Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

European Security: Shifting Ground

| Mar. 06, 2019

As NATO enters its 70th year of existence the challenges to Europe’s security are as much in flux as are the appropriate answers to deal with them. Moreover, the framework of dealing with European security has extended beyond the present members of NATO and the EU as former members of the Soviet Union struggle to become democracies whose fate has therefore become a concern to the West.

Russia remains Europe’s main security threat, but different from the days of the Cold War. As the examples of Crimea’s annexation and Russian intervention in East Ukraine demonstrate, the threat has shifted toward indirect and hybrid warfare - also a sign that Russia has withdrawn from the very rules and institutions of the post-Cold War European order which it once helped to establish.

At the same time cyber security and threats to the vulnerable digital foundations of European societies have become a central challenge as has been amply demonstrated by Russia’s interference in US elections, a tool which is also available to Russia in Europe, supplemented by its support of extremist forces in West European domestic politics.

Nuclear security and arms control are brought back to center stage with the abrogation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (IMF) treaty by both the US and Russia after Russia had been violating its terms for a number of years. Moreover, for both Russia and the US the issue of such weapons is inherently linked to similar systems of other countries, notably China. How under these circumstances nuclear deterrence will be maintained and arms control restored is entirely open.

As the instability of the world outside Europe increases the consequences affect European security, be they the war in Afghanistan or the conflicts of the Middle East and North Africa. All of them are linked to the threat of terrorism or the inflow of refugees with their deep impact on European politics. Moreover, while Europe used to treat China’s rise as a welcome opportunity for trade and investment, it is now increasingly perceived as a problem for Europe’s security because China’s diplomacy interferes with European unity and pursues an assertive policy in Asia that rejects multilateralism.

Dealing with Europe’s security problems has been made more difficult by a number of developments. Foremost is President Trump’s nationalist policy that opposes multilateralism, doubts the value of traditional allies and even questions the assistance clause of Article V of NATO. At the same time the Administration, or more precisely the Department of Defense, has in fact re-enforced the American commitment to the defense of Europe with concrete steps of deployments without, however, eliminating deep concerns about America’s reliability.

The threats to European security and the growing feeling that the US may no longer be available to protect Europe have increased the conviction, as Chancellor Merkel put it, that “Europe must take its destiny in its own hands.” However, the European Union is still not speaking with one voice on security and is weakened by Brexit, internal divisions and euro-skeptic forces. European countries, notably Germany, have only partially responded to Trump’s justified demand to spend 2% of GNP on defense.

European-American cooperation, the bedrock of European security, has not only been weakened by differences on NATO, multilateralism and trade, but by disagreement on such a major undertaking as the nuclear deal with Iran. President Trump’s inclination toward unilateralism also undermines the potential for joint action on China, Afghanistan or any of the Middle East conflicts, let alone the problems of Ukraine and the long-term necessity to come to some viable security arrangement with Russia.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“European Security: Shifting Ground.” METRO U.N., March 6, 2019.

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