Today Western leaders have gathered in France on the shores of Normandy to remember the D-Day landings seventy years ago which began the liberation of Europe from Hitler’s Germany. These leaders expressed their gratitude for the heroism of those soldiers who stormed the beaches and fought to victory as well as a recommitment to European democratic rule.
This White House in 2009 expressed a need for a new orientation toward Asia, an expanded vision that saw beyond traditional lands and long time European allied relationships. It was originally referred to as a “pivot” then recast as a “rebalance” to the Asia Pacific rim. President Obama was referred to as the first post cold war President whose formative years were not shaped by the space race with the USSR, the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Vietnam War. This was to be an era in which the cold war was regulated to lessons learned and the ties to Europe were to make room for new strategic partners in the Pacific Rim.
During this past year, however, an unexpected truth was rediscovered…Europe still matters.
The events this past year, from the revolution in Ukraine to the talk of the devolution in the UK with an independent Scotland and the rise of ultra-nationalist parties in the EU Parliamentary elections, have brought Europe out of the pages of history and onto the front page of today’s headlines. These events don’t supersede challenges in other regions but they do remind leaders that Europe and the ties that have been forged through war and peace are still vital and needed for democratic institution building.
From the “special relationship” between the US and UK to the solid and comprehensive friendship with post war Germany, today’s events reenforce the importance of a strong Europe in a close and cooperative relationship with Washington. Europe today is seen through the prism of the EU both politically and perhaps more importantly, economically. This vision of a democratic Europe is the aspiration of non-member EU governments and is a goal driving democratic reform in former dictatorial regimes.
Today’s commemorations also restates the principles of these former allies in resisting tyranny and hegemonic behavior. The events surrounding the crisis in Ukraine as well as Russia’s role in creating that crisis will not go unnoticed in today’s reaffirmation to committing resources and the will to carry forward democracy building in those states. Washington’s European Reassurance Initiative is that commitment in action as a program of European reengagement and a demonstration of Europe’s importance in US strategic thinking.
Today’s events in Normandy are as much a focus forward as they are a hazy remembrance of events past. Today the US reassures its longtime partners and strategic allies that Washington is still there for them as it was seventy years ago, leaving no doubt in the minds of both friend and foe alike that Europe and the ties that bind it to the US are as strong as ever.