TAG Virtual Conference: What does the US Need from its Allies?

By Julian Lindley-French

Virtual Conference on October 5th, 2023

“It is time for Europeans to take on far more strategic responsibility. Europeans must not get
into a position where their defence depends entirely on who’s running the US”.

The debate considered the near-term in Ukraine and the medium to longer term both in Europe and beyond. What contention there was concerned the extent of the US need and how quickly the Allies would realise the status quo ante is dead.  The US is “entering a sea of political turmoil” and it is indicative of a much deeper split over America’s role in the world and the possible return of American isolationism.  It is a crisis with profound implications for America’s role in Ukraine and for the US as the indispensable power for European security and defence. The most pressing American need is for Europeans to undertake far more of the military aid to Ukraine in the short-term. NATO is facing a “crisis of strategic policy” that must be addressed by the 2024 Washington Summit because the “US is stretched too thin” and Europeans lack the necessary defence ambition. Therefore, Europeans must also take on far more strategic responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa and seek closer pol-mil ties with Asian democracies to help deter China.

Given the political, strategic, and military pressures on the US world-wide a “fantasy” US wish-list would include Europeans “hedging” in case a short-term cash flow crisis over the next six months halts US weapons transfers to Ukraine.; a “strong and united Europe” that engages Ukraine, as well as a Europe willing to furnish Ukraine with the weapons stocks it needs to stay in the fight.   Europeans should thus “re-prioritise” investment away from rebuilding Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure to military aid with the European Defence, Technological and Investment Base (EDTIB) and supporting supply chains reformed and adapted so that Europe becomes far “nimbler”. 

Over the medium to longer-term European Allies must fulfil all their commitments to NATO’s new Regional Defence and take on a greater share of the financial burden of European defence. Any such effort will require fulfilling the Defence Investment Pledge, meeting 50% of all NATO requirements to defeat Russia, radically reforming and improving the EDTIB, meeting all SACEUR’s force goals, realising all readiness and military mobility initiatives and strengthen the British and French nuclear deterrent. Interoperability will be vital and European forces need to be much more closely aligned with the US Universal Command Plan. 

The US must contend with four strategic adversaries in China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, whilst Europeans must only contend with Russia and Iran. In that light, Europeans should no longer ask what Europe needs to do to keep the US fully engaged in NATO, but what does Europe need to do to defend itself against these two potential enemies. The transatlantic partnership is changing and if Europeans want to keep Americans engaged, they must also show continued appreciation for US efforts. Political messaging matters. 

A transatlantic division of labour is emerging driven by increasingly Sino-centric US policy and the Russo-Ukraine War in Europe. However, there are some haunting parallels with Europe’s failure in the 1930s to realise the scale of the threat to Europeans and the strength of American isolationism. If the transatlantic relationship is to endure European leaders will not only need to show they feel America’s pain, but they will also need to demonstrate collectively they are willing to do something about it.

Julian Lindley-French

Photo Credit: Rosy Ko on Unsplash