London, New York Times- American officials, struggling to reimagine their strategy after Britain’s decision to divorce the European Union, say the most urgent challenge will be to find a way to replace their most reliable, sympathetic partner in the hallways of European capitals. It will not be easy.
No country shares Washington’s worldview quite the way Britain does, they say; it has long been the United States’ most willing security ally, most effective intelligence partner and greatest enthusiast of the free-trade mantras that have been a keystone of America’s internationalist approach.
Few nations were as willing to put a thumb as firmly on the scales of European debates in ways that benefit the United States.
However, now, that quiet diplomatic leverage — including moderating European trade demands and strong-arming nations to contribute more to NATO military missions — is suddenly diminished.
Even if Britain eventually regains its influence on the Continent, a big if, it will be deeply distracted for years.
Moreover, the loss of Britain’s strong voice in Europe comes at a particularly bad moment: just as the United States and its allies are debating how to handle a revanchist Russia and reinvigorate NATO, hurry along an American-European trade pact that has been languishing, and work through a diplomatic settlement in Syria that could relieve the migrant crisis in Europe.
“When Vladimir Putin is cheering,” David Miliband, the former British foreign minister, said on “Meet the Press” Sunday, “then you know you have got a problem in the international system.”
Then, of course, there is the threat of ISIS, which has found in Europe a new battlefield, one in which the development and sharing of intelligence, seamlessly, is critical.
Addressing those challenges was daunting enough, American officials say, in the face of the tenor of the American presidential campaign, particularly Donald J. Trump’s questioning of whether alliances are worth it if allies are not willing to pay more for American protection.
Nevertheless, now, with Britain’s exit, called Brexit, whatever passed for long-term plans — a Europe that gradually takes a greater role in its region and the Middle East as America devotes more attention to Asia — are imperiled.
Like the Arab Spring, the result of Britain’s referendum took Washington by surprise.
As late as early last week there was something between a hope and an assumption that the vote would “go the other way,” as Secretary of State John Kerry said in Rome on Sunday.
As a result, there was no serious planning for the all-consuming work of reimagining the European relationship, a task that will face President Obama for the next six months, and his successor for years to come.
Kerry, usually the optimist, sounded almost downbeat as he arrived in Italy.
He did not make any references to a “shriveled Europe,” as one of his top aides did in a conversation over the weekend.
Yet, he made clear that European allies are also going to have to rethink their relationships with the United States.
“Twenty-two of the nations in the E.U. are members of NATO,” he said less than a minute into his meeting with his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni.
He warned that the most critical step was to “work together to provide as much continuity, as much stability, as much certainty as possible” to “protect the values and interests that we share in common.”