We Have Closed Our Eyes for Too Long

Andrea Rotter


Andrea Rotter heads the Foreign and Security Policy Division at the Academy for Politics and Current Affairs of the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) in Munich, Germany. Her research focuses on transatlantic security cooperation as well as German and European security and defense policy. Her current research projects address the evolution of Germany’s strategic culture, the transformation of NATO in the wake of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and the link between geopolitical rivalry and space security policy.

Prior to joining HSF, she was a researcher in the Americas Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin and taught at the Chair of International Politics and Transatlantic Relations at the University of Regensburg. In 2018, she was a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the American-German Institute (AGI) at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. From 2018-2022, she was a member of the Young Leaders Program of the Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS), Berlin, and is an alumna of the International Visiting Leadership Program (U.S. Department of State) and the Manfred Wörner Seminar (GMF & German Federal Ministry of Defense). She is also a member of the extended board of WIIS (Women in International Security) Germany and heads the regional chapter in Munich.

Rotter holds a master’s degree in European-American Studies from the University of Regensburg and a bachelor’s degree in International Cultural and Business Studies from the University of Passau and Stirling, UK.

This article originally appeared in German in Fuldaer Zeitung on February 1, 2024.

Europeans are anxiously watching the Republican primaries in the United States, hoping and looking for signs that Donald Trump will not be the next GOP presidential nominee, let alone the next president. But with each primary and poll result, the likelihood increases, and with it the fear on our side of the Atlantic that America First could return to the White House, leaving Europe alone.

Anyone who remembers Trump’s first term in office and listens carefully to what he is saying now is right to be concerned about the future of the transatlantic partnership in the event of a second Trump administration. Plans are circulating to replace the bureaucratic apparatus in Washington, which from a European perspective has cushioned many of President Trump’s impulsive decisions, with loyal MAGA supporters. Although Congress ensured last year that a president cannot simply withdraw the U.S. from NATO, it is not necessary to leave the Alliance to weaken it from within or to undermine its core, the Article 5 mutual defense clause.

Military support for Kyiv, NATO’s strategic adaptations following the war in Ukraine, or the nuclear dimension of its deterrence and defense are still hardly conceivable without the United States.

Amid concerns about Donald Trump’s second term in office, calls for more European sovereignty and self-reliance are growing louder in Berlin and Brussels—and rightly so. But the urgent appeals are very reminiscent of those of recent years, which have done little to change our security dependence on the United States. As early as 2011, Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under Barack Obama, criticized the unfair burden-sharing in NATO and urged Europeans to take on more responsibility. In 2016, Brexit and America First gave rise in European capitals to the idea of European strategic autonomy, which, despite good initiatives at the EU level, has so far remained little more than theory due to a lack of consensus. Since 2022, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has underscored the continued indispensable role of the United States as the guarantor of European security. The Russian invasion has shown us the fragility of our security order, which has led, at least in some areas, to a change in the way we think about and provide for our security, the most prominent example being Germany’s Zeitenwende. However, strategic rethinking and rising military budgets in Europe have not yet helped to significantly reduce our dependence on the United States: Military support for Kyiv, NATO’s strategic adaptations following the war in Ukraine, or the nuclear dimension of its deterrence and defense are still hardly conceivable without the United States.

In Germany in particular, we have been too quick (and willing) to focus on the person of Trump, neglecting the underlying developments in the United States and our own contribution to transatlantic security cooperation. Donald Trump is not the trigger but the catalyst for neo-isolationist tendencies in the United States that have been on the horizon for years, just like Washington’s strategic pivot to China and the Indo-Pacific. For at least as long, we in Germany have closed our eyes to the changes in our security environment that demand more responsibility, leadership, and therefore financial resources and military capabilities to maintain Europe’s security. While we in Europe cannot influence the outcome of the U.S. election, it is in our hands to finally take active steps to ensure our own security before it is truly too late.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.