Yves here. Note that concerns that Trump would reduce US support for Europe are long-standing, given his earlier demand that NATO members pay their full share of their 2% of GDP commitment to the security organization. The last time I looked, no NATO member aside from the UK did, and some of its contributions were funny-money-ish. But to try to thwart Trump, the US included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024, enacted on December 22, 2023, a provision barring the President from withdrawing from NATO absent a 2/3 vote of the Senate or a bill passed by both houses. Of course, a future President and a majority of one house of Congress could conspire to budget-starve NATO.
Admittedly, EU members have been making a lot of noise about increasing military spending in the light of the evil Russian bear mauling Ukraine and fear-mongering that Putin will soon be riding into Paris. But there are several problems. One is that higher energy costs due to the loss of cheap Russian gas have increased inflation and are deindustrializing Germany and (less often discussed) Italy, the two manufacturing powerhouses of Europe. That means lower growth and budget pressure when Eurozone members are committed to hairshirt spending limits. It specifically means sacrificing social spending in favor of arms. Deteriorating economic conditions for average citizens are typically accompanied by shifts in political sentiment to the right…which in the EU also means nationalist, as in NATO-skeptic.
Second and even more important, although still not sufficiently well recognized, is the US military is running on brand fumes. Russia is beating not just the US but also Europe….when the classic view of war is that the combatant with the bigger economy wins. Here, Russia is showing that it is the force with more manufacturing heft, given sufficient raw materials and manpower. But on top of that, Russia has demonstrated superiority in many important weapons categories, such as air defense, signal jamming, and hypersonic missiles. It has also very impressively been using Ukraine as a testing/learning ground, both for tactics and for armaments, and has been making improvements as the war is underway (for instance, upgrading some of its drones to be quieter and adding night vision capabilities). And of course, we now have the US demonstration of impotence in the Red Sea with its shelling of Houthis, which independent experts see as not even remotely able to inflict enough damage to get the Houthis to back down. And as many commentators have pointed out, an invasion would produce a worse version of Afghanistan (the Houthis would surely take out a lot of naval assets before any landing were to succeed).
As Alexander Mercouris pointed out in his Saturday talk, a more mature Administration would have chosen Plan C: call the Houthis’ bluff. Tell shippers to avoid the Red Sea. It would increase costs and transit time. This would not be the first time commercial carriers have had to go around the Horn of Africa. The Suez Canal was closed for five months, in 1956, due to the Suez Canal crisis, and then for 8 years after the 1967 Six Day War.
But even worse, as Andrei Martyanov explains in an important new post, the US is so mired in old-think as to be constitutionally incapable of recognizing that its current way of war is a guaranteed loser, and only a top-to-bottom restructuring around new doctrines (and then new strategies and tactics) could turn things around. As a small symptom, recall how during the great oversold Ukraine counteroffensive that the various leaks and sometimes even official statements talked about the apparent US one-trick pony, combined arms warfare (as if that was even being done then, given the lack of air support).
It is not just about manufacturing capacity–in theory the US may build, in the next 10+ years, some facilities to increase production of 155-mm shells or drones. But it will not be able to match industrial capacity of Russia in this respect….The issue here is not just quantity–the target impossible to reach due to utter destruction of US manufacturing base and an extremely complex supply chains for military production. This all is just the tip of the iceberg. The main body of the iceberg is a complete catastrophe that the US military doctrinal and, as a result, procurement development is.
I spoke about it for years–some gaps, such as in air defense or missilery the US will not be able to close, because as I type this, this gap continues to grow. It is measured not in years but in generations. This is, as an example, the result of misguided and illiterate approach to air defense based on… air power. You have to literally undo the whole thing, and this requires not just building some facilities, but a complete rethinking of America’s defense or, rather, “offense” philosophy which doesn’t work….The US has no courage, intellect and will to do so because it leads to a destruction of America’s mythology….
After the US strategically and operationally “planned” VSU’s “counteroffensive”, the question of the competence of the US military establishment arose and was answered–it is incompetent! …Russia will not allow the US to unleash the war in Europe while thinking that the US can sit this one out again behind the ocean. Doesn’t work like this anymore, especially with the construction tempo of Russia Navy’s subs such as 3M22 Zircon carriers Yasen-class subs and frigates which already have Zircons deployed. These are technologies the US simply doesn’t have and are nowhere near of getting them. China can rely on them, and much more from Russia in case of the US deciding to commit suicide, the US cannot.
Now to the main event:
By Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts. Originally published at InfoBRICS
According to a recent POLITICO news report, during the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, then US President Donald Trump told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in a private meeting, the following: “you need to understand that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and to support you, and by the way NATO is dead, and we will leave, we will quit NATO.” Trump said so according to Europe’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, who was also there, with von der Leyen and former European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan. Breton is quoted as adding: “it was the president of the United States of America — he may come back. That was a big wake up call … So now more than ever, we know that we are on our own, of course.” The context of such a story is Thierry Breton pitching vast investments for the European defense industry – after all, he reasons, the clock is ticking and, referring to Trump, “the potential candidates remind us that we must take care of EU’s defense by ourselves.”
Breton, who is also responsible for the European Union’s defense industry, wants to increase the European Defence Investment Programme (EDIP) to €3 billion – €1,5 billion have already been earmarked. Such is expected to be proposed alongside the European Defence Industry Strategy (EDIS). In the long-term, however, Breton aims for a huge €100B defense fund.
Breton favors such vast investments to increase the EU’s defense industry production capacity in order to de-risk their investments, in the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The “bad news” (to some) is that the current confrontation might end sooner than expected, with top figures in the Western Establishment calling for a “land-for-peace deal”, while Russian and Ukrainian generals are reportedly negotiating peace, “with or without Zelensky.”
Europe’s continental defense, in any case, needs more than just billions of euros, though: the block lacks a common legal and bureaucratic framework. Moreover, there simply is no common EU defense market. Of course, with the political will, all of that can arguably be arranged, in terms of policy framework, legislation, and agreements – albeit not quickly (it would require intense European coordination). However, there is a baser problem, of a more material nature, namely deindustrialization. That too could be solved, right? Or could it?
As I wrote before, for Western Europe, “re-arming” itself would require re-industrializing itself, something which, ironically, the US has opposed time and again. In fact, whenever Europeans try to articulate an industrial policy, Washington steps in. As Sophia Besch (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow) and Max Bergmann (former member of the US Policy Planning Staff) wrote March last year, when the EU made its plans for new weapons systems and for a European Defense Fund public, then US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (under Trump), strongly objected and heavily lobbied for American companies “to have access to the paltry EU funds”. This has by no means changed with the current Joe Biden’s administration, which has worked hard to maintain American access to the continent’s defense market.
The whole European (huge) subsidy initiative being discussed since November 2022, in fact, emerged in the context of a subsidy war, to counter Joe Biden’s subsidies package which was basically aimed at wiping out the rival European industry. So much for trans-Atlantic friendship and partnership! The North American-European “disconnect” extends to energy interests, as I have written – and to Ukraine’s conflict itself, which greatly harms post-Nord Stream Europe while benefiting American weapons manufacturers.
It is no wonder then that Emmanuel Todd (French anthropologist, political scientist and historian at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in Paris), one of France’s main intellectuals, has just declaredthat “the disappearance of the United States would be the best thing that could happen to Europe.”. He adds: “once the United States agrees to withdraw from their empire, from Eurasia and all those regions where they maintain conflicts… Contrary to what people think – people say ‘what will become of us when the US no longer protects us?’ – we will [actually] be at peace!”
One should keep in mind that France itself (under general Charles de Gaulle) did withdraw from NATO’s so-called integrated military structure in 1966 and even expelled all of its headquarters and units on French territory. And it in fact took 43 years for Paris to change its course: it was President Nicolas Sarkozy who ended his country’s “estrangement” from the organization in 2009.
Today, as the idea of “strategic autonomy”, promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron, gains momentum in Western Europe, some wonder whether Paris and Berlin could lead the continent towards such autonomy – and away from its Atlantic “ally”. It is still a far shot.
Since the aftermath of WWII, Europe has relied on Washington for security, while relying, at least up until 2022, on Moscow for gas. Such has been the latent geostrategic-geoeconomic contradiction within the European bloc and such is the European tragedy, so to speak
To recap, Europe needs reindustrialization. To accomplish that, it needs Russian energy sources. Trading links pertaining to oil and gas are, after all, largely dictated by geography and not mere political will. The hard truth is that Russian-European energy cooperation was always a mutually beneficial strategic matter for these two parties. The US agenda in turn has been to disrupt any such Eurasian cooperation, and, as an example of how far Washington is willing to go to pursue that, the shady circumstances of Nord Stream’s explosion speak volumes. This, mind you, is no “conspiracy theory”: according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, there is good reason to believe the Americans did it, as Joe Biden himself had promised last year, on on February 7: “If Russia invades … there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”
While Western media focus on Russia being a “threat” with an “imperial” appetite that could pose dangers to Western Europe itself, American political scientist John Mearsheimer writes that “Russia and Ukraine were involved in serious negotiations to end the war in Ukraine right after it started on 24 February 2022 … everyone involved in the negotiations understood that Ukraine’s relationship with NATO was Russia’s core concern… if Putin was bent on conquering all of Ukraine, he would not have agreed to these talks.” The main issue, of course, has always been NATO expansion.
All things considered, as Arnaud Bertrand, a French entrepreneur and commentator on economics and geopolitics, argues, it would be tempting to assume the former US President handed the EU its strategic autonomy “on a silver platter” – that is, if Thierry Breton’s story about Trump in Davos is to be believed. In this scenario then, it would seem, as Bertand puts it, that the Europeans leaders in turn begged Trump to just remain “vassalized”.