Former US president Donald Trump has engaged in several political battles with his Atlantic allies in Europe over increasing defense spending. He has repeatedly criticized them. He called on them to pay their fair share to NATO. Germany pays 1.24%, while the US pays 4.3% of their gross domestic product (GDP) “to protect Europe,” he said. “It’s not really fair.”
A 2014 agreement calls for NATO member states to contribute 2% of their GDP to NATO defense spending by 2024. But 15 countries in the alliance are still far from meeting that goal, including Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium. Some have said they will not be able to meet that goal by 2024.
This has angered Trump, who has called for the European contribution to be increased to 4% in the future. Trump once wrote on Twitter that Germany has just started paying billions of dollars to Russia, the country it wants to protect itself from, to meet its energy needs through a new pipeline from Russia. “This is very inappropriate,” Germany is “totally controlled” by Russia, he said.
Many will remember these notable Atlantic clashes after Russian military operations against Ukraine prompted several European countries to increase their military spending, especially after Russia announced that its nuclear deterrent forces were on alert. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace called it a battle of rhetoric and reminded Moscow that Britain is also a nuclear power.
In response to Russian military operations, Germany along with other European countries announced it would supply weapons to Ukraine, officially classified as a NATO partner country. There is an agreement between them and the alliance that they will join the alliance sometime in the future. Russia has called this a red line.
The EU said it would provide up to €450 million for arms deliveries to Ukraine. This is a historic precedent, as it is the first time the EU has supplied weapons to a military conflict zone. Perhaps the biggest change in Europe as a result of the Ukraine crisis has taken place in Germany.
Berlin is embittered by the failure of its attempt at fruitful dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which it undertook in the final hours before the war. The new Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not even think that the war scenario could become reality.
THE CROSSING of the Ukrainian border by Russian troops was described in some media as a shock and led to serious changes in the German strategy. Decades after the end of World War II, the tide has turned, as Berlin focuses on dialogue and trade relations as the path to peace. It decided to abandon its policy of banning arms exports to conflict zones in order to supply weapons to Ukraine.
Ironically, Chancellor Scholz’s Social Democratic-Green Liberal government had promised a stricter arms export policy when it took office late last year.
Germany also decided to allocate €100 billion to military modernization, on top of the ruling coalition’s pledge to allocate more than 2% of GDP per year to military spending, ending Berlin’s longstanding resistance to US pressure to increase military spending.
More importantly, Chancellor Scholz signaled a change in policy by saying Germany needs new military capabilities. “Putin wants to create a Russian Empire. He wants to reconfigure Europe according to his own ideas,” warned Scholz. “We must [defend] freedom and democracy” through decisive national action, he added.
Germany’s new approach is costly, both in terms of increased coal consumption due to the lack of Russian gas and the possibility of postponing the shutdown of the last three nuclear power plants scheduled for the end of the year. Germany is also changing its energy policy and is not relying on a single supplier.
Scholz announced that the German government would quickly build liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facilities in northern Germany. He said his government would launch a broad package of measures to help people, especially those of low-income, cope with high energy prices.
The move reflects a shift in Germany’s energy infrastructure, which until recently was 65% dependent on Russian gas and oil supplies, and has no LNG import facilities.
The European security alert is not limited to Germany but also includes France, which has announced the direct mobilization of more than 9,500 French troops or placed them on alert in response to the Russian incursion into Ukraine. More than 1,500 French troops are directly involved in operations to strengthen NATO’s position on the Eastern Front.
About 8,000 French troops are on alert as part of NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force, which France commands until 2022. But that’s not all, countries like Sweden and Finland have broken their silence and asserted their right to join NATO. This is in response to Russian warnings against both countries joining NATO.
This is not a major agenda item in Helsinki and Stockholm, but the Russian warnings seem to have touched the national pride of both countries. Britain has also taken a sharp political stance toward Russia.
I have even gone so far as to support the journey of those who want to fight alongside the Ukrainian army, including the British. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she supported British citizens who want to fight as a private individual against Russian troops in Ukraine.
The conclusion from the above is that the Ukraine crisis has become an important strategic lever to strengthen the unity of Europe, which has suffered from division on various issues and topics in recent years.
Europe is doubly outraged, whether by the perceived Russian threat or the US ignoring its EU allies in negotiations with Russia over Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. The Geneva negotiations even took place, in mid-January without an EU bloc at the table, prompting Germany to formally demand European participation in the talks.
An important element of European vigilance is the sense of being marginalized, despite the sensitivity of the crisis to its own security, leading the French presidency to call for “a strong Europe in the world, fully sovereign, free to make its own decisions and master of its own destiny.”
It’s anybody’s guess whether the Ukraine crisis will strengthen France’s aspirations to build a common European defense policy, abandon soft power as the only foreign policy tool and shift to brute force capable of addressing challenges and bridging European divisions, or whether it will be limited to individual countries’ reactions to the new realities, perpetuating divisions and preventing an active European role in building a new world order.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.