Don’t let Russia win, NATO chief warns US – POLITICO

The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has a message for the Republicans of the United States who make electoral promises to undermine the support of Ukraine: This will only be able to China.

Stoltenberg pushed his point home in a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO this week, in which the head of the military alliance made the case for a long-term American presence in Europe and a widespread boost in defense spending.

“The presence of the United States – but also of Canada – in Europe, is essential for the strength and credibility of that transatlantic bond,” Stoltenberg said.

Yet anxiety is running high in political circles that a more reticent US may be on the horizon. The upcoming US midterm elections could tilt control of Congress toward the Republicans, empowering a rising Republican cohort, friendly to MAGA, which has pushed to reduce President Joe Biden’s global military aid to Ukraine.

Stoltenberg warned that recent gains from the Kiev battlefield would not have been possible without the support of NATO allies. And he appealed to the most strident anti-China sentiment running through both major US political parties.

A victorious Russia, he said, “would be bad for all of us in Europe and North America, all of NATO, because it would send a message to authoritarian leaders – not only Putin, but also China – that for the use of brutal military force can achieve their goals.”

Stoltenberg, however, expressed optimism that the United States will not soon disappear from Europe – or from Ukraine. Indeed, a contingent of more establishment Republicans supported Biden’s repeated calls to send money and weapons to Ukraine.

“I am convinced,” said the head of NATO, “that even after the mid-term, there will still be a clear majority in Congress – in the House and in the Senate – for continued significant support for Ukraine”.

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Tough decisions ahead

The charged debate is the product of a troubling reality: Russia’s war in Ukraine looks likely to drag on for months as budgets tighten and economies slump.

In Washington, this discussion is intensifying before the elections scheduled for November 8. And a chorus of conservatives is increasingly reluctant to spend huge sums on aid to Ukraine. Since the start of the war, the United States has pledged to give Ukraine more than $17 billion in security assistance, far above what Europe has collectively pledged.

Stoltenberg said that he is convinced that Washington will continue to help Ukraine “partly because it is [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wins in Ukraine, it will be a catastrophe for Ukrainians.

A Ukrainian soldier fires a US-made MK-19 automatic grenade launcher at Russian positions on a front line near Toretsk in Ukraine’s Donetsk region | Dave Clark/AFP via Getty Images

But he also emphasized the China connection at a time when Beijing is top of mind for many American politicians – including some of the same conservatives who are raising questions about the volume of assistance to Ukraine.

The Biden administration recently described China as “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge” in its national security strategy.

And the document explicitly ranks China above Russia in the longer term: “Russia poses an immediate and continuing threat to the regional security order in Europe and is a source of disruption and instability throughout the world, but it does not lack China’s spectrum capacity.”

However, the collision of Russia’s long-running war in Ukraine, US domestic political pressures and the growing focus on Beijing are reinvigorating a long-standing burden-sharing debate within NATO.

In 2014, NATO allies agreed to “the goal of moving towards” spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense by 2024. With that deadline looming – and the recognition that military threats only seem to grow – leaders are dealing with what comes next. Will they increase the number of targets? Will they talk about spending goals differently?

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“I expect that the NATO allies at the summit in Vilnius next year will make a clear commitment to invest more in defense,” Stoltenberg said while noting that “it is a little too early to say” the language requires that NATO allies agree.

NATO allies themselves have taken different approaches to China, with some still adopting a much softer line than Washington.

Stoltenberg acknowledged these differences. But he argued that the alliance had made progress in confronting Beijing, emphasizing NATO’s decision earlier this summer to explicitly label China a challenge in its long-term strategy document.

It’s “important for NATO allies to stand together and face the consequences of China’s rise – and that we agree, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

However, while the allies agreed to “address” China’s rise, they did not understand who should foot the bill for these efforts. Some American lawmakers, academics and experts favor Europe to take the lead in managing local security challenges so that the United States can focus more on the Indo-Pacific.

Daniel Hamilton, a US State Department official during the NATO expansion wave of the 1990s, called it Europe’s “greatest strategic liability.” This approach, added Hamilton, now a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University, involved European allies providing, within 10 years, “half the forces and capabilities” needed” for deterrence and collective defense against to Russia”.

European allies, some experts say, are simply too comfortable in their dependence on Washington.

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“European members of NATO have over-promised and under-delivered for decades,” said Harvard University professor Stephen Walt, a leading international affairs scholar. The Europeans, he said, “will not make a sustained effort to rebuild their defense capabilities if they can count on the United States rushing to their aid at the first sign of trouble.”

In the next decade, Walt added, “Europe should take primary responsibility for its own defense, while the United States focuses on Asia and moves from being Europe’s ‘first responder’ to being his “ally of last resort”.

Stoltenberg pushed back against such a narrow division of labor.

The separation of North America from Europe “is not a good model, because that will reduce the strength, the credibility of the bond between North America and Europe.”

However, it relied on NATO’s European allies – which will include most of the continent west of Russia once the membership of Finland and Sweden has been approved – to continue increase their defense spending.

“I strongly believe that European allies should do more,” he said, adding that he has “pushed hard” on the issue. “The good news,” he noted, “is that all allies and even European allies have stepped up and are now investing more.”

However, simple math shows that Europe is nowhere close to being self-sustaining in defense.

“The reality is that 80 percent of NATO’s defense spending comes from non-EU allies,” Stoltenberg said. The multi-continental layout of the alliance’s ocean alliance “also makes it clear that you need a transatlantic link and you need non-EU allies to protect Europe.”

“But above all,” Stoltenberg stressed, “this is about politics – I don’t believe only in Europe, I don’t believe only in North America.”


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