During his first official trip to Europe this week, President Trump was politely asked to back the defining glue of the Continent and the transatlantic partnership. Both the European Union and NATO – the core of what is called “the West” – have enough issues without the uncertainties of Mr. Trump’s “America First” theme of the past year. The West, advised European Council President Donald Tusk, needs to focus on “values ... not just interests.”
Both the EU and NATO are too often defined by what they are against, such as Russian aggression, trade protectionism, terrorism, and anti-democratic forces. This approach alone can lead to splits over the nature of the threats or how to respond to them. Britain, for example, is leaving the EU because of differences over risks such as refugees. Yet safety and prosperity for any alliance of nations are best assured through a higher and collective practice of shared ideals.
“Values and principles first, this is what we – Europe and America – should be saying,” Mr. Tusk said. He listed a few of the values as freedom, human rights, and respect for human dignity.
A values-first approach helps Europe and the United States make the necessary sacrifices for a greater good. After some initial waffling, for example, the Trump administration has lately reaffirmed a US commitment to NATO’s mutual defense pledge, known as Article 5. That will be comforting to Poland and the Baltic States, which border Russia. And since 2014, after the Russian taking of Ukrainian territory, most NATO members have responded to a US concern and are steadily raising military spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product by 2024. NATO has also promised to assist the US more in the struggle against Islamic State and may do more in Afghanistan.
The EU also seems to be avoiding any further drift toward hard-right nationalism. The May election of centrist Emmanuel Macron as French president, as well as the expected reelection of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany this fall, show that the core nations of Europe remain committed to the Union’s promise of continental peace and economic openness.
Just as hopeful is the continuing desire of a few more former Soviet-bloc states to join the EU or NATO. The tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro, for example, is set to join NATO next month while Ukraine and others are on track to join the EU.
The idealism of both the EU and NATO – and not just the nationalist “interests” they might fulfill in membership – remains a big draw. Both are no longer merely regional or transatlantic bodies. By standing for universal values, they have become a global force for good. No matter what new threats or issues come along, their “glue” holds them together.