Europe must act Ukraine to prevent the US from withdrawing | Popgen Tech
The state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Washington was intended to become a demonstration of transatlantic unity. Instead, Macron bluntly warned that US President Joe Biden’s promotion of trade subsidies could fragment the West.
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However, trade is not the only danger to transatlantic ties. Tensions over the war in Ukraine have eased since the US mid-term congressional elections, but could rise again if Europe continues to fall behind the US in providing financial and military support to Kiev. Europe cannot afford a split on this issue, while Ukraine’s – and its own – security is at stake. As the US prepares for the 2024 presidential race to begin, Europe must not take US support in this war for granted. The European Union and its members must step up their own efforts on behalf of Ukraine before a new crisis in transatlantic relations erupts.
The war in Ukraine
Through its diplomatic connections and financial and military assistance, the Biden administration has made it easy for European governments to follow rather than lead on Ukraine — and so far they have been comfortable doing so. That dynamic has revived long-standing frustration, especially among Republicans, over perceptions of European free-riding and fueled calls for more equitable burden-sharing. This will be easy fodder for Biden’s critics in the run-up to the 2024 election.
Ukraine has received more than $18.6 billion in security assistance and $13 billion in direct economic assistance from Washington since the February 24 Russian invasion. Some Republicans, including the potential speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, suggested that a Republican-controlled Congress will not support a “blank check” to Ukraine. Their ability to block aid packages backed by the Biden administration will be limited because of their weaker-than-expected showing in last month’s elections as well as divisions within the Republican caucus. But controversy over US aid to Ukraine will not go away anytime soon, especially as preparations for the 2024 presidential race heat up.
Although the war in Ukraine is not a high priority for American voters, former President Donald Trump, who announced his bid for re-election on November 16, was particularly critical of American support for Kiev. Aside from Trump, other would-be Republican candidates in 2024, and perhaps Democratic candidates should Biden choose not to run again, will be tempted to criticize the White House’s support for Ukraine at a time of high inflation and domestic economic problems. The Washington Post reported that Republicans are now seeking economic aid to Kiev, while maintaining or increasing military aid. They are also pressing the Biden administration for more oversight of arms deliveries to Ukraine, even as the administration aims to pass a $37 billion Ukraine aid package before Republicans take control of the House in January.
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This is where Europeans must step up their commitments if they do not want criticism of Europe’s limited support for Ukraine to become a significant strain on transatlantic relations. While some EU members and several other European states have made important contributions – as of early October, the UK has pledged around $7 billion, while Germany and Poland have pledged more than $3 billion – they have not done as much as they could , or as much as some in the US want. Should domestic politics in the US shift and limit Washington’s appetite for maintaining economic or military aid close to current levels, the onus to maintain support for Ukraine – and to protect the transatlantic relationship – will fall on Europeans.
The US has crucial interests in this war, including its commitment to NATO’s Article 5 collective defense guarantee in the event of escalation, and the need to limit Russian expansionism to focus on China. For now, it has been able to achieve its goals at a relatively low cost. Yet it is fundamentally a war not only in Europe’s environment, but in Europe itself. And if the war goes wrong, Europe’s security is at risk.
The war in Ukraine
Europeans need a more substantial plan to support Ukraine, not only to ensure their own security, but also to signal their long-term commitment and fend off criticism of European free-riding on Ukraine before the 2024 elections. Such a move would take the wind out of the sails of those on Capitol Hill who are calling for cuts to US aid to Ukraine and criticizing Europe for not doing enough. And by showing a willingness to do more for Ukraine now, Europe will lower the risk that the US will do less later.
First, the EU and its member states must announce that every dollar spent on the US side for Ukraine will be matched by a commitment on the part of EU institutions and member states to spend at least the same amount. This would be an important symbolic statement to demonstrate the EU’s commitment to fair burden sharing over the war in Ukraine. Currently, there is a gap: As of the beginning of October, the US has committed $53 billion, compared with about $30 billion by EU members and institutions, according to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker.
This gap must be closed on both economic and military support for Ukraine. In concrete terms, the EU should announce its intention to catch up with US funding over an accelerated timeframe. Washington and Brussels can channel this aid through a joint council where they commit to providing equal funding. Alternatively, the US and the EU could reach a burden-sharing agreement where the US commits to providing a greater share of military aid and the EU takes the greater share of economic aid in return.
The EU and its member states have various instruments at their disposal to facilitate an increase in support: The European Peace Facility, a fund to compensate member states for the military aid provided to Ukraine, has so far committed $3.2 billion connected This amount should be increased significantly to encourage members to give more. Financial aid for Ukraine—in the form of grants, not loans—should be committed for the long term to provide insurance to Kiev against future uncertainties in US economic support. If not otherwise possible, and despite resistance from countries such as the Netherlands and Germany, Europe will have to consider joint debt to provide the necessary financial support, as it has already done during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Europe must strengthen its support on the battlefield, for example by taking the lead on a European initiative to supply Western battle tanks to Ukraine.
Second, Europeans need to improve their strategic messaging around their support for Ukraine to get ahead of the American criticism and prevent the return of the burden-sharing debate. Instead of complaining that their contributions are not sufficiently recognized or correctly calculated, the EU and its member states should do their own monthly calculations on financial, humanitarian and military support as well as the cost of supporting the millions of Ukrainian refugees currently in their countries are publicly presented. . This can be done without necessarily breaking it down to individual member states, as some do not publicly disclose their military support. But this top line number should be the one that is distributed to US counterparts and appears in public messages. In addition, Europeans must outline the costs to their economies of ending or dramatically reducing their dependence on Russian energy.
Third, Europeans must take the lead on reconstruction efforts for Ukraine. Now that Ukraine is officially a candidate for membership, the EU could give Kyiv access to the EU internal market even before it becomes a member to support Ukraine’s economy. Europe can also signal its commitment to post-war reconstruction by pledging in advance to finance the rebuilding of critical infrastructure to European standards. In response to one of Washington’s most prominent complaints, Europe must make clear that the bulk of this support will also be provided as grants rather than loans.
For now, support for Ukraine remains a consensus policy in Europe. Even the election of a far-right government in Italy, for example, has not affected Europe’s approach. However, the moment to commit to long-term support for Ukraine is now: Europe will be in an economically weaker position after the winter, and will again need to refill its gas storages. Consensus will be more difficult to achieve.
Europe must act now, not only because internal divisions are likely to increase in the future, but also because of the American political calendar. The Biden administration’s firm commitment to support Ukraine continues to provide cover for Europeans’ caution — even in a crisis that directly threatens European core values and security interests.
The war in Ukraine is another example of how, despite ongoing discussions of European strategic autonomy, Europeans still yearn for American leadership. Yet support for Ukraine in the US, while broad, is not necessarily deep, and it may continue to fade into the background as the race for 2024 heats up. Given this uncertainty, Europeans need to put support for Ukraine on a more stable footing – while they still can.