Is the U.S. Alliance Closer?

In less than a year the Biden administration claims that it has brought the US back on the right track. The US succeeded in improving relations with NATO, rejoining the WTO and the Paris Agreement and taming Iran through the re-deal of the JCPOA. However, is this enough to satisfy the US community and the alliance. During the Trump presidency, Trump is considered to have damaged US relations with alliances that have existed for decades.

Alliances are inseparable for the US. Even at the beginning of independence, the US limited its involvement with the international community through a policy of non-interventionism or isolationism. However, the second world war and the Cold War made the US realize that alliances were the best way to maintain US hegemony. Therefore the US formed alliances such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949.

Trump’s Relationship with the Alliances

In 2018 Trump stated that he wanted to get out of the world’s largest defense pact involving America and European countries, namely NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organizations). The statement came after Trump saw that the US had suffered too much, as reported by ABC News during a 2019 Pennsylvanian speech. Trump said “our allies take advantage of us far more than our enemies,” sparking much debate about US commitments internationally. Trump’s statement was born from the US budget, the US allocated 3.7% of its GDP for the defense sector. Meanwhile, NATO members on average only spend 1.77% of GDP. The US also has 65,000 troops in Europe and regularly maintains missile defense systems. Trump considers NATO members unfair in dealing with security issues, and wants each NATO member to increase their defense budget to 4% of GDP.

NATO is a very important alliance for the US, NATO played a major role in establishing stability in Europe and preventing communist influence in Europe during the Cold  War.”Deteriorating relations between the US and NATO have a significant long-term impact on European stability. According to the Senior European Diplomat, “Transatlantic relations have never been this bad. Trust between the US and Europe is gone. It can be fixed, but I’m not sure it will be the same.”

Michael Mcfaul, a former US diplomat to Russia and a researcher at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution said that “You (Biden) can’t reset to four years ago. Especially in Europe and Asia, how we can be smarter in rebuilding alliances to face threats from China and Russia will be a big challenge for Biden,”

Not only worsening relations with NATO, Trump also firmly put pressure on the European Union through increasing tariffs in several sectors such as steel, aluminum, bags and transportation, namely Airbus in 2018. Then, in 2020 the European Union held a video conference meeting to discuss the future of the world. The European Union invited countries around the world to work together to find and distribute a Covid 19 vaccine. However, the US was not present in this meeting. The US is the absence of a long series of attitudes Trump take the US out of the Paris Agreement, JCPOA and strongly criticized NATO members. Even though, The European Union is the largest trading partner for the US.

What Can’t Be Forgotten

However, there are several achievements of Trump that have had a significant impact on the US. Saudi Arabia became the first country Trump visited after becoming US president in 2017. Trump lobbied Congress to pass a $290 million sale of arms to Saudi Arabia used for the war in Yemen. From a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in the 5 years from 2015-2019 there was a 130% increase in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Trump, even defended Prince Mohammad Bin Salman for the 2017 murder of Jamal Kasogi, despite being aware that there was a lot of pressure from inside and outside the country.

Not only Saudi Arabia, Trump has succeeded in helping his closest ally in the Middle East, namely Israel, to normalize with Islamic countries. Israel is rebuilding relations with Bahrain, UAE and Sudan in 2020 through the US. Israel’s normalization with Islamic countries is carried out in Washington in the form of the “Abraham Accords.” In the case of Sudan, the US promised that it would remove the list of countries supporting terrorists if Sudan agreed to normalize with Israel. Not only helping Israel carry out normalization, but the US also recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel which sparked anger from many Islamic countries. And most importantly, Trump’s policy of withdrawing from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action) agreement is considered by Israel as a major step to pressure Iran.

Furthermore, to be able to contain China’s influence, Trump is trying to strengthen relations with Taiwan. Trump made arms sales to Taiwan worth $1.8 billion, the biggest sale since the TRA (Taiwan Relations Act). Trump also opened the American Institute in Taiwan at a cost of $225 million, which is managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is the response given by Trump to the bad sentiments directed by the Taiwanese people and government towards China.

Biden’s promise

In April 2020 before entering the US presidential election, Biden in an article he wrote in Foreign Affairs criticizing Trump sharply, he said that “For 70 years, the United States, under Democratic and Republican presidents, played a major role in writing the rules, forging deals, and animating the institutions that guide relations between nations and advance collective security and prosperity, but this ended during the Trump presidency.” Biden, even considered Trump had hurt the US commitment to its ally, NATO. “Alliance goes beyond dollars and cents; United States commitments are sacred, not transactional. NATO is at the heart of United States national security, and is the ideal bastion of liberal democracy—an alliance of values, which makes it far more durable, reliable, and strong than partnerships built by coercion or cash.”

Biden Policy So Far

The promise did not go as expected. President Biden surprisingly withdrew US troops from Afghanistan, causing Afghanistan to be briefly under the control of the Taliban. This policy was responded negatively by many parties, especially the alliance. It should be noted that after the events of 9/11, the US and its allies, namely NATO, invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to arrest the Al-Qaeda group suspected of being the mastermind behind the events of 9/11. For 20 years the US and NATO have built and trained Afghan soldiers to be able to defend themselves from Al-Qaeda. However, it seems that the effort was in vain, the US lost the trust of the Afghan, international community and its closest ally NATO. Mackinder in the book The Geographical Pivot of History argues that control over the “Heartland” region is the opening road to world domination. This Heartland region includes Afghanistan, if based on Mackinder’s opinion, the US has lost one of its footholds to maintain its hegemony.

The US, UK and Australia surprisingly formed a defense pact in the Indo-Pacific under the name AUKUS (Australia United Kingdom United States). This defense pact contains cooperation in the manufacture of nuclear-powered submarines built by the US and UK for Australia. Not only the construction of submarines, but this collaboration also involves cyberspace and underwater technology. However, this must be paid dearly by the US, please note that Australia first formed a cooperation with France to build a nuclear submarine with a value of 65 billion dollars. French Foreign Minister Le Drian considered this a “stab in the back” France then recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington. And emphatically stating “The European people must not be left behind in the strategy chosen by the United States,” on the other hand EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen said that “One of our member states has been treated in an unacceptable way, we want to know what happened and why.”

It must be admitted that Trump has brought the US to one of its lowest points, worsening relations with allies made the US lose its commitment to maintaining “Rules based orders.” Alliance relationships are not only based on economics, there are values ​​and a common vision to keep the world order stable. If the alliance relationship is based solely on economic gain then the alliance will not last long. In the end, the national interest has always been the top priority for the US president in making policy. However, sacrificing one of the closest allies was a dilemma. If Biden was really trying to get his allies back to building better relations before Trump, this move should have been avoided. If Biden continues to build relationships with his allies pragmatically then it’s only a matter of time before his allies will leave.

Gufron Gozali
Gufron Gozali
Gufron Gozali is a junior research assistant from the Islamic University of Indonesia, whose research focuses on the United States and the Middle East.