NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has issued a message to US Republicans who are promising to cut support for Ukraine in the election: it will only strengthen China.
Stoltenberg underscored his point in a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO this week, in which the military alliance chief emphasized America’s long-term presence in Europe and broad increases in defense spending.
“The presence of the United States, but also Canada, in Europe is essential to the strength and reliability of that transatlantic relationship,” Stoltenberg said.
Still, there is concern in political circles that a more restrained US may be on the horizon. The upcoming US midterm elections could tip control of Congress against Republicans, empowering a rising, MAGA-friendly group of Republicans who have sought to cut US President Joe Biden’s military aid to Ukraine.
Stoltenberg warned that Kiev’s recent battlefield gains would not have been possible without the support of NATO allies. And he appealed to the heightened anti-China sentiment that exists in both major US political parties.
A victorious Russia, he said, “would be bad for all of us in Europe and North America, all of NATO, because it would send a message to authoritarian leaders – not only Putin, but also China – that using brutal means. they can achieve their goals through military force.”
However, Stoltenberg expressed optimism that the United States will not soon disappear either from Europe or from Ukraine. Indeed, a contingent of more established Republicans supported Biden’s repeated requests to send money and weapons to Ukraine.
“I am confident,” said the NATO leader, “that even after the end of the mid-term term in Congress – in the House of Representatives and in the Senate – there will still be a clear majority for continued strong support for Ukraine.”
Difficult decisions await
The tense debate is the result of a troubling reality: Russia’s war in Ukraine looks set to drag on for months as the budget tightens and the economy collapses.
In Washington, this debate is intensifying ahead of November 8. scheduled elections. A chorus of conservatives is increasingly unwilling to allocate large sums of aid to Ukraine. Since the start of the war, the United States has pledged more than $17 billion in security aid to Ukraine, far more than Europe has pledged combined.
Stoltenberg said he was confident that Washington would continue to help Ukraine “partly because if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will win in Ukraine, it will be a disaster for Ukrainians.
But he also highlighted the relationship with China at a time when Beijing is uppermost in the minds of many American policymakers, including some of the same conservatives who have raised questions about the scale of aid to Ukraine.
The Biden administration recently described China as America’s “most significant geopolitical challenge” in its national security strategy.
And the document clearly singles out China above Russia in the long term: “Russia poses a direct and persistent threat to the regional security order in Europe and is a source of disruption and instability around the world, but it lacks the full range of capabilities” for China.
Still, the collision of Russia’s protracted war in Ukraine, US domestic political pressure and Beijing’s growing focus is reviving a long-standing debate over burden-sharing within NATO.
in 2014 NATO allies agreed to “seek that by 2024 2 percent would be allocated to defense. its economic output. With that deadline approaching and the realization that military threats are only increasing, leaders are grappling with what comes next. Will they increase the target number? Have they formulated spending goals differently?
“I hope that NATO allies will make a clear commitment to invest more in defense at next year’s summit in Vilnius,” said Mr. Stoltenberg, noting that “it is too early to say” what exact language NATO allies will agree to.
NATO allies themselves have taken different views on China, with some still taking a much softer line than Washington.
Stoltenberg acknowledged these differences. But he insisted the alliance had made progress against Beijing, highlighting NATO’s decision earlier this summer to clearly name China as a challenge in its long-term strategy document.
“It’s important that NATO allies stand together and deal with the consequences of China’s rise – and that we agree, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
But while the Allies agreed to “deal” with China’s rise, they were at a loss as to who should pay for the effort. Some US lawmakers, academics and experts are advocating for Europe to take the lead in managing local security challenges so that the US can focus more on the Indo-Pacific region.
Daniel Hamilton, a US State Department official during the 1990s wave of NATO expansion, calls it “Europe’s greater strategic responsibility.” That approach, added Hamilton, now a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University, would involve European allies providing “half the forces and capabilities” needed for “deterrence and collective defense against Russia” within 10 years.
Some experts say that Europe’s allies are simply too comfortable relying on Washington.
“European NATO members have over-promised and under-delivered for decades,” said Harvard University professor Stephen Walt, a renowned scholar of international affairs. The Europeans, he said, “will not make a sustained effort to rebuild their defense capabilities if they can expect the United States to rush to their aid at the first sign of trouble.”
Over the next decade, Walt added, “Europe should assume primary responsibility for its own defense, while the United States focuses on Asia, moving from Europe’s ‘first responder’ to its ‘last ally.’
Stoltenberg rejected such a strict division of labor.
Disconnecting North America from Europe “is not a good model because it will reduce the strength and reliability of the connection between North America and Europe.”
But he has relied on NATO allies in Europe, which will include much of the continent west of Russia once the membership of Finland and Sweden is confirmed, and will continue to increase their defense spending.
“I firmly believe that European allies should do more,” he said, adding that he had “worked hard” to address the issue. “The good news,” he noted, “is that all allies and European allies have stepped up and are now investing more.”
However, simple math shows that Europe is nowhere close to holding its own.
“The reality is that 80 percent of NATO’s defense spending comes from non-EU allies,” Stoltenberg said. The alliance’s ocean-spanning, multi-continental arrangement also “makes clear that you need transatlantic ties and you need allies outside the EU to protect Europe”.
“But most importantly,” Stoltenberg emphasized, “it’s about politics – I don’t believe in Europe alone, I don’t believe in North America alone.”