4th Dec 2023


Europe must Trump-proof its Ukraine arms supplies

  • Poland has increased military spending over €18bn in 2023 (Photo: Yarden Sachs)
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Moscow's military and nuclear threats will hang over Europe for decades, regardless of the security architecture we design.

As Russia becomes weaker — politically, economically, demographically, and militarily — it will get more dangerous and unpredictable.

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Even when peace has been achieved, the Russian menace will not disappear thanks to the political backing of China, which finds it suitable to have the Americans and Europeans engaged as it is trying to build "a new type of international relations" president Xi Jinping aspires to.

In such an increasingly dangerous geopolitical environment, Europeans must take every opportunity to strengthen alliances that provide meaningful help.

Military assistance supplied by the United States to Ukraine was impossible to attain at such scale and speed anywhere else in the world. In effect, the partnership between the US and Europe has been regenerated.

A transatlantic bond, however, is not a given.

The Pew Research Centre poll illustrates a drop in favourable views of the US in 11 out of 15 countries, including all European G7 members. In parallel, GMF's Transatlantic Trends 2023 noted a six percent drop in German reliability toward the US.

The prospects do not look much better on the other side of the Atlantic.

Presidential runner Donald Trump, who regards the EU as a "foe", embraces pro-Russian parties in Europe, and who called Russian president Vladimir Putin a "genius" following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, has a fair chance of returning to the White House.

The former president wants to establish "peace" within 24 hours. This most likely implies appeasement that would have fatal ramifications for Europe.

There seems to be not enough preparedness for such a scenario.

Despite the war happening on European soil, the military budgets of Western allies increased only marginally.

In February 2023, Germany decided to expand its defence budget by €10bn as of next year, while France announced an increase of €3bn next year.

The fact that the central and eastern Europeans increased military spending substantially (Poland over €18bn in 2023) will not make up for military shortfalls in other parts of Europe.

Strategic foresight has not been Europe's strong suit. It took the EU leaders around a year since the Russian invasion to start seriously talking about ramping up the military-industrial base.

This process still needs catching up.

Given all the risks, the scenario of Trump's comeback should become a central consideration for Europe. Even if the odds of the former president's return were 50/50, this is a reality Europeans must be ready for.

Can Europe do anything about it in such a short timeframe?

A doomed political and security scenario for Europe can be avoided if — before Trump comes to office — Europeans are ready to sustain military aid to Ukraine on their own, and for a significant time.

To this end, a European coalition of the willing should speed up short-term military supplies while increasing its arms production.

The idea would be to buy enough ammunition and weapons to stockpile before isolationism in the US returns to the stage.

In the first instance, purchases need to be made in the United States and later in other Nato allies, such as Canada.

What would be the merit of such an approach?

First: Europe would be more sovereign because it would be more affluent in military hardware and software thus better prepared to defend itself against ever more unpredictable Russia.

Second: A stockpile of arms and ammunition would allow Ukraine to continue a counteroffensive. This would buy invaluable time if Trump, Putin, or Xi were to dictate European security architecture.

Third: European democrats would strengthen their hand against autocrats, both abroad and at home.

Fourth: Europe's purchases could have a positive effect on American voters, who would see that military equipment "made in America" is being paid for by Europeans and helps American jobs.

Democratic leaders of Europe — French president Emmanuel Macron, British prime minister Rishi Sunak, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, or European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen — have 15 months to prepare for a doomed European political and security scenario.

Otherwise, the history of Europe — and their own — may not turn out that well.

Europe may not be a military superpower, but it is an economic power and can afford to help Ukraine win peace. As the Roman orator Cicero said, the sinews of war are infinite money.

Author bio

Paweł Karbownik is an economist, diplomat, and visiting fellow at Bruegel think tank in Brussels. He was an advisor to the European Council president in 2014-2019. Wojciech Przybylski is the editor-in-chief of Visegrad Insight and president of the Res Publica Foundation in Warsaw.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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