“We have to give the Alliance teeth!” » The appeal of U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in September 1950, a few weeks after the start of the Korean War, is unclear. The United States, he added, agreed to send several tens of thousands of their troops to protect the Europeans, but the latter had to help themselves in return, starting with Germany, whose rearmament was now essential. From restraint, it was necessary to continue the defense, to transform the mutual guarantee pact of April 1949 into a truly integrated military organization, capable of defending Europe forward and no longer freeing it from behind.
The current situation is reminiscent of this founding episode of NATO. Today as it was yesterday, collective defense is the center of Alliance security. To accomplish this important task, many conditions are required. We must first agree on a common view of the threat that exists. Long divided by the nature of Moscow’s adoption, Russia’s aggression has strengthened the allies ’consensus on the danger posed by Putin. For the first time in its history, the European Union recognized an enemy, and thus agreed to help arm Ukraine. The United States voted for nearly $ 40 billion in economic and military aid for kyiv. Moreover, the end of Finnish and Swedish neutrality, Danish adherence to European defense, the punitive measures taken by Switzerland attest to an unprecedented knowledge since the end of the Cold War.
A weak consensus
We need to agree on the meaning of the issues. In this area, situations are more diverse and therefore positions are more nuanced. In Europe, unanimous unity protests in Ukraine did not result in a strong commitment to EU membership. In Paris and Berlin, attempts were made to find the beginning of a compromise in Moscow, which was poorly seen in Vilnius, Warsaw and kyiv. In the United States, while the Atlantic Alliance still remains one of the few bipartisan issues in the political arena, discordant and isolationist voices are already fighting sanctions against Moscow. Some, even within the Biden administration, remember that this war was a distraction that we should not forget the real challenge, which is China’s competition and the defense of the Pacific.
So weak is the consensus that dominates today. What would be the reaction of the allies if, by accident or design, even a small part of the Alliance’s territory was targeted by the Russians? Are we ready to escalate into direct conflict if a Russian drone crashes in Romania? If so, what form will the answer take? The stance position is well known: attacking one member is an attack on everyone-but the actual implementation of it is even more problematic. Such is the strength of Article 5, as well as its limitation. In the longer term, will the current consensus survive the onslaught of the energy crisis, food shortages, rising inflation and declining living standards? Individual weaknesses will undoubtedly create contradictions.
Sufficient military capability
Finally, a reliable collective defense expects the presence of sufficient military capability. In this area, Russia’s aggression could cause an electroshock that we hope will be beneficial. Many European countries have agreed to a significant increase in their defense budgets, which have been in the middle of the mast since the crisis in 2009. Germany, but also Spain and the Netherlands have thus decided to increase it in the medium term to 2% of their GDP, a measure decided by the Alliance in 2006, but little has been used since. At the European level, the shortcomings remain significant: the air defense is fragmented, the number of drones is insufficient, stocks of ammunition are very low, the operation of troops is very low.
The European Union endorsed a common strategic compass in March, which, among other things, will guide cyber defense, intelligence and maritime security efforts. But the necessary efforts will take time. Berlin-ordered F-35s will not be operational for eight years, the rebuilding of satisfactory armored forces will take at least a decade. The budget effort is only one step, the Alliance above all needs a common and reliable strategy to protect itself against potential aggression in Russia.
The next summit in Madrid will have to approve this strategic posture, a key element of the common front against Moscow’s aggression. In Europe, especially in Berlin, there seems to be an awareness of new priorities. Some feared that a stronger Europe could cause them to leave the United States. In contrast, a weak Europe encourages unilateralism and isolationism in Washington. Joe Biden reaffirmed the importance of the transatlantic bond, and once again showed the United States how important it is to Europe’s security. But it is dangerous to hide behind the current American commitment to postpone once again the strategic effort that is absolutely necessary for Europe.
With the exception of Madrid, the future of the transatlantic link will require a balance of its forces. The recurring asymmetry cannot be sustained in a world where the United States has global interests and where Europe has to assume its own responsibilities, from Serbia to Libya. A stronger and therefore more responsible Europe is the best guarantee of stronger and healthier transatlantic relations.