One year after the beginning of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, Europe still depends on the US for security - and not much has changed in that regard despite all the “hype”. This is what Sophia Besch, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow, and Max Bergmann, former member of the US Policy Planning Staff and Director of the Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argue in their Foreign Affairs piece.
It is true that, today, most European NATO members are closer to the Alliance’s goal that all state members should spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense, and some nations such as the Baltic states and Poland even spend more than that. It is also true that, at the Madrid NATO summit, the Alliance agreed on the goal of having a ready force of 300,000. It remains to be seen however how each state member will work so as to collectively reach such an ambitious goal amid today’s deindustrialization.
Beyond the figures and the numbers, the aforementioned increases have not amounted to any significant structural change pertaining to European defense, argue Besch and Bergmann. To the contrary: according to these two experts, the current situation has in fact made some of the pre-existing problems worse.
The hard truth is that European military forces are not prepared for conventional warfare “in their own backyards”, according to these scholars. This is so because, for the past two decades, the continent has underinvested in them and most of the funding they did get was for humanitarian missions overseas. In their aforementioned article, the two specialists go over many aspects of Europe’s defense, pertaining to artillery, and the picture they paint is one of depleted forces.
For one thing, European weapons stockpiles are, as mentioned, depleted - but there is a deeper issue: for Europe, re-arming itself would require re-industrializing, something which, ironically, the US has steadily opposed. Any such endeavor would also require European coordination regarding the member states procurement systems and there is none of that going on. Moreover, Europe’s defense base would need production capacities and supply chains that it does not currently possess. Beyond these hard material facts there also lacks a legal and bureaucratic framework: the continent’s defense is, according to Besch and Bergmann, “heavily fragmented” and focused on individual national military industrial complexes. In addition, there is no common EU defense market.
Whenever Europe tries to articulate its industrial policies, Washington steps in. For example, write Besch and Bergmann, when the EU made its plans (for new weapon systems and for an European Defense Fund) public, then U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, under Donald Trump, aggressively objected and lobbied for American companies “to have access to the paltry EU funds”. This has not changed with the current Joe Biden’s presidency, which has worked hard to maintain American access to the continent’s defense market.
As I have written, American weapons manufacturers profit tremendously from the Ukrainian conflict and are very much politically influential in that corruption-ridden country.
However, American interests benefit not only from the defense industry, but also from Europe’s energy crisis and deindustrialization. As for the former, I wrote, in December 2021, on how the still ongoing dramatic European energy price rises could have been avoided if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project had not been delayed. On top of that, there is plenty of evidence suggesting the German-Russian Nord Stream explosion was an US act of sabotage. Be it as it may, post-Nord Stream Europe, as well as the UK, is haunted by the specter of depression. The high energy prices basically make Europe’s industry uncompetitive.
Since the aftermath of WWII, the European continent has relied on the United States for security, while relying, up until 2022, on Russia for gas. This is the latent geoeconomic-geostrategic contradiction within the bloc which seems to have short-circuited now. Because trading links pertaining to gas and oil are normally largely dictated by geography (regardless of the political will), Russian-European energy cooperation always was a strategic matter for these two parties. The US agenda in turn has been to disrupt any such Eurasian cooperation.
In the post-Covid deindustrialized world, amid a global supply chain crisis, the re-emerging US economic nationalism has taken the shape of economic warfare, as exemplified by the so-called chip war against China and by Biden’s aggressive subsidies package. The latter has hurt European economies and industries really hard to the point of French President Emmanuel Macron, warning his American counterpart that the matter could “fragment the West”.
In the United States proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, geopolitical goals have converged with geoeconomic and energy ones (often intertwined with private and shady interests).
Although Washington currently benefits from the crisis in Europe, the NATOization of that continent would serve the interest of an overextended and overburdened American superpower. Dual containment being unfeasible in the long run, militarizing Europe would allow the US to pivot to the Pacific. This however depends on appeasing Turkey (as I have explained here): thus, American goals and interests in the Middle East and Europe simply cannot be reconciled.
The other problem, from an American perspective, is that, to sum it up, the Ukrainian campaign has actually made Europe more dependent on the US for security and defense - not less. I have written on how Washington’s foreign policy in the pursuit of maintaining unipolarity, has often oscillated, in a pendulum-like manner, between “countering” either Russia and China - or both, if possible. The pivoting to the Pacific scenario may not only repeat the same mistakes Washington has run into (regarding sanctions backfiring and so on), but also may be made impossible by the US own industrial and economic policies against Europe.