Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, sees a silver lining

While US President Donald Trump’s predictions that other member states, besides the United Kingdom, will desert the European Union (EU) are unhelpful, they serve as a wake-up call for the EU to set its house in order, according to a senior European official.

Trump, who has described himself as “Mr. Brexit,” has repeatedly praised the UK’s decision to leave the EU. He has also said that he believes other member states will head for the exits.

“We always assumed America would be there for us, no matter what. Not with Donald Trump it isn’t. For the first time in history there is a US president who is rooting for the breakup of the European Union,” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, said in an e-mail interview with the New Atlanticist.

But, he added, “the way Trump looks at the EU is an opportunity for the EU to get its act together.”

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The Syrian peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, consecrate Russia’s primacy in Syria, launched with its entrance into the conflict in 2015, and extended with its ability now to convene peace talks and dictate terms.

The outcome of the talks on January 23 also put on display the ascendant axis of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese Islamist militant group Hezbollah, and Iran, backed by Russia and now facilitated by Turkey.

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Interview with Sir Peter Westmacott, distinguished ambassadorial fellow at the Atlantic Council

US President Donald Trump will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May—his first meeting with a head of state or government since his inauguration on January 20—at the White House on January 27.

Sir Peter Westmacott, distinguished ambassadorial fellow at the Atlantic Council who served as the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States from 2012-2016, discussed what to expect from the meeting, the future of the US-UK “special relationship,” and the challenges in the transatlantic relationship and those posed by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

Sir Peter Westmacott spoke in a phone interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen. Here are excerpts from our interview.

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Explicitly invoking the US aid initiative that rebuilt Western Europe’s devastated infrastructure and weakened economies after World War II as a bulwark against Communist expansionism, the German government unveiled its ambitious framework for a “Marshall Plan with Africa” (Eckpunkte für einen Marshallplan mit Afrika) on January 18 with the twin objectives of increasing trade and development on the continent and hopefully reducing mass migration flows north across the Mediterranean.

Presenting the thirty-four-page blueprint, officially entitled “Africa and Europe—A New Partnership for Development, Peace, and a Better Future” (Afrika und Europe—Neue Partnerschaft für Entwicklung, Frieden und Zukunft), Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller argued, “Africa’s fate is a challenge and an opportunity for Europe. If we do not solve the problems together, they will come to us at some point.” Müller’s sentiments echoed concerns in the International Labour Organization’s World Employment and Social Outlook Trends 2017 report earlier this month that estimated that number of unemployed Africans would increase by at least 1.2 million this year and warned that “failure to promote decent work opportunities also risks creating further incentive for workers to leave the region permanently” and head for Europe.

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US President Donald Trump’s decision to take the United States out of a free-trade agreement with eleven other Pacific Rim nations is a “gift” for China because it undermines a deal through which the United States had sought to write the rules of the road for global trade, according to two Atlantic Council analysts.

“Donald Trump is enabling [Chinese President] Xi Jinping to make China great again,” said Robert A. Manning, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and its Strategic Foresight Initiative.

On January 23, Trump abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a signature agreement of his predecessor Barack Obama. The decision was not surprising. On the campaign trail, Trump had provided plenty of clues as to his dislike for the TPP. Following his election on November 8, he put out a video in which he implicitly stated his intention to withdraw the United States from the TPP “from day one” of his term as president. Describing the agreement as “a potential disaster for our country,” he said, he would “negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back.”

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The United States must take on a “more assertive” role on the global stage as President-elect Donald Trump and his newly appointed team devise a cohesive national security strategy to deter and counter both immediate and looming challenges, according to the Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel, who is a former member of the National Security Council staff.

“It’s a propitious time for a more assertive US approach to a world that’s very complex and full of a lot of dangerous and unpredictable challenges,” said Pavel, vice president, Arnold Kanter Chair, and director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Comparing the incoming Trump administration’s commentary on global challenges with the approach of the Obama administration, he said: “We’ve been relatively withdrawn over the last several years. I don’t see too many areas where a softer approach would be useful. It’s probably a good time for the Trump administration to be more assertive.”

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Even as Donald Trump was preparing for his inauguration as the next president of the United States, a more contentious transition of power was being attempted in the Gambia, where the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, has stubbornly refused to make way for President-elect Adama Barrow.

Senegalese forces under the umbrella of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc, entered the Gambia on January 19 to assure the democratic transition from Jammeh to Barrow, who won the presidential elections in December.

If it goes awry, the military intervention in the Gambia could present an early crisis for Trump, but the new US administration must avoid the temptation of getting its wires crossed with ECOWAS. It should, instead, support ECOWAS’ efforts to resolve the crisis, an example of the Western mantra “African solutions for African problems.” The United States must publicly support a peaceful transition of power in the Gambia and offer its full support to Barrow, who will need all the help he can get.

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‘Channeling Brussels’ with Yehor Bozhok, Ukraine’s acting head of mission at NATO

While the United States’ allies in Europe have been shaken by US President-elect Donald Trump’s description of NATO as “obsolete” and his suggestion that he may consider relaxing US sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, Ukraine’s top diplomat at NATO is confident that US commitment to his country will remain firm.

Whatever is said on the campaign trail, said Yehor Bozhok, Ukraine’s acting head of mission at NATO, every US administration turns out to be a strong supporter of Ukraine.  Bozhok attributed that to a recognition by US leaders that the conflict is not a “bilateral conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” but an attempt to attack “democracy, the rule of law and respect” between nations. He said there’s no option other than to defend Ukraine, otherwise “we will have to deal with the opened Pandora's box all over the world.”

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Though inauguration speeches are not known for their foreign policy pronouncements, the world’s complexity demands that US President-elect Donald J. Trump mention foreign policy in his address to the nation during his inauguration on January 20. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt used his speech to describe how the United States could continue on the path to becoming a global power. In his inaugural address in 2009, Barack Obama talked about getting out of Iraq, denuclearization, and working with authoritarians who would “unclench” their hold on power. Otherwise, that speech is known more for its call to heal social and political divides in the United States.

No doubt Trump will attempt to strike a similar message on January 20 using “Reagan’s style and Kennedy’s vision.” Though it is hard to predict what Trump and his inaugural speechwriter, Stephen Miller, are drafting (and revising, and editing, and re-revising…) with regard to US foreign policy, common threads abound in Trump’s worldview, as a result at least some thematic projections can be made.

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A closer look at some of Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions

US President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about NATO, the European Union (EU), and Russia have rattled US allies as they look for indicators as to how the United States will engage with the international community and establish its role in the world.

On January 16, Trump gave an interview to The Times of London and the German newspaper Bild in which he discussed his opinions on a variety of global challenges. As the inauguration nears, Trump’s statements have been taken as indicators of the direction of the new administration’s foreign policy. Atlantic Council experts weigh in on the president-elect’s comments and discuss their significance.

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