The 75th anniversary celebration of the D-Day invasion on June 6 in France produced an outpouring of rhetorical unity that was unprecedented by the standards of the Trump era. Standing before the crosses of 9,300 fallen soldiers and a small group of veterans at the American cemetery in Colleville Sur-Mer, President Trump eulogized “our cherished alliance.” He reassured Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and Emmanuel Macron that “our bond is unbreakable” and that “We will forever be together.” His speech elicited praise even from his harshest critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Notably absent at the gathering of 16 government leaders was Vladimir Putin, who shamefully was not invited. Anglo-American-Canadian forces suffered appalling casualties during World War II, with an estimated 300,000 killed in combat in Europe, and 10,000 dead or wounded on the beaches of Normandy. By contrast, Russia lost an estimated 24 million soldiers and civilians. When a second front was finally established at Normandy Germany fielded 212 divisions on the Eastern front, and 11 in the West. The Red Army and partisans accounted for 80% of German casualties.
Even as the leaders celebrated a largely mythical Western solidarity, the sub-text was transatlantic discord amid growing conflict with Russia and China. While tactical divisions over China policy among U.S. policymakers and segments of corporate America persist, there is a growing determination across the board—including on Wall Street and within the Pentagon—on the need to contain China’s rise. U.S firms are gradually moving supply chains out of China. Notably, production is not generally returning to the United States: notwithstanding Trump’s campaign rhetoric the “trade war” has less to do with a promised domestic reindustrialization than the drive of U.S. corporations to expand markets and profits worldwide and retain global technological leadership.
In May the Trump Administration enacted a series of policies designed to prevent U.S. companies from doing business with China’s telecommunications national champion Huawei, and therefore exclude or restrict its participation in “next generation” 5G networks on a global scale. Europe is the “primary battleground” in the struggle between Huawei and Washington. Many European countries plan to transition to 5G through cooperation with Huawei. Citing national security concerns, the United States has proposed a variety of diplomatic and political measures, including sanctions, to enforce a blacklist. Google responded by stating that it would limit sales and services to Huawei, a potentially crippling development that would slow China’s economic ascent. At the same time, while in France Trump threatened to impose 25% tariffs on an additional $300 billion Chinese exports unless Xi Jinping attended the forthcoming G-20 Summit in Osaka at the end of June and agreed to a trade deal. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has further stated that sanctions on Huawei could be eased in the event of an agreement, apparently confirming the commercial as well as national security motivations for Washington’s campaign against Huawei.
Notwithstanding sanctions, Russia remains highly dependent on its trade with Western Europe and stands to benefit from a strong and prosperous EU, but it is clearly moving towards China. Sino-Russian trade has soared to record levels. Even as the Western leaders convened at Normandy Xi Jinping met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow before travelling with a 1000-person delegation to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, where Russia signed numerous economic deals, including an agreement with Huawei to develop 5G networks.
At the same time, it is becoming more difficult for Europe to preserve the delicate economic balance between Washington and Beijing. In March, the European Commission designated China as a “systemic rival” and “economic competitor” even as Italy and many central and eastern European countries signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The EU is China’s largest trading partner and China is the EU’s second largest, just behind the United States. On one hand, Germany’s core automobile industry is heavily dependent on exports and production in China. Germany is therefore susceptible to retaliation from Beijing if it adheres too closely to Washington. On the other hand, the Trump administration has suspended--but not rescinded-- automobile tariffs on the EU for a further six months. It is also considering new challenges to Nordstream 2. The overall significance of the North American market for Europe—and especially for Germany’s export-led economy--stills outweighs that of China and endows Washington with a great deal of leverage.