Why Europe must assert itself
It may be overstating the case to claim that US President Donald Trump’s inauguration signals the start of a new world order, but his policies will set off a new dynamic in the geopolitical “parallelogram of power” comprising the United States, Russia, China and Europe.
A possible American-Russian rapprochement is already causing concern in Europe, although the attitude of the US president and his ministers towards Russia is very nuanced and not without reservations. Unremitting rivalry notwithstanding, joint approaches towards solving conflicts in Ukraine and Syria are possible and would undoubtedly be in Europe’s interest.
The same applies to confidencebuilding military measures, which for some time have again been accompanied by a constant risk of military confrontation, and to a reduction in tensions. A resumption of serious disarmament negotiations on strategic nuclear potential and conventional forces would also have a positive effect on the international situation. Solidarity in the fight against international terrorism, the new American administration’s primary goal, would directly affect Europe’s internal security.
Only the two major powers can avert the greatest dangers of our time. If they can find a shared path away from these perils, Europe will have to rethink its policy on Russia. Any change in the power structure of the parallelogram of powers will affect everyone involved, so Europe and Russia will have to adjust to the fact that the potential for tensions between the United States and China in the area of economic policy is evidently growing – a result of Chinese expansion in the South China Sea and America’s new Two-China policy.
Now more than ever, Europe must assert itself between the US and Russia. Great Britain’s efforts to revive its “special relationship” with the US entail the development of an imbalance in European- American relations. On the other hand, it could facilitate agreement on an independent European security and defense identity, as long as Europeans can manage to agree on their security policy and geostrategic interests and consolidate the means required to assert them into an overall strategy covering foreign policy, development policy, arms exports, arms control and defense. Europe could then, at least in a limited form, react to crises and conflicts at its margins, curb illegal migration and make an independent contribution to the fight against international terrorism.
But the US is still essential to Europe’s overall security. America’s contribution to Europe’s security through NATO is greater than that of all the European states put together. Combat forces may have been largely withdrawn, but the presence of US troops remains an important element in deterring potential threats. Eastern European NATO states in particular, with their greater exposure to and fear of Russia, only trust the American security guarantee.
NATO is still the clamp binding Europe and North America into a shared security realm. In terms of US geostrategy, the Atlantic Alliance and Europe play an important role, if not the main role. The national Unified Combatant Commands of the United States European Command (USEUCOM) and Africa (USAFRICOM) have their headquarters in Germany. Germany is the logistics hub and springboard for Africa and the Near and Middle East. Italy is the logistics base for the 6th fleet. One of the two strategic NATO commanders, Strategic Commander of Operations (formerly Supreme Allied Commander Europe/ SACEUR), is traditionally an American. There is much to be said for maintaining and strengthening the alignment within NATO of Europe’s security policy and strategic interests with those of the United States. The organization will also continue to bind Great Britain militarily to Europe in future. If Europeans wanted to ensure their security without US involvement, they would have to more than double their defense expenditure. By way of comparison, in 2016 the United States spent $664 billion on European security, according to NATO criteria, while European member states spent a total of $239 billion.
It is also doubtful that Europeans would even be in a position to provide the entire range of military capabilities required to implement current NATO strategy, including even approximately comparable strategic nuclear components and an autonomous European ballistic missile defense system.
Europeans would be better advised to dispense with European double structures and instead strengthen their support for NATO. A European defense union and integrated European army will in any case remain a fiction as long as there is no European government. However, closer cooperation in research, development, procurement and training could save costs and improve interoperability.
Nonetheless, a significant increase in defense spending is inevitable. The new US administration’s call for Europe to meet its assumed commitments and share the burden fairly is nothing new. Years ago NATO member states agreed to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, and this commitment was affirmed at NATO summits in 2014 and 2016. This has been supplemented by an obligation to invest more than 20 percent of defense budgets in modern military equipment.In 2016, only four European member states reached the 2-percent goal: Estonia, Greece, Great Britain and Poland. Germany spent 1.19 percent, falling short of this goal, but the country plans to spend 1.22 percent in 2017 and increase spending until 2020. Investment in materials for Germany’s armed forces, at 13.6 percent of the defense budget in 2016 and 13.1 percent in 2017, is also below actual demand. Nine other member states invested well over 20 percent in modern military materials. By way of comparison, the US spends 3.61 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and invests 25.03 percent of its defense budget in modern military equipment.
For quite some time, German and European politicians have been calling on Germany to assume more foreign and security policy responsibility. More responsibility means assuming a leadership role and offering an example of security provision. So far, Germany’s federal government has taken on more diplomatic responsibility but has shied away from assuming a greater military role.
In terms of security policy, Germany has yet to outgrow the limited international role of the early federal republic. It is perhaps time to recall President George H. W. Bush’s offer to the reunited Germany of a “partnership in leadership.”
The current bilateral relationship cannot exactly be described as a partnership. However, impending changes in the geostrategic parallelogram of powers should be reason enough for German politicians to give the EU’s foreign and security policy greater leadership and direction. A “partnership in leadership” between Germany and the United States within the framework of NATO would be the best precondition for enabling Europe to assert itself and uphold its security and interests amid the new American foreign policy dynamic and Russia’s growing confidence.
A version of this article appeared in print in February, 2017, with the headline “Couples Counseling”.
Harald Kujat is a retired German Air Force general. He was chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2002 to 2005.