On March 14th, FLAD hosted another edition of the Democracy: The Way Ahead conference cycle, the discusse European security. For this conversation, FLAD invited European experts Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, senior advisor at Bertelsmann Stiftung, and Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS). The conversation was moderated by Julia De Clerck-Sachsse, visiting senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Two years into the war in Ukraine, much has changed in Europe’s security landscape. A new conflict in the Middle East, heightened tensions with Russia and uncertainty over the largest ally’s commitment to NATO due to the presidential elections in November. Taking in to consideration all that is at stake, FLAD organized the session ‘The Future of European Security’.

An important part of this session ultimately tunned in to the November U.S. election, with two candidates and agendas better known than in any other election in U.S. history.

Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, senior advisor at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, and a German American political scientist, underlined the unprecedented period in the life of liberal democracies and the tectonic shifts felt in the post-war world order, in which parts of the same system are actively trying to dismantle it, even if it entails losses to their economies.

“It doesn’t make any sense to abandon the IMF, it doesn’t make sense to abandon the World Bank, if the idea is to preserve American jobs. The tariffs against the European Union alone will directly destroy 500,000 jobs in the immediate future. These ideas are based on ideology, and on something more dangerous, which is feelings. Its a feelings narrative, that he [Trump] can sell to the disgruntled, dystopian, darkness-seeing set of Americans that he has mastered to the election booth.” – Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook

The biggest problem, on the side of democracies, he says, is the leadership vacuum that is observed, and which will be even more pronounced with this year’s elections, namely in the US and the European Union: “The problem is the inability of democracies to respond with the necessary cohesion. We are on the edge of a very dangerous abyss.”

Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (one of the most important institutions of International Relations in France), relativized the American complaints about the failure of European countries to annually implement the levels of defense investment agreed in NATO.

“The Americans have complained about the europeans not spending enough since the lisbon goals of 1950. [em Defesa] members met here in 1950 and they decided on goals, and they haven’t been met. . (…) This conversation has been going on for decades” – Bruno Tertrais.

The French official presented a more realistic version of what NATO’s raison d’être is, explaining that the implicit contract is that most Americans “reasonable” wants to be involved in Europe, “Not because they love us, but because it’s a mutual interest. The core, the foundation of NATO has always been more on interests than values.”

Unfortunately, and I wished it was otherwise, NATO functions because of US leadership, period. And get that from a Frenchman. That’s the way it is. The problem is that if the US was not there, I don’t think that we, collectively, would be adults enough to reach consensus without having that steering force. Without the United States, NATO is not NATO, NATO could not operate in the same way.”

Democracy: The Way Ahead is an initiative of FLAD that aims to promote a space for reflection and debate on the current problems facing the Euro-Atlantic community, and, using international experts, seek solutions for the coming decades.

As part of this cycle, FLAD received John Ikenberry, Professor at Princeton University, and Constanze Stelzenmüller, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, journalists Peter Baker (New York Times) and Susan Glasser (New Yorker), and international relations experts Robert Kaplan, Walter Russell Mead and Kori Schake.