It has become a truism that the Ukraine War has created a NATO more united and, with the addition of Finland and impending addition of Sweden, more militarily capable than ever. A closer look at the post-24 February situation suggests a NATO that is more brittle than before. None of the fundamental contradictions within NATO have been resolved: U.S. “alliance management” simply papers over a growing fissure between Western and Eastern Europe that NATO’s adversaries, Russia included, can exploit.
Russia’s escalation of the Ukraine War began the largest European ground war since World War II. Putin sought far more than “another bite at the Ukrainian apple,” as Eastern European diplomats beyond the Baltic States put it, let alone the delusions of French and German leaders that dismissed out of hand the possibility of war. Macron’s last-minute dash to Moscow in early February 2022, complete with a court audience in the Kremlin across a multi-meter-long table, was a pitiful farce which the UK’s appeasers of the 1930s would have approved. Putin’s mind was made up no later than November 2021. Yet Macron still clung to the hope that European diplomacy could diffuse an intractable situation.
The irrationality of this position stems from the Ukraine War’s concrete stakes. At first, Putin’s gambit was a high-stakes attempt to overturn the European security system. The week-long Ukraine operation, complete with a parade in occupied Kyiv, would enable the country’s de facto annexation by mid-June. Putin would never have stopped there. Belarus would have been brought under full Russian control through the Union State. Transnistria would have been incorporated into Novorossiya, and perhaps the rest of Moldova as well. Georgia would have been similarly absorbed, if not legally, then practically, and Russia would have become the dominant Caucasus power, allowing it to surround Turkey on three sides. Ankara, then, would have broken with NATO, allowing Russian forces to spill out freely into the Eastern Mediterranean. The result of a successful invasion would have been the creation of an autarkic Russian entity wholly capable of confronting NATO directly.
Through a combination of Ukrainian strategic skill and resolve, Western—primarily American—military aid, and Russian failures, Putin’s gambit has morphed into a war for imperial survival, a war directly against NATO. Yet now, just as in February 2022, the Western European powers show no desire to accelerate or expand military assistance to Ukraine. Nor have the Western European powers, particularly Germany given its vaunted manufacturing capacity, expanded their defense industrial production, despite Olaf Scholz’s much-trumpeted Zeitenwende. Germany still stalls, waffling over whether to permit other countries to transfer German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine—as of this writing, Germany may shift policy, but only after months of cajoling and concerted NATO-wide pressure. The overwhelming majority of military assistance to Ukraine comes from the United States. And even that has been hesitant, sporadic, and more enthusiastic in word than deed. But even the poorer Eastern European NATO powers, including the Baltics and Poland, have provided proportionally and, in some metrics, absolutely more capabilities to Ukraine than France and Germany.
The inexorable conclusion is that Berlin and Paris—likely coordinating in Brussels—still seek to hedge between Washington and Moscow. The Russia-European energy relationship has died, especially now that Europeans, after grumbling from the summer through the mid-autumn, have now expanded their ability to receive and process American natural gas. Nevertheless, the pure geopolitical hope of triangulation between the great powers remains. Western Europe still seeks strategic autonomy, even if its leaders pay lip service to NATO’s integral role in their defense.
Read te rest at Strategika.
Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.