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Transatlantic Take

Allies Wonder What Will Remain Sacred in Trump’s Administration

BRUSSELS - This morning’s surprise victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election ushers in a period of uncertainty for the transatlantic relationship.

BRUSSELS - This morning’s surprise victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election ushers in a period of uncertainty for the transatlantic relationship. A key question will define the months ahead — what will remain sacred in Washington under the new administration? The values of rule of law and freedom of press as well as the security guarantees of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty have underpinned the transatlantic partnership. Yet Donald Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric during the campaign called these values into question. His administration will have to prove to Americans and European partners alike that these fundamental principles will remain sacred. Upholding these values is the best path for achieving Donald Trump’s goal of maintaining American greatness.

After the long campaign, Donald Trump’s core values are still not clear. Confidence in his leadership abilities and concern over the state of the U.S. economy were the core principles of the Trump campaign. Not only did traditional American freedoms not play a significant role in the lead up to Election Day, Trump’s threats to imprison Hillary Clinton and refusal to condemn attacks on journalists by his supporters undermine fundamental rights in the United States. His victory speech struck a conciliatory and respectful tone towards Secretary Clinton and may portend a less worrisome future. But will Donald Trump uphold first amendment rights in his role as president? The very fact that this is a question frightens many Americans and U.S. partners alike.

The United States’ friends in Europe expect clear signals on the continued sanctity of the values of freedom of speech and rule of law. Together, the United States and Europe steer the world’s efforts to uphold human rights and political freedom. Maintaining the authority to speak on these issues is critical to preserving U.S. influence globally. Honoring these liberal values will uphold the United States’ credibility with its European partners and help encourage their support as the U.S. pursues its global ambitions.

Already, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has emphasized the importance of values in her future relationship with Donald Trump. "Germany and America are bound together by values — democracy, freedom, respecting the rule of law, people's dignity regardless of their origin, the color of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views," she said. "On the basis of these values, I am offering to work closely with the future President of the United States Donald Trump.”

An honorable beginning of the Trump presidency would also have an important role in European domestic politics. If Donald Trump expresses clear support for these values, he will send a clear signal to rising populist leaders in Europe that fundamental freedoms must be maintained even in tumultuous political transitions.

Lastly, the new administration must reaffirm the inviolability of the U.S. commitment to NATO and to the security of its allies. In the summer, Trump indicated that U.S. support for NATO allies could be conditional on their meeting obligations to the security alliance and to the United States. This discussion of conditionality of NATO protection is contrary to a hallowed principle of U.S. policy. Although Donald Trump has since moderated this stance, it deeply rattled the United States’ partners, especially when taken in conjunction with his admiring rhetoric towards Vladimir Putin. It is therefore essential for the new administration not only to uphold the United States’ treaty obligations but to bolster the alliance in both rhetoric and in deed. The enthusiastic implementation of the NATO Warsaw Summit’s reassurance measures is the prime vehicle for expressing U.S. commitment to the alliance.

This historic election has the potential to undermine decades of trust and partnership between the United States and Europe, but Donald Trump and his team have the ability to calm their allies and continue the transatlantic relationship on a productive track. Cooperation across the Atlantic has been crucial for the prosperity and security of Americans and Europeans. Addressing concerns about the United States’ values is the first step in reaping the benefits that come from transatlantic cooperation.  

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore