If ever there was a push for European strategic autonomy it was in the wake of the fall of Kabul last August. The false closure of a military operation of two decades of NATO in Afghanistan, it was supposed to be a communicating vessel to advance in a European mechanism that did not depend on the United States to save European citizens and Afghan collaborators before it fell into the hands of the Taliban.
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The failure of Afghanistan – like Libya before it, for example – which claimed thousands of lives and millions of dollars, fueled the idea that the European Union should have its own voice in the world, added ingredients to the purpose of the European Commission of being a geopolitical actor; a player, not a pitch.
But Vladimir Putin went through and his invasion of Ukraine, which, above all, has reinforced a NATO that was in the corner of thinking; to a military and geostrategic alliance born after the Second World War, whose primus inter pares he is the current tenant of the White House and has his own priorities in the world system, as can be seen at the Madrid summit. For example, in the inclusion of China as a challenge, something that worries Washington more than Europe; or the Indo-Pacific view, which responds more to US interests than European ones. Because, in the end, it’s not just about tanks and battalions, but about areas of influence, economy, trade, presence, energy flows, against Russia and China.
The invasion of Ukraine was preceded by Putin’s demands on NATO, not the EU. Previous meetings were between Russia and the US, without the EU in the room. And through NATO, soldiers, weapons and money are coming from the US to Ukraine and to the eastern flank of the Atlantic Alliance.
“Putin was looking for the Finnishization of Europe”, said the president of the United States at the summit of the Atlantic Alliance in Madrid“and will get the NATO-ization of Europe”. Biden’s phrase describes the geopolitical moment: the EU has mobilized 2,000 million euros in weapons for Ukraine through the so-called Instrument of Peace, it is providing financial aid so that the Ukrainian State subsists in its day-to-day activities and has promised aid to rebuilding the country while opening its doors by granting candidate status to Ukraine.
All of that is true. Even the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has managed to get the 27 to approve his strategic compass, which provides for a rapid action force of 5,000 soldiers and the joint purchase of weapons to optimize the defenses of the 27.
But, at the moment of truth, the United States has gone from 60,000 to 100,000 soldiers in Europe in six months. And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has announced that the Atlantic Alliance forces ready to deploy will increase from 40,000 to 300,000. Likewise, Biden has detailed an increase in the military presence in Europe, which includes the increase from four to six destroyers in Rota – which must be voted on in Congress and starts with the rejection of United We Can.
“Putin was looking for the Finnishization of Europe. He’s going to get the NATO-ization of Europe. It’s exactly what I didn’t want, but it’s just the right thing to do to ensure the safety of Europe,” Biden said.
But he has not been the only one to make that reflection. Not in vain, at this summit the doors have been opened to two new members, both members of the EU: Sweden and Finland, two countries that asked to activate article 42.7 of the EU treaties to activate mutual aid, but have ended requesting entry into the Atlantic Alliance.
The Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, said, Mariangela Paone reports: “It is an important moment for NATO because the Alliance is expanding and Europe’s presence is increasing, we have reached a correspondence between the European Union and NATO and therefore also many of the differences of opinion on the construction of a European defense, which is what we want, are overcome”.
The President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, stated, reports Irene Castro: “We are at a definitive moment for European security, we are talking about defining the work on which NATO is going to operate in the coming years. The specific weight of Europe as a political project is reinforced insofar as 40 years ago there were 16 allies, of which 11 were members of the EU, and now of the 30 members of NATO, 23 are members of the EU”.
NATO grows, expands, strengthens, expands, increases defense spending and, in the same way, weakens the hypothesis of the strategic autonomy of the European Union.