Since the 1963 Elysee Treaty and the ensuing reconciliation process between hereditary enemies – Europe’s 20th century geopolitical miracle – France and Germany have been the driving force in European integration. Since the inception of this process, defence has been on the agenda. On paper, everything is always great in Franco-German relations, both bilaterally and in a larger European context. But when it comes to defence, Franco-German relations prove to be rather complicated.
President Trump’s last international trip to the G7 Summit resulted in the worst meeting of its kind since its inception, given his outburst at America’s usual allies, and was compounded by the contrast a day later with his cordial meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un in Singapore. Many Transatlanticists were prepared for the worst as Trump made his way to NATO and the UK before seeing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. The good news, is that the NATO summit went better than expected, though many commentators still called it the worst in history. The bad news, however, is that despite lowered expectations, damage was still done to transatlantic relations. The question now is: how severe and long-lasting will this damage be?
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin both celebrate the summit in Helsinki as a success, showing once again their mastery of public relations. Cold negotiating Putin and the intuitive American president seem to have dealt with several open conflicts in a constructive manner. Yet, their logic of geopolitics and zero-sum games doesn’t allow for much long-term détente – lest for their European partners.
NATO summits are usually highly organized events. Heads of State and Government adopt previously negotiated decisions and define work plans up to the next summit. Above all, they aim to demonstrate unity and solidarity so that friend and foe alike believe that the NATO allies will defend each other in the event of a crisis. But this summit threatens to disrupt this process, because no one knows how US President Trump will behave. Will we see a revival of a brash Mr. Trump G7 Summit when the US President retrospectively ‘unsigned’ the communiqué via tweet? Or will he act as a patriarch, whose stubborn grumblings are ultimately met with cooperation, and keep the family bound together?