ArticlesInstitute News

Europe Readies for War, Though Armor and Resolve — and a Sense of Urgency — Are Wanting

Posted By March 1, 2024 No Comments

At Munich parley, Communist China gets unlimited stage time to berate the West and belittle our allies.

The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, speaks during the 2024 Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2024, at Munich, Germany. Johannes Simon/Getty Images

(Written by ALEKSANDRA GADZALA TIRZIU, originally published here in the New York Sun, republished with permission.)

Across Europe, preparations are under way for war. Operation Steadfast Defender, the largest North Atlantic Treaty exercise since the Soviet Union’s collapse, has marshaled some 100,000 troops from across the alliance. Until May, they will rehearse defending Europe. Yet doubts linger, as both armor and resolve are wanting. Meanwhile, many of Europe’s politicians have seemingly yet to grasp the urgency and imperatives of defense.

This, nearly two years into Russia’s war in Ukraine and against the backdrop of a globally assertive Communist China in league with Russia and Iran — all of which threaten Europe’s security. Still, much of Europe appears unperturbed. Feature the recent Munich Security Conference, at which China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, was given uninterrupted stage time to berate Western policies, undermine Free China, and defend Sino-Russian ties.

At the Munich conference, Poland, historically a bulwark against authoritarian imperialists, appears to have opted to strengthen its relations with Beijing, including on security and governance. Hungary, too. Germany boasted of its increased defense spending. Yet the 100 billion euro fund that will this year allow Berlin to allocate 2 percent of its national output to defense is expected to run dry by 2027, with, so far, no clear strategy for thereafter.

In any case, defense spending does not equate to defense readiness. Chancellor Scholz knows this, and is urging American aid of European defenses. He is also hinting at a likely détente with Moscow once the war ends. The Netherlands’ outgoing prime minister, Mark Rutte, likely the next NATO secretary-general, has suggested the same. One might ask if Europeans have yielded not only security but also foresight.

Have they contemplated the possibility of defeat? After setbacks in the early stages of the war, President Putin seems to have addressed much of his military’s weaknesses. The military has built tiered fortifications to hold won territory. It has learned to jam American-made Himars systems. Some 3.5 million Russians, 2.5 percent of the population, now work in the military industry. This has given Moscow a sizable advantage in arms production.

Russia currently produces double the number of artillery shells a month as Europe and America combined. Operation Steadfast Defender, meant to display Europe’s military prowess, has done the reverse. This month, Britain’s lead aircraft carrier, His Majesty’s Ship Queen Elizabeth, was set to head NATO exercises off Norway. Its propeller shaft broke. HMS Prince of Wales, which took its place, sailed late due to mechanical faults.

The Baltics lack missile systems to protect their airspace. Estonia was assured an air defense battery at the Vilnius Summit last year but has yet to receive it. All systems have been dispatched to Ukraine. As has all of Denmark’s artillery. Should Moscow’s continued militarization of its 1,500-mile border with the Baltic states and Finland escalate, Copenhagen and Tallinn would likely have to ask President Zelensky for their weapons back.

A seeming lack of European seriousness obtains over what are serious global threats. Mr. Putin could push on, aided by Communist China, which has a vested interest in undermining Europe’s security architecture. Meanwhile, Iran-sponsored Houthi attacks in the Red Sea could further cripple the region’s economies, while mass migrant flows destabilize its societies. Still, some European officials doubt the odds of future conflict.

Which brings us to the Atlantic alliance. Why should America prioritize European security if Europe fails to do so? Why continue to provide security assurances if Europe’s leaders use them as a reason not to strengthen their own capabilities and willingly invite adversaries like China, which subvert them? The issue goes beyond budgetary limits and summit handshakes. It demands a grand strategy of defined ends and related means.

Yet beyond superficial claims of “strategic autonomy,” Europe does not seem to have one. This must change if the transatlantic alliance is to, indeed, remain an alliance. America wants partners in Europe, not indifferent beneficiaries. Europeans must at last take responsibility for their security. They must carefully weigh the enduring implications of their foreign relations, and adjust accordingly. This doesn’t mean blindly standing with America.

Standing somewhere, though. Across Europe, NATO troops are now testing whether they can achieve what the alliance was set up to do. General Christopher Cavoli, who commands its military operations, has a plan. Yet whether Europe has the will and ability is unclear. Absent a strategy, also unclear is the endgame. Defeat Vladimir Putin — yet how, and what next?