European Western Balkans

NATO will continue to be responsible for the defence of Europe

Official Family Portrait of the 2023 NATO Vilnius Summit; Photo: NATO

ROME – The idea of a sovereign Europe capable of defending itself is dead and the future lies in security cooperation between NATO and the EU. In order for the Euro-Atlantic relations to be “Trump-proof”, Europeans need to put their money where their mouth is and continue increasing defense spending.

These were some of the conclusions of the first session of the conference “NATO 2023: Balancing Priorities after the Vilnius Summit” organized by the NATO Defence College Foundation and held on Friday.

Karl-Heinz Kamp, Associate Fellow of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, assessed that the EU had proven to be very united in implementing sanctions and supporting Ukraine, hence it had become a key security policy player, but not a military player.

According to him, the idea of a sovereign Europe is dead, because the Eastern Europeans do not want it – they prefer to maintain cooperation with NATO.

In this context, Euro-Atlantic relations are important, but they are also unpredictable, because Donald Trump or one of his ideological successors may return to power and pursue isolationist foreign policy. Therefore, as Kamp said, Europeans need to neutralize Trump’s argument that the US is shouldering the entire defense burden in NATO by increasing their defence spending.

Eric Terzuolo, Lecturer at the School of International Service of American University in Washington, pointed out that, by this year, 11 member countries of NATO have reached the target of 2% GDP spending on defense, which is a significantly higher number than when this target was first set in 2014. Additional members of NATO are closing in on the target.

“We are not yet where we need to be, but we are getting there”, Terzuolo said.

Despite this, Roberto Menotti, Editor in Chief of the Aspenia online, pointed out that the majority is not persuaded that NATO is spending the money the best it can. He described the persuasion efforts by NATO as necessary, but also as a constant struggle.

As pointed out by the moderator of the discussion, Oana Lungescu, Distinguished Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, Russia itself is planning to further increase its military spending to almost 6% of GDP, while China has brought forward its target of becoming the world-class world power to 2029.

This is the international context in which NATO is operating and the geopolitical competition that it is facing, Lungescu said.

Karl-Heinz Kamp is certain, however, that, regardless of how this war ends, Russia will face an unprecedented decline – economically, politically, and militarily. Meanwhile, there will be no cooperative China for years to come, but a rivaling power.

The panelists also discussed to what extent Zeitenwende, the change of German foreign and defense policy, actually took place after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

According to Kamp, there is wide support for Ukraine in the German parliament, from left to right, and the Zeitenwede was made lasting because it had been proclaimed by a left-wing government. He said that the change of German policy was greater than he had expected, but he does not know whether it was enough.

Camille Grand, Distinguished Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Brussels, said that comparing today’s Germany to the Germany of 10 years ago shows a tectonic change.

Grand, however, remarked that there is a wish in Germany to “return to normal” at some point in the future, meaning to how things were before the war.

“This won’t happen”, Grand concluded.

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