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Rebalancing required

The tide in policy circles is slowly but surely turning as more and more votaries of reducing this dependence on America are emerging.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The Ukraine war has certainly reinvigorated the trans-Atlantic alliance. But experts are unanimous that it has also deepened Europe’s strategic dependence on the United States of America. As North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) allies continue to help Ukraine beat back Russia’s assault, European leaders must also address the important longer-term challenge of rebalancing trans-Atlantic defence arrangements. This would not only enhance Europe’s capacity to defend itself against Russia and deal with any other crises on the continent but would also provide European powers greater strategic autonomy and in the process allow the USA to focus more of its energies on the challenges emerging from China in the Indo-Pacific.

This is the primary thesis laid out in some detail in a recently published monograph by strategic experts and seasoned former diplomats Hans Binnendijk, Daniel S. Hamilton and Alexander Vershbow. Their recommendations to achieve this objective are worthy of the deepest consideration by policymakers. But first, a caveat: The authors are clear that advancing greater European strategic responsibility starts by defining the concept in a way designed to strengthen the Atlantic alliance not undermine it. With this in mind, Nato needs to focus on two primary military goals.

European member-states should: (a) build their conventional military capabilities to a level that would provide half of the forces and capabilities, including the strategic enablers, required for deterrence and collective defence against major-power aggression, and (b) develop the capacity to handle crisis-management operations on the continent without heavy reliance on US enablers such as command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

This makes imminent sense as meeting these goals would make Europe the first responder to crises in its neighbourhood, acting through Nato, the European Union, or ad hoc coalitions. It would also allow the USA to shift some of its forces and strategic focus to the Indo-Pacific region without any significant reduction in the capabilities needed to deter Russia and the like. Traditionally, both in Washington and in Brussels, concerns have been raised on the danger of competition with and duplication of Nato structures if Europe’s quest for strategic autonomy premised on enhanced independent military capacities is encouraged.

Simultaneously, doubts about the ability of European armed forces to conduct even small-scale operations without US support have also been raised. What Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has done, however, is expose just how overdependent Europe and Nato are on US military infrastructure. The tide in policy circles is slowly but surely turning as more and more votaries of reducing this dependence on America are emerging. Especially because in the West’s strategic calculus, confronting the hegemonic rise of China which is playing out in the Asia-Pacific region is a categorical imperative.