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Uncertainty about the strength of transatlantic ties, Brexit and worsening security on its borders have pushed European powers towards greater defence integration. In December, 25 member states launched the Permanent Structured Cooperation for defence (Pesco), allowing further military integration within the EU. The UK spent years vetoing European defence integration to prevent a rival force to Nato. Although able to participate as an external partner, Britain will currently be excluded from Pesco’s decision making. While Pesco is not a “European army”, it is worth remembering that there is also no “Nato army”: both represent military capabilities that exercise together and can operate under a unified command.

Pesco’s creation, currently largely symbolic, is also probably the starting point for a unified European core within Nato. Whether the UK participates or not, it is almost certain to erode Britain’s place as America’s European lieutenant.

At the moment Nato’s European strategy is based on deterring a Russian attack, rather than the more ambitious goal of stopping one. Pesco goes some way towards giving European forces greater coordination in achieving this in the face of uncertain US commitments to Europe.

In a high-profile op-ed article last year, Trump advisers H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn gave “a clear message to our friends and partners: where our interests align, we are open to working together to solve problems and explore opportunities”. This is a worryingly narrow definition of a military alliance. Nato used to be held together by a sense of indivisibility between values and interests. Certainly, the liberal international order which Nato was implicitly committed to defending has changed since its inception in 1949. Nonetheless, certain values such as a commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights, international law and international institutions were seen as fundamental and perhaps a distinctly American introduction to Atlanticism. The mixture of widely appealing values coupled with a willingness to disproportionately shoulder the costs of defence explained why other countries were prepared to accept American leadership. If this was Empire, it was Empire by consent. Trump’s world has little place for such ideas, and so the glue that held Nato together is slowly dissolving as the American model of international order loses its appeal.

It is far too easy to simply blame Trump for this. An equally significant divergence of values has opened within Europe. There is now a big enough split emerging between liberal democracies and revisionist, ethno-nationalists that many European member states must be asking themselves: what values might they find themselves fighting for and who will they be fighting alongside? Europe seems to be awakening to an unpalatable reality. If we transport ourselves back to 1989, many in Europe and the US believed that the end of the Cold War was about oppressed people grasping the universal truths of modern Western liberalism. It now seems that for many of the people of Eastern Europe the revolutions of 1989 were simply a rejection of Soviet imperialism. It is unsurprising that these countries will not accede to assisting in solving the refugee crisis. At its most extreme Poland and Hungary are involved in significant revisionism over their involvement in the Holocaust. This split is not just an ideational division with the EU. Poland in particular has been keen to pursue a more aggressive strategy towards Russia that means its defence doesn’t just rely on Nato.
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