The Transatlantic Alliance’s Responsibility Crisis

The war in Ukraine has united the West in its capacity to provide the necessary financial, humanitarian, and military aid in a time of great need for a fellow partner. US and EU funding, along with provisions of unspecified military and intelligence assistance, ultimately prevented the swift collapse of the Ukrainian state that many geopolitical analysts forecasted prior and immediately after Russia’s invasion. However, as President Volodymyr Zelensky stated, there remains no room for overreaching optimism. Although Russia may appear on the backfoot, the war is ongoing and the US and European community must continue to support Ukraine in an equitable way in line with their respective interests.

The United States has thus far approved approximately $53.4 billion in funding for Ukraine including the recent Senate aid package approval. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German think-thank, G7 governments and EU nations along with their corresponding institutions provided $29 billion in aid to Ukraine. That amount will likely be increased by an additional €500 million from the EU with the recent announcement by Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell. Of note, the overall EU amount accounts for each nation’s bilateral contribution to the war, in addition to the bloc’s overall multilateral disbursement. With this context, the United States has contributed vastly more on a bilateral basis to Ukraine than the EU, and its underlying members, as a collective whole.

The United States and its G7 and EU counterparts must continue to provide sensible aid to the Ukrainians while maintaining independent resilience in the face of their respective geopolitical threats. Simply put, Europe needs the United States to preserve their shared interests by confronting their adversary of an imperialistic China, and the United States needs Europe to uphold its continental security to ensure the liberal international order’s economic vitality and institutional mechanisms. French President Emmanuel Macron has previously stated his intentions for bolstering an EU security architecture to better defend the continent. Europe must heed his ambition in overcoming its political fissures and lack of military cohesion to hold up its end of the post-World War 2 bargain with the United States. 

It is understandable to argue that Europe has absorbed the catastrophic effects of migration flows and undertook enormous burdens when considering humanitarian operations not accounted for in these figures. However, Kiel’s Ukraine Support Tracker shows the United States as the main provider of humanitarian funding to the crisis. In fact, its support is greater than all Western-leaning nations combined. This presents a valid question for the transatlantic alliance in its geopolitical strategy. Is the alliance acting in the most efficient way to secure the existence of its order?  

Geography is a curse. Yet, it is an infallible reality that nations must come to terms with. Notwithstanding its proximity to the first order effects of the war including migration, Europe will inevitably feel the second order effects of any potential food and energy crises before its US counterparts. The EU is already feeling the pain of nixing its dependence on Russian gas which will only intensify if and when the prospective ban on all Russian oil is implemented. The bloc also must contend with an increasingly unhinged Russian regime now threatening “military-technical” measures against EU partners Finland and Sweden for their desire to join NATO, as a direct result of Russia’s own aggression. Yes, the United States is already dealing with inflation and higher energy prices partially as a result of the invasion, but the long-term trajectory for Europe’s fate will be far worse than its neighbor across the Atlantic. The United States also has domestic energy capacity which Europe lacks, thus affording itself an additional economic defensive weapon if the Biden administration so chooses to ramp up production. 

In order to preserve the alliance’s strategic interests, the US must both maintain its position as an offshore balancer in competing with China while providing supplementary assistance to a Europe that is more unified than ever in world history despite its political fault lines. With that understanding and the current global environment, Europe must assemble its strengths to bear the responsibility for a larger stake of its economic and physical security. If the US-EU alliance is to survive, each participant must take responsibility for contributing to the strategic benefit of the whole, which should include EU members providing more bilaterally to the Ukraine conflict as a result of their geographic proximity to the threat. 

The United States’ military assurance to Europe is paramount to its survival and that pledge should never faulter. However, the quantitative analysis in the case of Ukrainian aid ultimately lends criticism to the structural issues of the transatlantic alliance’s shared costs. In its recent summit with ASEAN members, the Biden Administration offered a $150 million development package to its Southeast Asian partners. Although this signals an increase in US attentiveness to the region, this is a paltry amount compared to China’s comprehensive financial contributions. Strategic thinking requires allies to assess their position in the world vis-à-vis an approach that accounts for the current environment and an over-the-horizon perspective. Europe will need a strong US presence in the Indo-Pacific to ensure the alliance’s future stability, while the US currently requires its EU partners to ensure the physical and economic security of its continent.

[Image Credit: NATO]

*Brian W. Cag is an intelligence professional for the U.S. Government focused on East Asian and Eurasian issues.

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