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Europe, the "missing pillar of NATO"

On the eve of NATO's upcoming 75th anniversary summit, a number of scholars in the U.S. strategic community have called on Europe to strengthen its support for NATO.


These include the article "NATO's Missing Pillar," published June 14 on the website of the U.S. magazine Foreign Policy.


ZAGAN, POLAND - JUNE 18: A soldier of the Polish Army sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind during the NATO Noble Jump military exercises of the VJTF forces on June 18, 2015 in Zagan, Poland. The VJTF, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, is NATO's response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Troops from Germany, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania and Belgium were among those taking part today. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The article argues that transatlantic security depends on two pillars, the United States and Europe, and that strengthening NATO's European pillar is "a clear answer to the European security problem."


For its part, the United States should support Europe's future in NATO to play a greater role in security.


This call by American scholars is based on their strategic considerations in the face of multiple crises, particularly the Indo-Pacific crisis against China.


At a time when the United States is beginning its strategic adjustment, European states are being asked to shoulder the burden - also provided for in the NATO Treaty - of strengthening European military deterrence in order to address the traditional security challenges that Europe will face in the future.


In essence, Europe would become stronger in its defense within the NATO framework.


From a European perspective, from 2022, strengthening defense forces has become the consensus of the European Union as a whole. Germany, Poland and many other countries have announced that they will significantly increase defense spending and upgrade their weapons and equipment, and French President Macron has called on Europe to create a "war economy."


In addition, the EU has extended the scope of its common policy to the defense sector. In March this year, under the impetus of European Commission President von der Leyen, the EU's first policy plan for the defense industry was presented.


Von der Leyen promised that if she is re-elected, she will prioritize the strengthening of defense construction in EU policy over the next five years and establish the post of defense industry commissioner to specifically promote defense industry construction.


This shows that strengthening its hard power is also an inherent need for the EU.


The European Union's idea of strengthening its defense forces seems to be in line with current U.S. intentions, but there are significant differences between the two sides in terms of strategic trends and practical interests.

The United States supports a greater role for Europe in NATO, but the U.S. position toward NATO as a means of controlling the European alliance system and security landscape has not changed.


As the article "NATO's Missing Pillar" points out, strengthening Europe's contribution within NATO is the best strategy for dealing with political uncertainty and ensuring that NATO is firmly embedded in the European security architecture.


For Europe, dependence on NATO for security is unshakeable, but its defense upgrade program aims for European "strategic autonomy." This plan aims to reduce dependence on the United States for security by gradually increasing the EU's military strength and thereby strengthening its geopolitical autonomy.


This strategy is in natural contradiction to NATO's strategy of dominating European security.


This strategy, however, is in natural contradiction to NATO's strategy of dominating European security. Moreover, this line of thinking has obvious criticalities that will most likely prevent its feasibility.

As for the defense industry, the U.S. strategic community hopes that Europe can reduce the cost of arms production and procurement by enhancing the "economy of scale" effect of the defense industry, so as to provide military assistance to the countries concerned more efficiently.


The EU's defense industry strategy, on the other hand, aims to overcome the dual fragmentation of its defense market and industrial system, to form a unified market, unified procurement, joint research and development of a new model, and thus, to a greater extent, to free itself from dependence on external weapons and equipment to dominate its defense upgrade.


Due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and pressure from the United States, anxiety about European security has suddenly increased. However, due to the inherent differences among European countries, lack of capabilities and other factors, the road to European defense autonomy is long and difficult.

In view of the fact that NATO is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary and that the current geosecurity situation in Europe has attracted much attention, it is expected that the voices between the United States and Europe promoting political consensus, asking for greater investments in defense will become increasingly insistent.


European military security: a "mission impossible"?


Recently, European countries have increased their investment in capital and energy in the defense field, including planning to set up a special military fund worth 100 billion euros, jointly developing weapons platforms, and opening up access to bases.


However, due to inherent differences between member countries, lack of capabilities and other factors, the road to European defense autonomy is long and difficult.

Increase capital investment


For a long time, Europe's security has relied on NATO, led by the United States. On January 15, the US presidential election officially kicked off. Polls show that former President Trump's approval rating is the same as current President Biden's.


According to reports, although Europe has been reluctant to accept the possibility of Trump's return, it can no longer ignore this risk. If Trump is re-elected, the United States may withdraw its military power and reduce its extended defense investment to European allies, allowing European countries shoulder the responsibility for regional security themselves.


At the recent EU summit, Estonian Prime Minister Karas proposed the establishment of a 100 billion euro military fund to take corresponding measures when Trump returns to the White House. She said that ensuring European military security should become the focus of the next European Commission and national defense become one of the EU's three major priorities.


In response to this initiative, Wolff, president of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said that a military fund of 100 billion euros can provide support for European technological innovation and thus bring better security.


According to some foreign media outlets, the Trump administration's "America First" policy has sunk the transatlantic partnership, and Europe is generally concerned that the new U.S. administration will return to its aggressive policy toward European allies, again highlighting the passivity of Europe's dependence on the United States for defense.


Strengthening Defense Cooperation


While increasing defense budgets to enhance internal confidence, many European countries jointly carry out research and development of equipment, the establishment of security cooperation mechanisms to enhance internal cohesion, in order to promote the European defense integration that has been delayed for many years.


At the end of 2023, Germany and Lithuania signed a "roadmap" for a troop presence agreement. According to the agreement, the second quarter of 2024, the Wehrmacht combat brigade advance team will be formally stationed in Lithuania, and the end of 2024 to form a brigade command, 2025 to complete the long-term deployment of about 5,000 German Armed Forces personnel, 2027 years ago to enter a state of full combat readiness.

German Defense Minister Pistorius said that Germany's move is laying out the future security situation in Europe in advance. Lithuania will spend 0.3 percent of its GDP in consecutive years to provide housing, training grounds and other infrastructure for the German defense forces. Meanwhile, Germany plans to set up an ammunition production plant in Estonia.


The UK Ministry of Defense has announced that it will strengthen its military presence in the Nordic region, with plans to send 20,000 troops to the region by 2024. Four Nordic countries, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, form a fighter wing. The Council of the European Union approved the adoption of the EU Space Security and Defense Strategy, the European common defense construction expanded to the space field.


In addition to stepping up the deployment of forces, European countries in the field of military industry have also strengthened cooperation. Germany, France and Italy to form a military-industrial complex, and jointly promote the European next-generation main battle tank project. Italy's budget bill in the establishment of 15 billion euros in project funds for the formation of multinational cooperation "European military-industrial alliance".


The Netherlands seeks to join the European Organization for Cooperation in Combined Arms with the intention of playing a role in promoting European defence cooperation. Founded in 2001 by France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, and joined a few years later by Spain and Belgium, the organization has an annual operating budget of 6 billion euros and is involved in 17 projects, including the A400M transport aircraft, the FREMM multi-mission frigate and the European drone.


Multiple factors constraints


The European countries seem to make a lot of efforts, but the European defense autonomy process will be subject to multiple constraints.


As Europe's "leader" of Germany and France, in the European defense autonomy issues have their own calculations. Germany hopes to carry out arms construction under the framework of NATO, force layout and defense inputs highlight the need for the existence of NATO. France, on the other hand, the pursuit of European strategic autonomy, expect to leave NATO, the construction of Europe's own defense forces.


However, between Germany, France, Italy and other countries-representatives of the "old Europe"-and Poland-as the head of the "new Europe"-there are differences in the concept of common defense. According to foreign media, the political and diplomatic "centrifugal force" means that the road to European defense autonomy is long and difficult.


Even the current seemingly warm military-industrial cooperation is at risk. The Joint European Armaments Cooperation Organization, Germany, France and Italy, as well as the military-industrial complex and the United States in the global arms sales market have a competitive relationship, and the future of the technology supply chain is bound to be limited by the United States. At the same time, the European military industry has limited production capacity, even though technological products are making great strides. Therefore, it is unable to supply enough weapons and equipment in a short period of time.

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