Collision Course

Fears for the Future of the Trans-Atlantic Relationship

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Transatlantic relations came under the spotlight when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington last week. Despite positive pronouncements from both sides, disputes over defense spending and free trade continue to boil under the surface.

  • Facts


    • President Trump says NATO members who don’t meet defense spending targets owe the United States money.
    • At the G20 summit of finance ministers in Baden-Baden, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected Washington’s commitment to free trade.
    • The U.S. and German governments disagree over what constitutes defense spending.
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Merkel and Trump hold a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have her work cut out to keep U.S. President Donald Trump in check. Source: Reuters

Anyone who hoped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump would establish the basis for normalizing transatlantic relations was in for a rude awakening. The American is sticking to his rigid positions, and even exacerbating conflict with international partners.

As Ms. Merkel made her way back to Germany, Mr. Trump tweeted that Germany “owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” And then the U.S. president promptly had his treasury secretary roll back the traditional commitment to free trade at the G20 summit in faraway Baden-Baden.

The tweet was an affront against the chancellor, and the outcome of the G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers a historic break with the past. Ever since the group was established, the United States has always spoken out in favor of open markets and strengthening world trade. Its rejection of this central commitment does not bode well for the future, or for international economic relations between the United States and the rest of the world.

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