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European leaders are bracing for the possibility of a more isolationist U.S.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

European leaders are bracing for the possibility of a more isolationist United States. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO, and lately he's been saying that if he's reelected, he won't protect NATO members that fail to meet defense spending targets. Vice President Kamala Harris sought to reassure European allies at the Munich Security Conference on Friday.

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KAMALA HARRIS: We must be unwavering, and we cannot play political games.

MARTÍNEZ: We turn now to Catherine Fieschi. She's a political analyst and fellow at the European University Institute, joins us now from Paris. Mark Rutte is the outgoing prime minister of the Netherlands. He said at this conference, quote, that Europe "should actually stop moaning and whining and nagging about Trump." So, Catherine, do you think European states can actually ramp up defense spending and ammunition production, regardless of what happens in the U.S.?

CATHERINE FIESCHI: Well, I think that Mark Rutte did make a really good point. Europe had become, you know, far too complacent over the past few decades. I think it's got the message. It's got the message that regardless of whether or not there is a second Trump presidency, things are not likely to get better and that the United States will probably be otherwise engaged and pivot back to their original plan, which is, you know, to be more involved in the Pacific.

So Europe needs to get its act together. But I would argue that it is trying to do so. It is increasing its NATO spending to meet the target of 2%. Each member state is doing that. The European Union is behaving more as a geopolitical entity since 2019. They've just released 50 billion for Ukraine. France and Germany have entered into separate bilateral security agreements in order to defend Ukraine, each worth 3 billion. So Europe is stepping up to defend Ukraine, but it also knows that it needs to step up to defend itself more broadly. And, you know, that is partly also an enlarged EU with the Western Balkans and Ukraine, but also an enlarged NATO, with Sweden hopefully soon and Finland already new members.

MARTÍNEZ: If Europe were to do all that, everything you just mentioned, would that actually not be a great thing for the United States' influence in Europe?

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FIESCHI: I mean, I think that in terms of the United States, you know, the Europeans have argued for a long time that there should be a European pillar within NATO, and it's never been very clear to the Europeans whether the United States would resent that, that kind of a measure of autonomy, or whether, in fact, they would take it as as Europe taking its own responsibility. Kissinger, you know, years ago basically said he had no problem with a stronger Europe at the heart of NATO. And I think that no matter what, Europe has to start thinking about being able to expand its own strategic capabilities, and in many ways, you know, very specifically to be able to deploy a nuclear shield and a nuclear umbrella over Europe in a rather autonomous fashion.

MARTÍNEZ: If America stops helping Ukraine, Catherine, what are Europe's options there? I mean, how prepared would European powers be to step up and help out Ukraine?

FIESCHI: I think that they are able to help out Ukraine. I think that the amount of money and weapons that the United States supply is very, very hard to match. The Europeans know this, and therefore, this is why they do want to find a way to bring the parties to a negotiating table.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Catherine Fieschi at the European University Institute. Catherine, thanks.

FIESCHI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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