The fact that NATO is taking Europe’s security back into its own hands is a sharp blow to French-backed plans for EU autonomy.
The NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June saw the rebirth of the Atlantic Alliance, the very same one that, back in November 2019, Emmanuel Macron had said was“ brain dead”. The decisions taken at the summit mark a historic turning point. The allies reached agreement that Russia constituted a direct threat to their security, being backed up with a strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing. They confirmed their unconditional support for Ukraine for as long as necessary. They approved the membership of Finland and Sweden, after removing Turkey’s right of veto. This provides a true foundation for the defense of the Baltic states and opens possibilities of intervention in the Arctic. They increased the high readiness force by 40,000 to well over 300,000, of which 100,000 can be mobilized within ten days. They decided to deploy eight new tactical groups in Western Europe and to considerably strengthen aerial surveillance. They committed themselves to investing at least 2% of their GNP in defense, an objective that will be reached by 19 of the 30 nations by 2024.
This renewal of NATO is all about collective security in face of the threat from Russia, and about recentering its military dimension, including the nuclear aspect. All this reminds one of the tensest moments of the standoff between our democracies and the Soviet Union in the 1950s, for it includes breaking off contacts – in energy, trade and finance, as well as human contacts – between the two blocs. It contributes to the break-up of globalization into spheres of influence and regional zones.
With the exception of France and the United Kingdom, European democracies have been taken by surprise by the return to high intensity war on the continent and its direct threat to their security. Russian aggression towards Ukraine has had the effect of “NATO-izing” Europe, and American presence on the continent has been considerably stepped up. However, the unity displayed by the allies masks persistent divergences and difficulties that must be overcome in the long run if we want to rebuild an effective deterrent against Russia.
The priority given to the East, strongly supported by Eastern European and Scandinavian countries, must not be allowed to hide the fact that the Islamist threat is still there, as is the risk of one-sided conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. The USA’s desire to involve NATO in its rivalry with China, which shares Russia’s objective of seeing a post-Western world and which is bound to be a challenge to the interest, security and values of the allies, does not meet with unanimous approval. The fact that NATO is taking Europe’s security back into its own hands is a sharp blow to French-backed plans for EU autonomy, with its “strategic compass”, and European rearmament could benefit the American defense industry more than anything else. Lastly, no clear strategy has emerged with regard to the break between the West and the South because of the Ukrainian conflict, with the South supporting Russia by and large.
These differences are accentuated by the fragility of the allies and the divisions between them. The USA is being undermined by its institutional crisis – as illustrated by the attack on the Capitol in January 2021 and the politicization of the Supreme Court – and the radicalization of public opinion. Its renewed commitment to our continent depends on whether or not the Republicans win the mid-term elections or the next presidential ones. Europe has been weakened economically, politically and morally. Given stagflation, the energy crisis and the food crisis, public opinion is increasingly susceptible to be influenced by populists, as was shown by Emmanuel Macron’s setback at the general election. Eastern and Northern countries differ in their views of the objectives to be pursued in the Ukraine war and their vision of Russia, as do Western and Southern countries. Turkey, which is making extradition of its opponents and delivery of modernized F-16s a condition for its ratification of the membership of Sweden and Finland, remains an unlikely ally.
Faced with this Cold War that is opposing them to Russia, Western democracies must learn a lesson from the strategy that enabled them to triumph over the Soviet Union, by avoiding open armed confrontation and taking account of changes in the world.
(Article published in Le Point, 7th July 2022)