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Roula Khalaf, editor-in-chief of the FT, selects her favorite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Europe’s fears of an isolationist America under a second Trump presidency are coming true. Donald Trump has yet to seal the Republican nomination for this year’s White House race and the presidential vote is several months away, but he is already working to undermine NATO and the security of its closest allies of Washington. On Saturday, Trump said he would encourage Russia to do “whatever it wants” if alliance members fail to meet the goal of spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. Even by his standards of electoral grandiloquence, this was an extraordinarily reckless statement.
With its assault on Ukraine, Russia has launched the most devastating war on European soil since 1945. It poses the greatest security threat to the alliance in decades. The United States still has tens of thousands of troops stationed in Europe. They are more at risk today than they were on Friday. If Trump is not colluding with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he is undoubtedly serving his interests.
NATO’s promise of mutual defense rests on the certainty that it will be respected more than on any legal obligation. Trump has broken that trust. Even doubling European military spending tomorrow would not fix the problem. Unfortunately, a growing number of Republican lawmakers agree with Trump on the limited value of alliances. This should worry all of America’s allies around the world. This will certainly encourage his enemies.
The only admirable thing about Trump’s message was its clarity. This is an unambiguous signal to Europeans that they must begin preparing to protect the security of their continent without U.S. involvement.
In truth, the alarm has been ringing for some time. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, European governments made sometimes significant commitments to increase defense spending and replenish depleted weapons stockpiles. Although encouraging, doubts remain in most countries as to how these increases will be sustained in the long term. Many capitals still appear to be in denial about the scale of investment needed in technology, in building defense industrial capacity, and in expanding their combat forces to deter Russian aggression.
Europeans need to start thinking about the unthinkable: how to plan a war without America. This requires a European pillar within NATO, with Europeans capable of providing the crucial military assets, such as heavy transport and intelligence, that only the United States currently possesses. It could also involve the EU using NATO resources to carry out missions other than peacekeeping. The EU should also play an increased role in promoting the joint development and procurement of weapons systems alongside other collaborative projects, perhaps under the auspices of an EU defense commissioner. The UK and other non-EU and NATO states must be closely involved. It’s been decades of work. But Europeans must show determination and resolve now, particularly to send a message to the Kremlin.
The first thing to do is to arm Ukraine. This must be the priority in the short term. Europe’s performance so far has been disappointing, despite the efforts of Germany and the European Commission in particular. Governments have been too slow to sign contracts and too timid to subsidize increased production capacity, particularly for artillery munitions. They must redeem themselves quickly. They must do the same for air defense and drones and share electronic warfare technology with Ukrainian forces. Perhaps such ambitions will win Trump over to the NATO cause, if he becomes president again. But Europeans cannot count on that. They must prepare for a new world in which they will take care of their own security.