The U.S. relationship with Europe hinges on diplomacy

President Donald Trump announced his intention to increase defense spending by $54 billion in next year's federal budget, funded largely by sharp cuts to various other U.S. agencies. One of the agencies most severely impacted by this decision is the State Department.

Today, State's yearly budget is approximately $50 billion, (only 1 percent of the entire federal budget). Trump has proposed cutting that budget by about 37 percent. The mere suggestion that State should be cut by such a large margin indicates a troubling disregard for the important role this agency plays in U.S. national security, especially in regards to the transatlantic relationship.

It is easy to frame the U.S.-Europe relationship strictly in defense terms, as NATO has been the bedrock of transatlantic relations for decades. Criticisms abound over Europe and NATO allies' unwillingness to shoulder a fair share of their security burden, which is not an unfair point to make. Europe has a long way to go in terms of defense spending, and NATO allies must ensure they take the necessary steps to reach their defense spending goal of 2 percent of GDP.



While the United States pushing on this issue is nothing new, the Trump administration's rhetoric has taken a more intense tone. Vice President Pence said at the Munich Security Conference that sharing "the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long, and it erodes the very foundation of (the) alliance." And, in a meeting at NATO earlier in February, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said allies need to increase their defense spending if NATO does not "want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance."

But it would be wrong to simply overlook the important role that the State Department has also played in bolstering transatlantic ties. Today, State works alongside the Department of Justice and European allies to quell the flow of foreign fighters to Europe and prosecute these individuals within a "rule of law framework."

So far, State has worked with multiple European countries to process hundreds of cases of individuals arrested under Foreign Terrorist Fighter laws.As of September 2016, the flow of foreign recruits crossing into Europe had dropped from a peak of 2,000 per day, to as few as 50, per U.S. intelligence estimates. The State Department has also taken the lead in managing the entire U.S. interagency policymaking process to further enhance U.S.-EU police, border control, and judicial cooperation.

The United States also has consistent high-level visits to and representation throughout Europe. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, traveled to Europe almost immediately after the UK's BREXIT vote for talks with UK and European Union (EU) leaders about the future of the 28-nation bloc.

Alongside NATO, State also has Ambassadorial level missions to the EU, the Office of Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the numerous international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland. These relationships go far beyond just security, and highlight the irreplaceable role that the State Department plays in issues like human rights, economics, and international law.

It is not just because of U.S. efforts that the two sides have been able to accomplish so much diplomatically, though. Even through a series of historical disagreements with the United States, Europe has also proven its unwavering dedication to the transatlantic relationship.

It played an integral role in the negotiation and implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran; they have held a firm line on Russian sanctions even in the face of push back from some member states; And, they have worked with the United States to tackle difficult issues like the economy, trade, climate change, and energy. In short, our mutual accomplishments have often hinged on successful diplomacy.

No one wants the U.S. relationship with Europe to erode. Not only do we share common values which inextricably link us together, but we are economically interdependent, we are close trading partners, and we have fought alongside each other in multiple conflicts.

A weak U.S.-Europe relationship would spell disaster for both sides of the Atlantic. If, going forward, the Trump Administration chooses to toe a harder line in terms of U.S. commitment to European defense, the Trump administration should try to double down on U.S. diplomatic efforts, not turn away from them.

The desire to increase defense spending while imposing heavy cuts to the State Department highlight lens through which the Trump administration views diplomacy and alliances. This apparent shift away from diplomacy would be concerning to European allies because so many joint achievements have been due to collective diplomatic efforts, many of which have direct security implications.

However, substituting increased diplomatic heft to will be one of the keys to a strong transatlantic relationship while Europe gets the political buy-in to increase their defense spending. Creating budget proposals which include draconian cuts to the United States' diplomatic engine is a bad place to start and it won't serve U.S. interests.

Rachel Rizzo is a Research Associate with the Center for a New American Security.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.