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The War in Ukraine Has Already Changed Europe

Artillery
M109 Paladin. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Almost seven months into the war in Ukraine, politicos still seem slow to catch on to the monumental changes wrought by Putin’s ill-considered – not to say disastrous – invasion of the country. Ukraine’s staunch resistance, especially its defeat of Russia’s initial effort to capture Kyiv, has set in motion a foundational transformation of European security.  It has shifted the Continent’s center of gravity from the West to North-Central Europe and begun the process of returning NATO back to its roots as a defense alliance. The United States’ early decision to stop Putin’s neo-imperial reconquest of former Soviet lands by backing up Ukraine’s fight for continued sovereignty and independence has forced Europe to revisit the fundamentals of national security that it sought to avoid for the three post-Cold War decades. In the case of Germany, it has prompted a wholesale rejection of over two decades of policy vis-à-vis Russia, and if Berlin’s resolve holds, potentially a total re-definition of German strategic culture. 

Equally significant is the rise of Poland as America’s key European ally in this crisis and the key NATO frontier state assisting Ukraine. Coupled with steadfast support for Ukraine from countries across the entire Eastern flank bordering Russia – save for Viktor Orbán’s Hungary – plus the impending entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO, the course of this war has shifted the alliance’s center of gravity East. Poland’s ongoing rearmament program – Warsaw is buying large amounts of weapons and equipment from the United States and South Korea as well as placing additional orders with its own defense industry – will soon put the country’s defense spending at 5% of GDP, way ahead of the NATO-wide 2% requirement.

Once in NATO, Finland and Sweden will bring to the alliance additional real exercised military capabilities. Most importantly, what is not often discussed today is that Ukraine has arguably the most capable military in all of Europe, save for the US forces deployed here. This is evident in its military’s ongoing successful drive into the South and East where it has recaptured portions of its national territory.  Adding to this, the capabilities of other NATO members along the Eastern flank, including the Baltic States, Romania, and Bulgaria, European states in the intermarium across from Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea, and down to the Black Sea are eclipsing the perennial NATO talk of burden-sharing. Instead, they are offering America an emerging paradigm of burden-transferring when it comes to conventional deterrence and defense in Europe, with the United States providing the nuclear umbrella and high-end enablers. 

The potential transformative impact of this sea change on Europe’s security and defense will have a wide-ranging impact on U.S. interests and security commitments globally. The rearmament of NATO’s flank countries and their staunch commitment to working with the United States is creating the requisite conditions that, with each passing year, will lower the relative burden on US power to defend Europe, allowing us to shore up our defenses in Asia to deter China. In fact, Ukraine’s determined resistance to Russia is dismantling the two-frontier trap – one in Europe, the other in the Indo-Pacific – which Russia and China have long hoped to set for the United States. While this aspect of the war has been largely absent in US policy discussions, it needs to be put front and center. What it reveals is that America’s continued support for Ukraine is not a distraction as its “Asia first” critics would have it but, in fact, an intelligent strategy that, at a relatively low cost, is fundamentally shifting the power equation in both Europe and Asia. Here Kyiv’s determination to fight on until victory is continuing to degrade the Russian military in a way that lowers the threat that Putin will be able to pose to Europe in the coming years, thereby freeing America’s resources to address the rising Chinese threat in Asia. This is a crucial point. It ought to be articulated in our public debate. 

RGW-90 rocket launcher

RGW-90 rocket launcher in Ukraine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The situation in Europe remains fluid, but one thing is clear: the last twenty-two years of Putinism in Russia have amply shown that unless the Russian military machine is stopped, Moscow will continue to rely on military power to press on for geopolitical advantage in Europe, making the prospect of a broader war on the Continent that much more likely. There can be no “freezing” of the war in Ukraine at this stage, for any peace deal with the combatants in place would amount to a victory for Putin. Only when the Russian army is unequivocally defeated in Ukraine, and in a way that makes the Russian people fully understand what happened and who pushed them into the war, will Europe be secure. Only then will Russia have a shot at burying its imperialism once and for all and becoming a modern state.  

A 1945 Contributing Editor, Andrew A. Michta is Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany.  He is also former a Professor of National Security Affairs at USNWC and a former Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis in DC. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government

Written By

Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies and a new Contributing Editor for 1945. He is the former Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College and former Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMichta. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. jens holm

    September 19, 2022 at 10:58 am

    Europe is indeed changed: everything is more expensive than ever. But we Europeans are ready to freeze and starve to death to support Ukro-MaidanISIS and their US masters. Our masters.

  2. Gary Jacobs

    September 19, 2022 at 11:27 am

    Jens Holm. Europe will neither freeze nor starve. Pure Putin-esque hyperbole. Europe has done a good job of filling up gas storage way ahead of schedule, and the grain ships are coming out of Ukraine with increasing frequency.

    Pretending that this is all the fault of the US, and that we are the ‘puppet masters’ is of course absurd. Eastern EU countries know all too well what it means to be ruled by Russia. They do not need the US to pull their strings.

    This article is quite spot on… and I would add that the EU has done a decent job of speeding up diversifying it’s gas supplies, and investing in hydrogen as a major source of future grid scale energy.

    A little bit of short term pain in the form of higher price will pay off with long term stability and security by breaking free of Russian extortion. Russia has already used energy as a weapon cutting off supplies in the dead of winter a few years ago.

    With every act of aggression Russia loses its place in the world family/economy, and its customers move to replace it with more reliable partners.

  3. Froike

    September 19, 2022 at 12:36 pm

    Jens…I don’t know under which Rock in Europe you live under. But my advice to you; take your Head out of Your Keester, you’ll get a much clearer view of The World.
    It takes a Twisted/Degraded mind to equate Ukraine with ISIS. This is a War of Good against Evil, Putin and his Followers are The Evil Side.
    If that isn’t clear to you, than you have no Moral Compass.

  4. Jon

    September 19, 2022 at 8:05 pm

    Russia will also need to be obstructed on the social and economic planes. They are making a full spectrum gambit for dominance, and have come up short on the military front. But, if it’s true that Putin believes that Russia must be one of a handful of global hegemons, and all other countries are but vassals, then he is a man in a hurry.

  5. Jacksonian Libertarian

    September 19, 2022 at 9:43 pm

    Ukraine is earning its place in the 1st World by destroying (with western smart weapons) the Russian military for a generation. While other Islamic Authoritarian countries will continue to be a smaller problem for Europe, America can now turn its focus to Communist China.

    Putin has made a massive strategic mistake, that has significantly weakened the Authoritarian Axis of Evil.

  6. Błażej

    September 20, 2022 at 12:43 am

    It would be necessary to go further and conquer Russia and divide it into zones where three or four countries would keep control. Just as it was done with the Germans.

  7. Yrral

    September 21, 2022 at 7:53 am

    European are reaping what they sowed,for their past support of Putin,the European are bunch chicken with their head cut off,cluck and strutting,while their sky is falling down ,lots of these NATO countries are third world abyss,not advanced like some Latin American countries,how can Albania, Romania, Bulgaria help the US in a war, ignorant American do not even know lots of these countries,do not even have NATO standard weapon

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