Staying the Course
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s meeting this week with US President Joe Biden is an opportunity for a one-on-one before transatlantic partners commemorate the 75th anniversary of NATO’s founding and election year 2024 gets into full swing. Issues related to the former will, as they should, top the meeting agenda before the latter begins to distract both leaders, who have been in lockstep on Ukraine but face analogous political circumstances.
The EU’s recent approval of a €50 billion aid package for Kyiv is good news. It is, however, not a substitute for American military assistance, as US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby has commented. Brussels may have now surpassed Washington in aid commitments, but US involvement is necessary in the short-term as EU member states boost their defense capabilities. The German-initiated Sky Shield, which pools resources to benefit the continent as a whole, is one effort to do this. But Ukraine’s needs are immediate. Europe is already scrambling to supply its pledged amount of ammunition rounds.
Scholz’s main objective during his visit will be to discuss sustaining support for Ukraine. When and how the United States can undertake additional assistance is unknown because the process has fallen prey to partisan politics. Scholz will underscore how he, albeit after much hesitation, and his peers are committed for the long haul. The war against Ukraine gave new life to NATO, and the chancellor will urge Washington’s policymakers to resolve to maintain the rules-based international order.
The NATO milestone is another reason to meet and coordinate a common stance on Ukraine. Although there will be calls to grant alliance membership to the country, Scholz will stress that NATO’s priority should be strengthening its own deterrence and defense given the new threats to European security. He will likely reinforce that the United States and Germany should stand by their assessment that current conditions do not allow for Ukrainian membership. Biden, in turn, may remind the chancellor that the two-percent commitment to NATO is a floor, not a ceiling, for defense spending.
The two leaders assumed power intending to strengthen the middle class at home, but geopolitical demands have forced them to dedicate time and energy to Europe’s largest land war since 1945. Their respective favorability ratings are at all-time lows, and they will soon have to pivot to election mode. Crucial state elections in eastern Germany and the race for the White House will start to suck attention away from Ukraine, just as turmoil in the Middle East already has. Ukraine must be the priority of the upcoming conversations in the White House and on Capitol Hill.