Judy Asks: Can Europe Defend Itself?
A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Michael Leigh - Senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
The two features of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s putative program that have unnerved some European allies are rapprochement with Russia and the demand that Europeans do more to ensure their own defense. A new cold war is not in the interest of Europe or the United States, though renewed tensions have produced a degree of transatlantic unity. Incoming U.S. presidents usually explore the scope for cooperation with Russia and claim a unique capacity to deal with their Russian counterpart. Trump does this, like everything else, extravagantly. European leaders should insist, however, that dialogue with Russia be accompanied by credible deterrence. They should oppose any move to legitimize Moscow’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea.
NATO allies committed themselves to reversing declining defense budgets at the September 2014 NATO summit in Wales. Trump, apparently, wants them to live up to these commitments. They should bring forward the goal of devoting 2 percent of GDP to security and defense, despite fiscal constraints, to show Washington and Moscow that they are ready to deter aggression. Europeans may strengthen their cooperation on armaments, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and specific peacekeeping, humanitarian, or policing missions. But the EU cannot replace NATO as the principal framework for ensuring territorial defense.
Stephen Szabo - Executive director of the Transatlantic Academy
Europe can defend itself without question. The most direct threats are terrorism and Russia. With regard to terrorism, Europe is already coordinating its responses in terms of intelligence sharing and border controls. These efforts will have to be substantially increased, but this will be done and will be sufficient to deal with this important but not existential threat.
Russia remains a challenge that requires a European response through NATO, given the nuclear dimension. Here, the U.S. extended deterrence remains essential. However, if the administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump waffles not only on Ukraine and Georgia but also on the Baltic states, then a more clearly European capability will be required. For the first time since NATO was formed in 1949, this U.S. guarantee is in serious question.
There are already signs that Germany is taking its defense capabilities and a European command more seriously. Depending on the result of the 2017 French presidential election, a new core for European defense may begin to come into being. Poland has also started to take the European dimension of collective security more seriously as the U.S. pillar is now less reliable.
Trump may yet prove the best catalyst for a serious European defense capability, but Marine Le Pen, if elected French president, could still undermine these efforts.
Photo credit: U.S. Army Europe