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Global relations

Europe’s America dilemma

The sun setting over the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Getty

Europe is facing a conundrum, says Tom McTague in The Atlantic. Many Europeans have long believed that the US is in “terminal decline”, plagued with “relentless mass shootings”, social division and populism. This spurred the continent’s leaders to embark on a “grand strategy” of autonomy from America, which involved seeking out trade and energy deals with China and Russia. But the Ukrainian invasion has left that approach “in tatters”. To reduce its reliance on Moscow, Europe has had to start importing American gas. And to the continent’s “eternal shame”, the US has sent “drastically more lethal aid to save a European democracy than any other NATO power”.

Being utterly dependent on such a fragile superpower is “weighing on people’s minds, big time”, one senior EU official tells me. This anxiety is a bit overdone: America’s military-industrial complex and “imperial bureaucracy” are too deep-rooted for a single president to remove in one go, as Donald Trump’s time in office proved. Nevertheless, Europe has found itself trapped in a “vicious circle”: it’s so dependent on America that it can’t risk making the very moves that would lessen that dependence, as they might undermine American commitment to the continent. Back in 1897, at the “high-water mark of Britain’s imperial power”, Rudyard Kipling wrote Recessional, a poem warning of the Empire’s transience. One day, he cautioned, our navy could “melt away”. Some 125 years later, “the world is obsessing about the collapse of the new imperium”.