Migration is Straining US – EU Relations in the Trump Era

The Trump administration’s customary National Security Strategy omitted several non-traditional security threats previously addressed in the Obama administration’s 2015 document. The 2017 document neglected several aspects of the non-traditional security paradigm, notably climate change, disease epidemics and natural disasters. In particular, the Trump administration has failed to recognize the growing non-traditional threat of irregular migration to the national security of the United States and its allies. As irregular migration increases to the European Union, the United States’ failure to respond to the crisis contributes to a weakened and divided European collective security agenda, driving apart its Southern European allies, who face the bulk of the migration wave, and their Northern European counterparts, who see Russia’s attempt to re-establish political, economic and military dominance as a threat to their regional security.

The emphasis on isolationist policy aligns with President Trump’s campaign rhetoric and promise to “Make America Great Again” by turning inward to promote the interests of the United States, and, consequently, encouraging competition and not cooperation between states. This isolationist approach toward American national and economic security, emphasizing enhanced domestic border security, military spending and economic growth, increasingly ignores the integral relationship between the United States and European allies, who together serve as the largest economic and military powers through the European Union trading bloc and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The security of Europe is in the interest of the United States, as our economic and military interests are aligned.

Over the past two years, the European migration crisis has created an unprecedented level of instability across the entire continent. Irregular migration to primarily Western nations from the Middle East, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa has been a major political issue in elections ranging across the continent. With over 1.3 million claims for asylum filed in 2015 alone – and 1 million migrants reaching mainland Europe by the Mediterranean Sea that same year – relations with the Southern European nations of Spain, Italy, Greece and France have become increasingly exasperated, as they face a disproportionate share of migrants to host while their asylum claims are being processed. Their borders are overwhelmed and do not have the adequate resources to employ active homeland security tactics nor rescue operations for capsizing boats.

In contrast, Northern European nations are nervous about the shift in Russian posture along the north Atlantic coast. Increases in the frequency of military exercises, patrols and missile tests by the Russian government has NATO worried about their potential to mitigate Russian naval access in the Atlantic Ocean, the “Northern Flank,” which would in turn block access for the U.S. military to reach mainland Europe. The shift in posture comes at a period of military budget-cuts across the entire NATO alliance, and Russia’s controversial military involvement in Crimea. As a response, military spending has sharply risen across NATO and non-NATO members allied with the United States, attributed to Russia’s posture and the recent U.S. isolationist retreat, but divide the collective security agenda of the alliance as a whole.

An unwillingness to recognize and assist the tremendous burden migration places upon our European allies strains our relationship and reduces their ability to cooperate as a collective security. Denying Syrian and Afghan refugees resettlement in the United States symbolizes our unwillingness to fully address the burden that the European migration presents on our allies. At a time of heightened conflict and strained tensions in the Middle East and beyond, the United States cannot afford for its closest alliance to become divided, as they face a political existential crisis that undermines the individual political stability of nearly every European state. Instead, the United States must recognize the severity of the crisis and offer not only to shoulder the burden with refugee intakes, but also reinstate our previous efforts to cooperate with the E.U. in migration governance and refugee aid. The United States must focus its strategy on cooperation between interdependent states if it truly aims to foster stability on the European continent.