The Ministerial Conference for the Promotion of Peace and Security in the Middle East was held in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on 13 and 14 February 2019, the meeting was attended by representatives of some 60 countries at the invitation launched by the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in a speech delivered at the American University in Cairo, to coordinate regional and international efforts to counter Iran’s “destabilizing” activities in the Middle East. While the representation of many countries was low at the conference, the presence of the most Arab countries was at the level of the foreign ministers , noting that Israel has sent PM Benjamin Netanyahu to represent it , and US was represented by Vice President of the United Mike Pence. With the exception of the ceremonial manifestations expressed by US officials as a result of their ability to bring Arab officials together with the Israeli prime minister, the absence of foreign ministers of the two major European powers, Germany and France, highlighted the tension with the EU because of US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal Concluded in 2015 with Iran, and re-impose sanctions on it. Most of the Arab political analyzes have not focused on this absence, in so far as they focus on curbing Iranian influence in the Arab environment. The absence of the influential European in the conference as a manifestation of a deep crisis that takes its dimensions in US-European relations may pave the way for a new stage in American- European relations. The question arises in this context : What is the significance of Washington’s choice of Warsaw as a venue for the conference?
The Cold War was coming to an end until American-European relations showed growing differences of opinion on many global issues, and generally how the United States and Western Europe viewed the new world order formed in the new phase and the resulting security environment. Increasingly, differences of interest and priorities are emerging. This was highlighted at the recent NATO Summit held on 25 May 2017 and the Summit of the G-7 on May 26 and 27, 2018, in which US President Donald Trump participated for the first time.
Both summits were suitable for exploring US policy toward Europe, particularly with regard to the United States’ commitment to the security of its European allies. Trump’s positions asserted and echoed European leaders’ concerns about Washington’s desire to back down and even shirk its past positions and contractual obligations under the NATO Charter on ensuring Europe’s security against external threats. The most striking of these positions is that Trump has refrained from reaffirming the United States’ commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which stipulates “mutual defense” if one of the parties of the alliance is exposed to external threats. Which is interpreted as an American desire to retreat from previous commitments to Europe’s security and to pressure European allies to urge them to increase their defense allocations. This is the first time since World War II that Washington has renounced its political and contracted commitment to the security of its European allies. Trump has publicly criticized Europe’s leaders calling for taking a larger share of the defense budget within the alliance and has announced his intention to reduce Washington’s financial contribution to its foreign defense alliances, especially the Atlantic alliance.
These positions prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a precedent of the first of its kind, to calling on European countries not to rely on the United States in the future and to take care of themselves on issues of collective security and defense so as not to be held hostage to the will of any US president who may decide without precedent warning to backtrack on his country’s traditional commitments to Europe. Merkel’s remarks are an invitation to European countries to take the lead in defending their security more seriously and to allocate the necessary financial resources and to develop the necessary plans to draw up a defense strategy that will achieve greater independence in security and defense issues. However, this does not mean that Merkel has closed the door to future cooperation with Washington. She knows that maintaining Europe’s security is strongly linked to the defense capabilities of the United States and that European countries are currently unable alone to protect their own security against serious external threats.
Indeed, Trump’s position on Europe’s security, though stemming from his desire to give absolute priority to his country’s interests in implementing his election slogan “America First”, has alerted European countries, especially the major ones, to the need to redress their military capabilities considerably in recent years. In terms of armaments, the capabilities of European countries have declined over the last ten years to unprecedented levels. The number of attack helicopters decreased by 52%, fighter jets 30%, frigates and destroyers 15%, nuclear submarines 16% and conventional submarines 22%. The number of European military personnel decreased by 23% during the same period to 451 thousand. The German army declined by 37% (108 thousand military), the British (30%), 46 thousand, the French 20% (52 thousand) and the Polish 30% (42 thousand) ). In fact, the major non-European countries are also bent on reducing the number of their armed forces, but the rate of decline in European armies is twice that of the United States and Russia and six times its rate in China.
The above reflects the European countries’ non-compliance with 2% of the GDP recommended by NATO for defense purposes. The EU member states annually allocate 1.2 percent of GDP to military expenditures, far below the US (3.3 percent) and Russia (3.7 percent). If China allocates only 1.3 percent of its GDP for defense purposes, it has quadrupled its military budget over the past 10 years. For Europe to commit itself to NATO’s recommendation, it must increase its military budget by about € 98 billion a year.
The tendency of the major powers to reduce their defense budgets began with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The European countries were the fastest growing in its implementation, believing that a new era of peace was beginning to be crowned by the victory of the Western liberal system over the communist system. But the emergence of new security challenges at the start of the second millennium, the most important of which is terrorism, and the return of Russia to the international arena under President Vladimir Putin to revive the competition with the West have made Europe reconsider its defense priorities and seek to re-interest to its troops.
In addition to Trump’s declining commitment to Europe’s security, there are other reasons for further divergence between the United States and major European powers, notably Germany, Europe’s largest economy. President Trump has been attacking Berlin’s trade policies, describing them as damaging to the US economy. He also withdrew from the Paris Climate Treaty despite attempts by European countries not to do so. Indeed, European leaders hoped that Trump would take more moderate positions than he had announced during his election campaign, but they were disappointed.
The flimsy presence of the main European powers at the summit reflected the anger of these growing powers over unilateral US policies toward Syria and Iran. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt left the Warsaw summit early, citing some work that needed to be done with the House of Commons on the Brexit deal. While major European countries have reduced their diplomatic representation. The initial agenda for the summit was drawn after Europe told Washington that a summit that would highlight differences between the two sides over Iran was not a “good idea.” Washington did not consult the EU until its foreign minister, Mike Pompeo, announced the summit, which would be hosted by Poland. Despite the renaming of the summit agenda to focus on peace and security in the Middle East, European diplomats still doubt that people such as Pompeo and US Vice President Mike Pence could reduce their anti-Iranian rhetoric at the summit. The EU remains a strong supporter of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, from which the United States has withdrawn, even though the EU is critical of Iran’s ballistic missile program. The Union finally succeeded in designing an initial trade mechanism to address sanctions imposed by Washington following the withdrawal on companies that have continued business dealings with Iran.
In the context of these developments in American-European relations, the choice of the Trump administration of the Polish capital Warsaw can be understood to hold a conference aimed at confronting Iran, for a number of reasons:
.Washington chooses Warsaw to draw new lines for the division of the European continent between its new allies, aligned with its regional and international policies, and old allies with more independent policies in the western European continent. Since the end of the Cold War, Washington has increased confidence in the Eastern European countries that joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after the collapse of the Communist bloc, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, where Washington installed parts of the so-called shield
.”The American failure to bring together the Arab allies led to the expansion of participation by calling for the convening of the Warsaw Conference” to counter what Washington claims is the threat of Iranian missiles on the European continent.
• The choice of Warsaw as a venue for the conference indicates Poland’s dependence on American policy after it has become fully dependent on it to defend itself in the face of what it perceives as Russian threats to its security. It therefore finds itself biased to Washington in its positions, even if it runs counter to EU policies; Poland is a member. This also means that Washington is more dependent on Poland to play roles, both in the Middle East and in the European continent. The conference is thus an opportunity for Poland and the United States to strengthen their strategic partnership. The first is increasing the effort to host an American base on Polish soil. It was noteworthy that the two countries signed, on the sidelines of the Warsaw summit, a contract to buy 20 rocket launchers worth 414 million dollars, to be received by Poland from the United States by 2023.
• With no strong European enthusiasm for a conference to confront Iran, Warsaw has emerged as the best choice with a government headed by the Justice and Justice Party, a right-wing party with Atlantic leanings, has a doubt view towards the EU and is in line with right-wing politics and populism which Trump is pursuing. The hosting of the conference represented an opportunity for the conservative right-wing government in Poland to strengthen ties with Washington as it faces growing isolation within the European Union amid a dispute over government compliance with rule of law standards.
We conclude from the significance of the Warsaw Conference place that US-European relations are at a crossroads, where current trends suggest that the gap between the two sides of the Atlantic is likely to widen. We are not saying that this gap will turn into a chasm that is impossible to bridge, but it seems unlikely that the close partnership that prevailed in relations between Western Europe and the United States during the entire Cold War era could return to what it was. The main concern of the United States is to protect its position as the sole and strongest superpower and to consolidate its policy of exclusivity that it pursues to make it the feature of the new world order it seeks to impose. Europe is focused on strengthening, expanding and developing its integrated project to elevate it to a level that allows for it in the not too distant future to confront the American superpower.
International Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies