By Greg Pence
Putin has shown once again that Europe still has the potential for war, despite the devastating world wars. On February 24, despite all diplomatic efforts, the Kremlin chose the option of war and ordered a large-scale military operation throughout Ukraine. As Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine intensifies, Europe is once again the scene of a military confrontation that could continue to pose a serious threat to its stability and security on the scale of World Wars I and II.
Although Russia’s military operation in Ukraine may seem sudden and unexpected in the first place, it does have a political and security background. Ukraine’s determination to join NATO after five consecutive rounds of military expansion to the east has finally prompted Russia to react, fearing security tightening in its growing strategic space.
Earlier, at the end of 2021, Russia drew a red line calling on NATO to suspend the project of expanding the military alliance to the east and exclude Ukraine’s accession to the organization and stop deploying offensive weapons and military equipment in countries bordering Russia. Moscow’s ultimate goal was revising the deployment of NATO forces in Europe and setting it in the conditions determined in the 1997 NATO agreement with Russia. The West’s disregard for Moscow’s, of course, unconventional demands for Russian recognition of the independence of the two self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk eventually led to a full-scale invasion by the Red Army to occupy Ukraine.
Of course, the United States and Europe unanimously supported Zelinsky by sending military aid to Ukraine, imposing various bans and sanctions against Russia, and intensifying diplomatic activities against it. They also began to improve their energy security and defense capabilities. Some politicians and theorists, praising the swift action of the United States and Europe in supporting Ukraine, have seen this trend as a crystallization of the European collective spirit and a sign of a European geopolitical awakening. In their view, the Ukraine crisis, regardless of its devastating human and material consequences, is the powerful stimulus that has ultimately put hesitant and reluctant Europe on the path to realizing the long-held dream of “strategic autonomy and independence.”
In their view, the Ukraine crisis is a reaffirmation of the idea that in the face of the current fluid and dangerous world, Europe must act, not passively but actively, to build a peripheral world based on its own values and interests. According to these views, Europe should have received the message well that from now on, as an independent and leading power on the world stage, it should act with the same firm and coherent strategy.
But the fundamental question is whether the Ukraine crisis, as these European politicians and analysts optimistically think, is indeed accompanied by a geopolitical awakening in Europe and a move towards strategic autonomy, and a reduction in dependence on the outside world, especially the United States lead or, conversely, in the process of this conflict, will Europe become more and more dependent on the United States and at the end, the idea of strategic autonomy weaken or die? There is no doubt that Europe’s security structure has relied heavily on the United States since the end of World War II. American policymakers, in competition with their European counterparts, do not see Russia’s confrontation with Ukraine as a way to achieve strategic European autonomy, but as a unique opportunity to consolidate America’s dominant role in the new European security order, and to restore its faltering hegemony at the expense of their traditional allies.
The result of the continuing Ukraine crisis has been the growing US presence in Europe, the strengthening of NATO’s position, and the further strengthening of Europe’s security dependence on the United States. With the United States adopting a policy of escalating the crisis, Europe now finds itself on the brink of re-entering the cold and hot war, which it sought to avoid based on the teachings of strategic independence.
The Ukraine crisis has so far shown that in addition to enhancing the role of NATO and the United States in Europe, deepening differences and gaps over the need to pursue a strategy of strategic independence within the EU has further weakened proponents of European strategic independence. Has been. For example, since the accession of Eastern European countries to the European Union in the 2000s, we have always seen Eastern Europe confronting countries that support the pursuit of strategic autonomy led by Germany and France within the EU.
Eastern European countries have historically viewed Russia as an existential threat to themselves and Europe, from the dreaded Ivan to Lenin and Stalin and Putin, and are concerned that pursuing a policy of autonomy by Europe will ultimately reduce NATO and the United States’ presence in the continent. In Europe, they believe that they are the only deterrent against Russia. So far, they have automatically focused their efforts on restricting the pursuit of such a policy, rather than trying to establish a European collective defense mechanism. The escalation of the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons has clearly strengthened the group’s position within the union.
Contrary to the many devastating consequences of this war for Europe, the Ukraine conflict has brought significant positive gains to the United States. After decades of declining US military influence and catastrophic mistakes in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, Washington is now rapidly repairing its image as a free world leader and world policeman.
The United States has once again become the undisputed leader of Europe and NATO by engaging Europe in a military and security crisis. The Ukraine war helped the United States repair faults within its NATO budget. This war forced Germany to increase its military spending and to voluntarily stop developing the gas pipeline with Russia, and it is natural that from now on Europe will increase its dependence on American gas. The United States can even use the lever of the conflict to restore Turkey’s role in NATO or to persuade neutral countries such as Sweden and Finland to join the organization.
After the United States, the next big winner of the Ukraine war is undoubtedly NATO. After the key task of this military pact, which was defending against the Soviet Union in the 1990s, dashed away, the coalition once again sees itself as a valuable tool against the tyranny and coercion of the politics of international power. Less than a few months after Macron announced NATO’s brain death, NATO was revived, even for Macron.
By representing Russia as a threat to world peace, the United States has been able to revitalize NATO so that European NATO member states have voluntarily accepted US leadership in the face of this new threat and improved their military. This dramatic change came after decades of European countries’ refusal to devote a large share of GDP for military spending; as a result, NATO is becoming a stimulus to increase global arms production and sales. This is undoubtedly very good news for large companies, mainly American ones, which produce and sell weapons.