Europe’s security challenges in the years ahead

Front row from 3rd L: Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo , NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US President Joe Biden, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose with the leaders of the US-led military alliance as they pose for a family photo at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

NATO’s emergency summit in Brussels has shown Europe’s willingness to come together and increase their overall defence cooperation. A joint statement, issued on Thursday, says that the NATO leaders have decided to deploy 40,000 Response Force troops along its eastern borders.

Furthermore, four additional multinational battlegroups will be established in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. In response to the threat of the use of chemical and nuclear weapons by Russia, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said its top commander has already activated the alliance’s chemical and nuclear defence elements. Obviously, with Russia’s month-old invasion of Ukraine stalling, NATO fears that Russia will resort to the use of such weapons.

Strengthening NATO’s defence capability is one thing, but increasing support for Ukraine is another. This is where the challenge lies. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been very persistent in his requests for all kinds of arms, big and small, to fight the Russian invaders. He has been asking the impossible of NATO, such as the imposition of a no-fly zone and fighter jets, knowing full well that he will not get them. Zelensky has, however, got what he wanted all along, namely unlimited support for Ukraine. It seems that, with his media savvy, he is raising the war with Russia to the global level. He wants everybody to fight the war with him.

Take Washington as a case study. The US has repeatedly said that there will not be any American soldiers fighting this war, as long as no NATO member country comes under attack. Interestingly, it was also Washington which accurately forecast the Russian invasion of Ukraine with precision. With no American boots on the ground, Europe is left to defend itself. Strengthening Europe is a must.

One weakness is, however, undeniable. Europe has a heavy dependence on its supply of energy from Russia. At the NATO summit, it was clear that Europe is not yet ready to go as far the US wants the whole continent to go. It will take months, if not years before Europe can meaningfully reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

Europe needs to diversify its sources of energy. Germany, which is one of the biggest consumers of Russian energy, is looking for new sources in the Middle East and the US. President Joe Biden has already said that additional gas and oil will be sent to Europe to address its energy demands.

A stronger NATO will certainly draw similar responses from Russia in the future. Nobody can predict what a fully isolated Russia will look like. A cornered rat will do anything to escape. So, Europe must get ready for any unintended consequences.

There has been some discussion over the formation of a European army which could respond to the external threat. France has been the strongest supporter of this idea, which could gain traction if all European countries can narrow the gaps over other non-security matters. Russia wrongly believes that the European countries are disunited and weak, as they are too occupied with their own problems resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, refugee influxes and the economic slowdown. What has happened in Ukraine has, however, miraculously consolidated Europe into a united opponent of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Europe’s security challenges will require additional political will on behalf of the key players to do more. It would be a costly sacrifice for some, especially Germany, but it is inevitable because there has already been a titanic shift in a strategic environment which requires more and more commitment from all European countries. This trajectory cannot be reversed as long as Russia continues to be isolated from mainland Europe. The schism between Europe and Russia will remain and, if it cannot be managed, there will be disastrous ripple effects felt in the East.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn


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