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Can partnership between U.S. and European allies survive Trump’s ‘tough love?’

For more than 70 years, global security has been underwritten by the alliance between the U.S. and its European partners, but those bonds have frayed since President Trump took office. The tension was on display recently at the annual Munich Security Conference. Nick Schifrin talks to Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., about rhetoric vs. policy and Trump's "tough love" approach.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For more than 70 years, global security has been underwritten by the alliance between the United States and its European partners.

    Since President Trump took office, those bonds have been frayed.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, that unraveling was on display over the weekend at the annual Munich Security Conference.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Walking into the world's premier security conference, the host was received as if she were leader of the free world.


    And when German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the stage, she defended the free trade the U.S. once championed.

  • Angela Merkel:

    In South Carolina, there is one of the biggest factories — no, the biggest factory for BMW, not in Bavaria. Now, all of a sudden, they are being viewed as a security threat to the United States. That shocks us.


  • Nick Schifrin:

    As the audience applauds, first daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump stays quiet. What has shocked this audience of world leaders is a president of the United States who's called the European Union an economic foe.

    Europe opposed U.S. decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, restricting midrange missiles, which Merkel called the worst decision of all.

  • Angela Merkel:

    We want to say this especially to our U.S. friends: A treaty originally meant to protect Europe, a treaty for disarmament, meant for our protection, is terminated by the U.S. and Russia, and we are here just left to sit there.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Merkel's frustration was open hostility in the conference's annual report, which accused the Trump administration of — quote — "displaying irritating enthusiasm for strongmen across the globe and disdain for international institutions and agreements."

    And that criticism transformed applause for Merkel into silence for Vice President Pence.

  • Mike Pence:

    I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    He got the same cold shoulder two days earlier in Poland.

  • Mike Pence:

    As we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people the region and the world the peace, security and freedom they deserve.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Transatlantic leaders traded pleasantries. But European diplomats said the transatlantic alliance that has anchored global security was losing its grip.

    Here's now Munich chairman Wolfgang Ischinger closed the conference:

  • Wolfgang Ischinger:

    A vast majority is now sharing our conviction that we have a real problem.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And for more on this tense alliance, we turn to two members of Congress, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, and Republican Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, who just returned from Munich.

    Thank you very much to you both for being on the "NewsHour."

    Representative Banks, let me start with you.

    As we just heard, Wolfgang Ischinger said, there is a problem, referring to President Trump and the transatlantic alliance, at the end of that conference. Is there a problem?

  • Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.:

    I don't know if I would call it a problem.

    We were a part — we were both a part of the largest congressional delegation ever to attend the Munich Security Conference. About 55 members of Congress went, along with Vice President Pence and members of the Trump administration, to assure our NATO allies that America stands with them.

    But Vice President Pence's message overall was the same tough love this administration has shown since the very beginning to NATO, calling on them to all meet their 2 percent NATO GDP goals. We met with Secretary-General Stoltenberg, who said that NATO has benefited from that tough love of President Trump, and NATO is as strong as ever.

    So I believe the relationship is as strong as it's ever been, and in the years ahead, NATO can and will be strong and able to achieve what it set out to achieve from the beginning in ways that we haven't seen before.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senator Cardin, you just heard tough love from the president and vice president. What's wrong with that?

  • Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.:

    Well, I think was a security — a European security conference, and you had the president of the United States, some of his first actions as president was to question the major security agreement, NATO.

    Then he withdraws from the Paris climate talks. Then he withdraws from the Iran nuclear agreement, and, most recently, he changes America's course in Syria without conferring with our allies.

    I think our European friends see the president embracing leaders that have been on attack against Democratic institutions. So they wonder how reliable the United States is as a partner to defend democracy in Europe.

    So I think it is understandable that Europe would be very concerned as to what this partnership means in regards to European security.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Representative Banks, the Iran nuclear deal, the INF Treaty, as we mentioned before, the Paris climate agreement, Syria pullout, even the last couple days disagreement over detainees that have been caught that used to be part of ISIS.

    Does Europe have a point when it questions whether President Trump values the alliance?

  • Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.:

    Well, let's go back to the start of what the Munich Security Conference is about all to begin with. It's to talk about the major issues of the day and many of the differences, like the ones that you just mentioned, that we have between the United States of America and our European allies.

    So I found the conference, which, by the way, was my first Munich Security Conference, to be a healthy dialogue between the U.S. and our partners. I found more agreement with our allies on so many points than I found disagreement.

    But that is what makes the conference a healthy interaction between us and Europe to begin with.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senator Cardin, the president's defenders, as you know, distinguish between the rhetoric and the policy, that the president might be rhetorically tough — or rhetorically easy on former enemies, perhaps North Korea, Russia, rhetorically tough on Europe, but the policy against Russia is tough, more U.S. troops in Europe, more offensive weapons to Ukraine, more NATO investment, and the president's defenders say a better NAFTA.

    So the president's defenders say, actually, despite the rhetoric, the policies have improved.

  • Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.:

    Well, quite frankly, I think the members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, deserve a lot of credit in regards to getting tough on Russia.

    It was the Congress that initiated the sanctions bill that the president signed, and it allowed us to take a very tough position against Russia's involvement in Ukraine, their meddling in our elections, their interference in European democracy, institutions, democratic institutions.

    But it was a congressional initiative. It wasn't the president. When you look at North Korea, they don't see results. They see the president giving Kim Jong-un a platform. But, as we found out, there has really been no progress made to reduce or eliminate their nuclear weapon capacity.

    So, I think they are just questioning whether the policies are the right policies for our security. They see the tariffs that were imposed against our friends under a national security waiver, and they wonder why you have to use national security against allies.

    So I do think they question the policies. And I would admit that the way the president does business really gets under their skin. They don't — they like to think that, when you're a friend, you will be consulted before action is taken, and not treated the way the president has treated our allies.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Representative Banks, a majority of Germans and French now trust Russia and China more than the United States. Isn't that a problem?

  • Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.:

    It is a problem.

    And President — President — or Vice President Pence, rather, spoke quite a bit about this in what I thought was the most important part of his address at the Munich Security Conference, telling our allies that there will be a price to pay if they turn to the East, rather than the West, and partner with companies like Huawei, which is a snake in the grass, posing a — not just an economic threat, but a security threat, not just to the U.S., but to our European allies as well.

    So, these were important discussions that were had at the conference. They were just the beginning, though. We have a long ways to go to continue to work with our allies in Europe and elsewhere to turn them back in the right direction on many different notes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senator Cardin, the U.S. and Europe have disagreed strongly before, the Iraq War even. People talked about, oh, maybe this relationship will never recover. It obviously recovered.

    Why would this moment be different than that?

  • Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.:

    Well, quite frankly, Europe will not find security with China or with Russia. The transatlantic partnership is critically important for European security and American security.

    And I think that was the message you heard underscored by many of us, to say, look, we have got to increase our confidence between Europe and the United States. We have to invest in NATO. You have to make it clear we will not tolerate the type of activity we see from Mr. Putin in Russia, and that we will stand tall against Chinese practices that try to undermine our own security.

    I think that's the key message that we want to make. We want to reinforce the partnership between Europe and the United States. And, admittedly, it's difficult under the leadership of President Trump.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, Representative Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, thank you very much to you both.

  • Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.:

    Thank you.

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