Russia’s war with Ukraine unites Europe

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to reporters at a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization March 24 in Brussels.


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Vladimir Putin hoped to disrupt the European status quo with his attack on Ukraine. Increasingly, it appears that the main consequence will be to amplify them. President Biden may have ventured across Europe last week, but Putin’s awkward behavior has removed any doubts European leaders may have had about the value of the transatlantic alliance. Worse for Russia, Putin’s war is making Germany more powerful, active and Atlantic, a combination likely to bolster American power and erode Russian influence in Europe for years to come.

To call Germany the winner in Putin’s war against Ukraine would be going too far. The war turned on its head the assumptions on which Germany’s energy and security policies had long rested, forcing Germany to make tough decisions it preferred to avoid. Angela Merkel’s Germany dreamed that its businesses could thrive indefinitely while a great green energy transition rippled painlessly through an ever-democratizing, ever-disarming world. Thanks to the war, German business is rethinking its relations with China and Russia. The military plans to increase spending and energy policies are shifting from climate first to safety first to reduce dependence on Russian imports.

The implications of these changes for Germany’s place in Europe and Europe’s role in the world will be profound. Assuming Berlin keeps its promise to increase defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product, Germany is on track to become both the European Union’s military and economic powerhouse. France will remain the only nuclear-armed EU member and will likely be better positioned to engage outside the EU than Germany, but Berlin’s growing conventional military power will inevitably shift the balance of EU domestic politics further towards Germany.

there is more Managing a massive refugee program, providing economic support to Ukraine after a devastating war, and building the strength of frontline states are generational tasks that will occupy European decision-makers and drain Europe’s economic resources for years to come. The EU enlargement process had stalled in recent years as some member countries worried about the cost of admitting new members and others feared that growing membership could make it more difficult to make timely decisions and the prospects of a could limit deeper and stronger union. Those concerns remain, but the need to foster economic and political stability on the EU’s eastern flank will likely make it harder to resist enlargement as more EU money flows east.

All of this makes Germany’s role as the EU’s central ruler – balancing the conflicting agendas of the thrifty North, the vulnerable East and the indebted South – more important than ever to Europe’s future. This will likely be good news for American strategists, who have long hesitated between two scenarios for Europe’s future. On the one hand, almost everyone in the world of American foreign policy wants Europe to become militarily stronger, as this would help stabilize the region while reducing the cost of European security to the US. On the other hand, a Europe so powerful that it no longer needs American protection could become a political and economic rival in ways Americans would not always welcome. The German awakening suggests that we will soon see a Europe that is both stronger and less Gaullist than most believed possible prior to Putin’s invasion.

Germany’s attitudes toward European independence and American power are complex. Germans don’t always see the world the way Americans do, and the election of Donald Trump has significantly increased German skepticism about American reliability and strategic competence. But strong transatlantic ties are helping cement Germany’s place in Europe. The American military presence in Europe reassures countries like Poland, which might otherwise fear a German rearmament, even if NATO’s security guarantee inspires far more confidence than EU security guarantees ever could.

But Germany will not turn its back on Brussels or Paris. Germany needs the EU for both economic and security reasons, and the commitment to a deep relationship with France remains embedded in German political culture and strategic thinking. Berlin will deepen defense cooperation with Paris even as it strengthens its Atlantic ties. Presumably one aspect of this will be that much of the new defense budget will ultimately involve joint ventures with French and other European arms manufacturers.

Mr Putin wanted a weaker Europe, increasingly separating itself from the US. It looks like he’s getting the exact opposite. Mr. Putin’s war seems, so far at least, to be fostering the emergence of a Europe that is militarily stronger and more closely linked to the US than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

Wonderland: Vladimir Putin is a modern day Adolf Hitler and he is trying to exterminate the Ukrainian people. But while Europe tries to reform itself, the American President is not stepping in. Images: Reuters/AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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