is another.
Western Europe has been relying on the military protection and, above all, the nuclear umbrella provided by the US against aggression from the former Soviet Union ever since the end of World War Two.
If in the worst case scenario, President Trump did fulfill his “America First” campaign promise by totally pulling out his troops from Europe and withdrawing the US nuclear umbrella, there would definitely be a huge question mark over whether Europe itself could still hold NATO together and stand out against Russian aggression on its own.
Currently, there are two nuclear powers in western Europe, namely Britain and France.
However, with Britain saying goodbye to the EU and no longer a part of its collective security mechanism, France now remains the only nuclear power in the bloc.
If the US nuclear umbrella were also gone, could the entire EU really rely on France alone to provide substantial nuclear deterrence against Russia?
Given such concerns, some politicians in Europe have proposed that EU set up its own nuclear arsenal.
Among them is Roderich Kiesewetter, spokesperson on foreign policies of the ruling Christian Democratic Union of Germany.
Under his proposal, Germany would fund France in order to boost the French nuclear capability so that it could protect the entire EU against Russia.
The idea of an EU nuclear arms program would have been completely unimaginable, inconceivable, or even deemed crazy a few years ago because it would simply raise a great deal of questions and controversies.
Yet, with Britain’s departure from the EU and Washington’s increasingly isolationist approach to diplomacy under President Trump, who is much less committed to protecting Europe against Moscow’s aggression than his predecessors, the idea of Germany collaborating with France to establish the EU’s own nuclear deterrence is perhaps no longer totally beyond the realm of possibilities.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 31
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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