In addition to the political, economic, and social consequences, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022, has raised significant questions about the security and geopolitical order of the world. This war has not only revealed the level of security-military dependence of Europe on the US but also made more obvious the differences among European countries regarding the level and type of military dependence on the United States.
The current military situation in Europe
Although Europe formed a political union almost 30 years ago, it still does not function as a successful unit in defense. While the United States presents itself as the guardian of democracy and security of the Western world order (mostly liberal-democratic), Europe’s dependence on the United States for its security means it effectively controls Europe’s defense and military strategy. On the one hand, the United States has used its effective veto right to prevent the military ambitions of the European Union, and on the other hand, it insists on Europe’s more significant effort towards self-sufficiency and reducing its dependence on the United States; an approach that has put pressure on the transatlantic alliance and contributed to the relative reduction of Europe’s global influence. As a result, one of the US closest partners and allies is not as powerful and independent militarily as expected. Many European armies have faced the challenge of equipment shortages by sending weapons to Ukraine.
On the other hand, the war in Ukraine indicates the inadequacy of the quality and quantity of weapons and combat forces of this Union, to such an extent that in the event of a large-scale military confrontation, many European troops are not ready for a long-term and large-scale battle. The US response to Europe’s weakness has been to force NATO member states to spend more on defense. As a result, defense spending has become a defining issue in transatlantic relations between the United States and Europe.
Possible future scenarios
The war in Ukraine is considered Europe’s most significant security challenge after the Cold War. At the same time, the issue of creating an integrated and independent European military defense system shows Europe’s internal differences more than in the past. It shows the increasing reliance of European countries on the military and political power led by the United States. In addition, the continuation of the war in Ukraine and its consequences, such as the creation of an energy crisis in European countries and lack of raw materials and food, including oil and wheat, have created or aggravated the ground for some social unrest and chaos, as well as political divisions at the level of European officials and leaders.
In addition to Russia, China is also a significant threat to Europe. The alliance between Russia and China – regarding sending Chinese weapons to Russia in the Ukraine war – could become an important security concern and a nightmare for Europe. In a situation where Europe cannot take the initiative and lead on its own, confronting Russia and China and maintaining a reliable deterrence system is unthinkable without the participation and support of the United States.
What worries Europe the most is the lack of consensuses within the European Union, such as their disagreement on the type of dealings and relations with Russia or the existing scenarios for any compromise strategy, in other words, a “deal” between the United States and Russia to confront with China. Under this scenario, the United States may reduce its nuclear umbrella, which is vital to Europe’s deterrence of Russia, or change the type of support it offers to sacrifice Europe’s interests, a scenario that will be more likely to happen than before if Donald Trump re-enters the White House.
The fact that Europe needs some strategic independence to defend itself without relying on the United States, and the question of how Europe can create and maintain this credible deterrent power and strategic independence without Washington in the future, can become a matter of survival for Europe. It is expected that the policy of joint purchase of weapons, negotiations with European arms companies on increasing production, and negotiations with countries to purchase equipment and ammunition are among the immediate solutions of the Union.