Vice-President Mike Pence flew out of Munich leaving the United States' allies relieved of some of their worst fears about the new Administration's foreign policy, yet still uncertain as to who will formulate it.

And for many of the Europeans who listened to Pence, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly over the weekend, the perception of chaos in Washington also raised an equally unsettling question: How much should Europe start doing on its own?

Pence's pledges to back Nato and "hold Russia to account" over Ukraine offered some reassurance to Europeans worried the US will abandon the transatlantic alliance. Yet bewilderment over the conflict in messaging between President Donald Trump and his top officials was a theme that emerged from those meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a gathering of foreign ministers in Bonn last week.

It continued through the Munich Security Conference, reflecting the unusual teething problems of the Administration's foreign and security policy team. Pence and Mattis declined to take questions after their addresses, frustrating some of the attendees who were seeking more clarity.

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"The real shock was what you could call the dog that didn't bark," said Francois Heisbourg, a veteran security analyst and former French diplomat. "We used to see this from the Soviets and occasionally the Chinese. But to have American officials speaking in plenary sessions and refusing to take questions, it's unbelievable."

This sense of chaos was a lively topic of conversation in Munich, said Sandy Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary general of Nato.

"I'm struck by how many European representatives here have read the collected works of Steve Bannon," he said, referring to Trump's chief strategist, who said before taking office that the Judeo-Christian West is in a global war with Islam.

There was concern, too, among US partners over the slow start to filling posts below Cabinet level in the new Administration.

Given political turmoil on the continent, with populists challenging established parties in the Netherlands, France and Germany in elections this year, how the US's Nato allies in Europe will respond is as unclear as Trump's foreign policy. But there was consensus on what Europe ought to do: Spend more on defence, take care of its own back yard and obsess less about what's happening in the White House.

"Rather than parse every statement from a US official and every tweet from the White House, Europeans need to start thinking about what they have to do for themselves," said Mark Leonard, director of the Brussels-based European Council on Foreign Relations. Europe, he said, has been "infantilised and emasculated" by decades of over-reliance on the US security umbrella.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called for increased military integration between Germany and France. With Britain negotiating to leave the European Union, a major hurdle to long-shelved projects for creating a consolidated military command and even centralised funding will also be removed.

"When you are dealing with a volatile person such as the current Potus, you have to hedge. You have no choice," said Heisbourg. The alternatives, he said, are to build stronger militaries or cosy up to Russia.

Numerous US presidents have pressed other Nato members to spend more on defence in the past, to little effect. But this time may be different, according to some at the conference, both due to the convergence of threats Europe now faces - a revanchist Russia, jihadist terrorists, a refugee crisis and Brexit - and the uncertainty introduced by Trump.