What Does Europe Look Like 3-7 Years After Russia’s War in Ukraine?

Photo: A Ukrainian woman with a crown of flowers in the colors of the Ukrainian flag takes part in the demonstration in Krakow, Poland on May 16, 2022. Credit: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto
Photo: A Ukrainian woman with a crown of flowers in the colors of the Ukrainian flag takes part in the demonstration in Krakow, Poland on May 16, 2022. Credit: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an existential crisis and direct challenge to the international security order. As long as President Vladimir Putin reigns in the Kremlin, Russia will pose the primary security threat to Western interests and global order. This means that Europe and the United States will not be able to choose the long-term challenge of China over the threat of Russia: the alliance will have to address both at the same time. The US will be more involved in the European theater, despite the need to balance force posture requirements in the Indo-Pacific. The US will likely prioritize land capabilities in Europe, given the naval and marine assets needed in the Indo-Pacific – although air assets will need to be split between both.
  • Out of this crisis comes opportunity. Finland and Sweden have decided to join NATO – something all but unimaginable only a year ago. Just as the destruction of World War II opened the way to a new conception of Europe, the shock of the Russian invasion of Ukraine offers the possibility of revitalizing the European order and changing the pattern of confrontation with Russia since the end of the Cold War. But this will only be possible if US and broader allied policy is driven by a vision of Ukraine winning as the path toward a revitalized and more secure transatlantic alliance.
  • An era of sustained confrontation with Russia — or indeed a security environment conditioned by the disorderly collapse of the Putin regime — will require NATO to rethink its long-term strategy, posture, and presence. The West needs a new strategy to prepare for what could be a strategic confrontation lasting decades, requiring a serious alignment between the US and Europe on the main components of a future Russia-West agenda. This will include both military and nonmilitary components to contain and deter Russia, while also making space for engagement when necessary.
  • Just as the war has revealed gaps in Russian military capabilities, it has also shown that the multilateral institutions at the heart of the alliance – NATO and the European Union – were not built for crisis response. This means that in the medium term (three to seven years), Europe will need to:
    • develop more agile mechanisms able to rapidly respond to security threats;
    • align a common security and defense policy for the entire bloc with complementarity to NATO;
    • fill a leadership gap with Germany ensuring that its current strategic shift on foreign and defense policy sticks and that it assumes its role as the key strategic actor in Europe;
    • ensure that the United Kingdom is more deeply integrated into Europe’s security infrastructure, overcoming some Brexit-related acrimony and division.
Photo: A woman with a Ukraine flag and German flag during a protest in Cologne, Germany, on January 30, 2022. - Demonstrators criticised Putin's massing of troops near the Ukrainian border and called on Germany to play a more active role in defending Ukraine's interests. Credit: Ying Tang/NurPhoto

Photo: A woman with a Ukraine flag and German flag during a protest in Cologne, Germany, on January 30, 2022. - Demonstrators criticised Putin's massing of troops near the Ukrainian border and called on Germany to play a more active role in defending Ukraine's interests. Credit: Ying Tang/NurPhoto

INTRODUCTION

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an existential crisis and a direct challenge to the international security order. At stake is not only Ukraine, but the future of European security. And the outcome of the war will have profound medium and long-term consequences for regional theaters in Europe, the European Union (EU) and NATO’s role, as well as the future of the United States’ (US) engagement in European security. To be sure, Russia’s war in Ukraine produced a strategic shock for the Alliance, but it has also served as a clarifying moment and recognition that the transatlantic alliance will be in a deepening cycle of confrontation with Russia for the foreseeable future, regardless of the immediate outcomes in Ukraine. As long as President Vladimir Putin reigns in the Kremlin, Russia will pose the primary security threat to Western interests and global order.

A further factor is the rise of China as a potential actor in European security. Putin’s appeal to the Chinese leadership for military aid, and the ambiguous evolution of Chinese pronouncements about the war, highlight the crucial role played by decision-makers in Beijing. The war could solidify a Sino-Russian military alliance, or prompt Chinese intervention to pressure Russia to accept a negotiated end to the war. Either outcome — or some other result of Chinese intervention — would be game-changers for European security.

Yet out of crisis comes opportunity. Just as the destruction of World War II opened the way to a new conception of Europe, the shock of the Russian invasion of Ukraine offers the possibility of revitalizing the European order and changing the pattern of confrontation with Russia since the end of the Cold War.

While the outcome of the war is unknown, the bottom line is that US and broader Allied policy should use the Ukraine crisis to ensure a revitalized and more secure transatlantic alliance. Any other scenarios will eventually lead to a fractured, weakened, and more insecure alliance that is less capable of managing long-term challenges, including China. Providing Ukraine with the minimum security assistance needed to defend itself without risking a hypothetical escalation with Russia – which is the current policy – will not result in a more stable and secure Europe or transatlantic alliance. A policy driven by a goal of victory for Ukraine, however, will require resolve, clarity of vision, and most of all, strategic focus at the same time as the alliance responds to the day-to-day realities of war.

Just as the war has revealed gaps in Russian military capabilities, it has also shown that the multilateral institutions at the heart of the alliance – NATO and the EU – were not built for crisis response. This means that in the medium term (three to seven years), Europe will need to develop more agile mechanisms able to rapidly respond to security threats, which may result in different regional approaches based on the threat levels; the bloc will need to align a common security and defense policy complementary to NATO; Germany will have to ensure that its current strategic shift on foreign and defense policy sticks and that it assumes its role as the key strategic actor in Europe; and the United Kingdom (UK) will have to be more deeply integrated into Europe’s security infrastructure despite the long term reality of Brexit. How these medium-term changes align (or not) to produce a more secure European order will depend on the shorter-term decisions that will affect the reality on the ground in Ukraine.

Photo: Civilian volunteers learn how to use their rifles during a military training in a camp of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. With the Russian army just a few kilometers of the city, many civilians are getting military skills for the future combats in the Russia´s war in Ukraine. Credit: Celestino Arce/NurPhoto

Photo: Civilian volunteers learn how to use their rifles during a military training in a camp in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. With the Russian army just a few kilometers from the city, many civilians are getting military skills for the future combats in Russia´s war in Ukraine. Credit: Celestino Arce/NurPhoto

DIFFERENT SCENARIOS, DIFFERENT FUTURES

The future of Europe is contingent on whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is able to achieve all, some, or none of his aims in Ukraine. Equally, the viability of a common European identity, democratic norms and values, and a continental security order will be proved – or disproved – by the effectiveness of the West’s response to the worst breach of international order since North Korea invaded the South more than seven decades ago.

Seven potential scenarios and implications for medium term European security include (from worst to best):

  1. Wider European war. Putin’s willingness to escalate the conflict in Ukraine significantly increases the potential for conflict between Russia and NATO. This encompasses a range of possibilities: from relatively low-level skirmishes in and around NATO front-line members (the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Norway) to a major European and possibly even transcontinental war involving not only conventional armaments, but also chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. In the most drastic scenarios, the conflict between Russia and the West would be existential. There would be little point in speculating about the future of Europe until this is resolved in one form or another – either with a decisive defeat of Putin’s Russia, the collapse of the US-led West (and of the post-Cold War settlement), some sort of negotiated settlement along the lines of Yalta 1945 (or possibly the 1953 Korean armistice), or nuclear Armageddon.
  2. Russia wins. Under this scenario, the Ukrainian armed resistance is decisively defeated, and a Russian puppet government is instituted in Kyiv. A rump Ukraine retains nominal independence but submits to Moscow’s political and economic fiat while joining Russian-led structures, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Europe would again be divided into two armed camps as at the height of the Cold War. Russia’s de facto acquisition of Ukraine would have a chastening effect on other ex-Soviet republics. There would be direct security repercussions for front-line NATO member-states such as Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, and the three Baltic states would be especially vulnerable.
  3. A long grind. In this scenario, the war in its current form would go on for years, with each side having wins and losses along the way, but no decisive victory for either side. The result would be a near perpetual state of conflict on the continent with the constant threat of further escalation hanging in the background. Casualties on both sides would continue to mount. The West would continue to provide support to Kyiv, yet the status of Ukraine and its ties to Western institutions would remain unresolved. Meanwhile, domestic pressure on the Kremlin would increase, similar to what the Soviet Union experienced during its long war with Afghanistan, risking destabilization inside Russia.
  4. Stalemate/low-level conflict. This scenario would essentially be a continuation of the status quo ante the 2022 Russian invasion. Putin claims ‘victory;’ he pulls the troops back from most of Ukraine but reinforces the Russian position in Crimea and the Donetsk (DNR) and Luhansk (LNR) regions. There is continued sporadic fighting, similar to that during 2015-2021. The main danger in this scenario is ‘rinse and repeat’ – a return to the complacency and indifference that have characterized European attitudes towards Ukraine in recent years. Basic failures of governance in Ukraine would remain unresolved. There would be a pause, not an end, to Russian attempts to dominate (or disrupt) much of Eastern Europe. And plenty of scope for renewed conflict down the line.
  5. A Ukraine divided. Russia annexes the rest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, building a land bridge to Crimea. It may even shut out Ukraine from the Black Sea by taking Odessa, though at the time of writing this scenario appears unlikely. Ukraine would retain its sovereign independence and move closer to the West. The consequences for Europe would be similar to scenario two in that the continent would be divided, only the line would be further to the east. Under this scenario, the Baltic states would remain within Western security and economic structures, as would Bulgaria and Romania (and Turkey within NATO). This outcome, however, is scarcely sustainable. Moscow would not relax its efforts to subjugate – directly or indirectly – those parts of Ukraine outside its sphere of influence, while seeking to extend its remit to the Baltic states, Moldova, Georgia, and the Balkans.
  6. (Almost) everyone is a winner. In this scenario, Russia pulls back from most of Ukraine, including the DNR and LNR, but retains Crimea. There is a new international treaty enshrining Ukrainian sovereignty and formalizing agreement on major territorial, security, and political questions. In Russia, Putin leaves office, giving way to a (somewhat) more liberal leadership and a renewed if imperfect process of democratization. President Alexander Lukashenka is ousted in Belarus, and the beginnings of a nascent and fragile democracy emerge there. Despite these favorable trends, a ‘single Europe’ would remain unlikely. Although the prestige of EU and NATO would be enhanced, Europe would be a ‘multi-speed’ continent – politically, economically, socially, and culturally diverse. Crucially, though, these differences would be broadly manageable while the chances of conflict within Europe would diminish.
  7. Ukraine wins. Russia is forced to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, except the DNR and LNR which retain – for the time being – their ersatz ‘independence.’ Ukraine gravitates towards Europe and, in time, achieves EU membership or candidate status. NATO membership remains a theoretical, but distant possibility. EU and NATO influence expands not only in Ukraine, but also in other ex-Soviet republics – the Caucasus, Moldova, and even Belarus. Moscow loses influence in the Balkans in the wake of Putin’s defeat. And in Central Asia, China translates its growing economic power into geopolitical heft at Russian expense.
Photo: A man inspects his apartment, which was damaged by fire due to the shelling of Borodyanka, Kyiv region. Credit: Oleg Pereverzev/NurPhoto

Photo: A man inspects his apartment, which was damaged by fire due to the shelling of Borodyanka, Kyiv region. Credit: Oleg Pereverzev/NurPhoto

THE CRITICAL CHALLENGES... AND OPPORTUNITIES

The Russian war against Ukraine marks an inflection point in European history of greater significance than any moment since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and, arguably, further back still to the end of the Second World War. If the US and Europe fail this fundamental test of their resolve, we would be talking about the end of a unitary “West.” Conversely, if the current transatlantic consensus holds and manages to neutralize the threat posed by Putin’s Russia, and most importantly ensures that Ukraine wins the war, the idea of the West and legitimacy of its values, norms, and institutions would receive a new lease on life.

In any plausible scenario, Europe and the US will have to fundamentally rethink their approach to Russia in both the economic/diplomatic and military spheres to deter further aggression and contain Russian influence.

The Kremlin exposed the naïveté of previous strategies toward Russia, including Germany’s “Wandel durch Handel” [change through trade] and the Biden administration’s belief that Russia could be “parked” or neutralized. The West needs a new strategy: preparing for what could be a strategic confrontation lasting decades. This will require a serious alignment between the US and Europe on the main components of a future Russia-West agenda; the irreducible limits to engagement; and the off ramps, if any, for the Kremlin. Core to this will be the mix of military, economic, and diplomatic tools to contain the Kremlin’s ambitions and prevent further aggression. The political/economic components of such an approach will include:

  • Economic warfare: The war in Ukraine prompted the unprecedented use of coercive economic measures by the West, including the freezing of Russian central bank reserves and a wide-ranging trade and investment boycott. This has had a crippling impact on the Russian economy, though without — at the time of writing — the desired political impact. In the months and years ahead, Europe and the US will need to establish the rules governing the deployment of this new financial arsenal in the future; the institutional framework to coordinate and implement them; and how they will be imposed or lifted to be calibrated towards specific policy objectives.
  • Energy security: Europe’s reliance on Russian energy has long been a vulnerability. Limited progress via the EU energy and competition policy has been countered by flagship Kremlin-backed infrastructure projects (the NordStream pipelines) and missteps by national governments, such as Germany’s move away from nuclear power. The Ukraine War has prompted a sudden, belated change, with the EU announcing plans to make Europe independent from Russian energy “well before 2030”.1 This energy revolution will include diversifying imports and greatly expanding the use of renewable energy: these are potentially contradictory ambitions. At best this policy will be disruptive, expensive, and involve sharp political choices. These significant costs and dilemmas have yet to be articulated by policy-makers.
  • Counter-corruption: Russia has used strategic corruption as a tool of geopolitics, deploying the wealth of its international oligarch class to contribute to efforts that undermine democratic systems in target countries.2 Given this threat to national interests from strategic corruption and illicit finance, it is important that countries and localities – especially in the US, UK, and EU, where much of this laundering takes place – put up a united front. The Biden administration has put forward a comprehensive counter-corruption strategy.3 Now is the time to implement it to its fullest, in close coordination with European allies including strengthening existing authorities (such as the Global Magnitsky Act), increasing financial transparency (such as legislation cracking down on shell companies), and enhancing multilateral engagement (such as information sharing and intelligence cooperation).
  • Ideology and information: Over the last twenty years, Putin has invested heavily in promoting illiberal ideologies. These chime with diverse political positions in the West, including hard-left anti-Americanism (notably in France and Germany), as well as traditionalists and ethnonationalists on the right of the political spectrum (again in France and Germany, but also in Italy and the US). Despite the Kremlin’s avowed goal of “denazification” in Ukraine, Russia has provided informational and other support for such far-right movements farther afield. Yet the attack on Ukraine has also revealed the weakness of Russia’s disinformation apparatus. Kremlin narratives have made minimal impact in Western countries. This should prompt deep reflection in the West about the best approach to countering disinformation: why has Russia succeeded in the past but failed now?
  • Alliance cohesion: As the immediacy of the current crisis recedes, political disagreements on issues such as data and tech regulation, energy policy, and climate change threaten to revive transatlantic divisions. The US and Europe will need to mitigate or ring-fence these disagreements to preserve a common front on security, although that is easier said than done.

Photo: A line of mechanised infantry from the Royal Netherlands Army’s 42nd Armoured Infantry Battalion moves through marshy ground during Exercise Rising Griffin 2022. Credit: NATO

Photo: A line of mechanized infantry from the Royal Netherlands Army’s 42nd Armoured Infantry Battalion moves through marshy ground during Exercise Rising Griffin 2022. Credit: NATO

Despite the need to contain and deter aggression, Russia is too big and too important simply to ignore or oppose. Substantive dialogue on critical issues will include:

  • The Arctic: As the seas and oceans are warmed by climate change, new opportunities and challenges are already arising. Changes such as access to previously inaccessible resources, the opening of new trade routes, and land claims from multiple arctic countries (the US, Russia, the Nordic states, and Canada), are just some of the issues which represent potential new flashpoints in relations with4 The US, NATO, Russia, and other stakeholders will need to maintain open lines of communication to manage risk and avoid potential escalations, while disputes should be handled in diplomatic fora.
  • Nuclear stability: Even during the height of the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union met and negotiated on areas of common interest on nuclear security. But the nuclear arms control architecture of the Cold War and post-Cold war has almost completely unraveled. Negotiations between the US and Russia for a successor agreement to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) have achieved little progress, even before the war.5 This is an issue where, no matter how bad relations get, there will need to be continuing dialogue, especially on emerging domains and capabilities, such as cyber, space, and exotic systems; further transparency measures on non-strategic nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defense; and across-the-board risk reductions.

An era of sustained confrontation with Russia — or indeed a security environment conditioned by the disorderly collapse of the Putin regime — will require NATO to rethink its long-term strategy, posture, and presence.

The Ukraine war has concentrated Russian conventional forces and equipment in the European operational area.6 Though losses in Ukraine will likely drain the Kremlin’s desire for other kinetic military operations in the short term, Putin has demonstrated a daunting risk appetite and willingness to act. The immediate targets of likely further aggression are Georgia and Moldova, followed by the Baltic states and Poland and, to a lesser extent, Finland, Sweden, Romania, and Bulgaria. In this heightened threat environment, there will be an even greater need for enhanced deterrence and reassurance. The immediate result of the war is to bury the assumptions and undertakings of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act which restricted NATO’s eastern force posture. This will enable a shift from deterrence by punishment (meaning lightly supplied trip-wire forces) toward deterrence by denial. This will bring shifts in allied posture and capabilities in Europe, which could include:

  • The establishment of a long-term, permanent presence along NATO’s entire eastern flank from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean
  • A shift toward more robust deployments to the region with larger support, enabling, logistics, and infrastructure capacity, rather than rotating presence or training missions
  • Upgrading regional air policing missions to air defense, as well as boosting theater-wide air and missile defense (AMD) capabilities
  • Assuring the alliance’s nuclear deterrent capabilities, including the lower rungs on the escalation ladder
  • Laying the foundation for enhancements to long-range strike capabilities (e.g., hypersonic weapons) in Europe
  • Greater investment in Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities in Europe
  • Streamlining command and control structures related to the eastern flank region
  • An increased focus on technological capabilities, such as unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and counter-UAS
  • More testing of military mobility and readiness to ensure the alliance’s rapid reinforcement, even with the incorporation of deterrence by denial measures
  • Rising defense investments, budgets, and procurements, particularly in Europe, to reduce reliance on the US

The US cannot afford to prioritize the China threat over the Russia threat: US global leadership will depend on the ability to address both at the same time. This means that the US will be more involved in the European theater, despite the need to balance force posture requirements in the Indo-Pacific. The US will likely prioritize land capabilities in Europe, given the naval and marine assets needed in the Indo-Pacific – although air assets will need to be split between both. Recent major changes in defense policy and public opinion in Germany, other allies, and the EU – prompted by Russia’s aggression in Europe – will have a profound, long-term impact on European security. Growing European political will and defense investment will open the door for a renewed and more realistic conversation on transatlantic burden-sharing. All of this will be reflected in NATO’s new strategic concept and potentially the EU’s strategic compass.

These shifting strategic priorities will affect other areas.

Photo: A Ukrainian soldier poses next to a destroyed Russian tank in Malaya Rohan village, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 5, 2022. Credit: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Photo: A Ukrainian soldier poses next to a destroyed Russian tank in Malaya Rohan village, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 5, 2022. Credit: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

NATO/EU Cooperation

The once-derided EU has proven to be an important foreign policy actor. The recent Versailles Declaration,7 where EU leaders announced their intention to collectively rearm and become autonomous in food, energy, and military hardware signals a shift in thinking about the role of the EU in the world. At the same time NATO’s long-neglected territorial defense mandate is now again a priority. Goodwill abounds but much work lies ahead in working out how the two international bodies cooperate and complement each other.

The EU will need to revisit its rule that decisions on Common Foreign and Security Policy must be made unanimously, subjecting decisions to any country’s veto.8

Given its military failures in Ukraine, Russia will likely amp up political warfare and below-threshold hybrid threats in Eastern Europe. Thanks to its growing cohesiveness as a geopolitical actor, the EU will play a much more active role in countering these threats, paving the way for a more pragmatic division of labor with NATO. The EU will also need to take steps to build a coherent and effective security culture on issues ranging from threat assessments to military mobility. Simultaneously, the US may consider reengaging and reinvesting in more education, information, media, and cultural initiatives in Eastern Europe.

In the short to medium term, however, European security will rely heavily on US leadership and military capabilities. The EU’s ambitions for “strategic autonomy” encountered a reality check in Ukraine. In terms of hard security, the only game in town, for now, is NATO.

Joint press statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen ahead of a meeting with the College of Commissioners. December 15, 2020. Credit: NATO.

Photo: Joint press statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen ahead of a meeting with the College of Commissioners. December 15, 2020. Credit: NATO.

The Future of EU and NATO Enlargement

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the value of being part of NATO and the EU has become crystal clear. Previous worries that NATO was obsolete or that the European project had lost its appeal have been significantly alleviated. Among member nations, there will be increased willingness to reinvigorate these institutions. At the same time, sentiments of abandonment and resentment toward NATO may persist in Ukraine. Nevertheless, depending on the war’s outcome, the need for hard security guarantees may ultimately outweigh these notions.

In the post-Ukraine War period, NATO will likely preserve its Open-Door policy, maintaining the possibility for future enlargement. Not only is this principle enshrined in the Washington Treaty, it is also critical to bolstering democracy promotion and modernization in Europe in the face of growing authoritarianism from Russia and China.9 A speedy formal accession process for Finland and Sweden, accompanied by clear security guarantees for the interim period, will enhance alliance credibility.

Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political future will likely be compromised because of the war. Despite strong Western support of Ukraine, this will make it difficult for allies to agree on Ukraine’s prospects for NATO membership. Georgia, which also faces territorial disputes and setbacks in necessary political reforms for NATO membership, will likely face a similar fate. Allies may fear a potential overreaction by Russia should one or both be allowed to join. If Putin is in power after the war, he may become increasingly desperate due to sanctions, global isolation, and political and military losses in Ukraine (even if the result is packaged as a victory). This could raise the potential for an attack or nuclear saber-rattling in response to Ukraine or Georgia’s NATO accession.

The alliance, and the West writ large, may face a political crisis by those frustrated with NATO’s unwillingness to do more to support or embrace Ukraine – or at least criticism that NATO’s Open Door is not truly open. This could spark reform of the Membership Action Plan vehicle and the process for enlargement. There is already growing support for an alternative mechanism that offers clearer standards and benchmarks for prospective members. In the meantime, the EU has been reinvigorated as a geopolitical and security actor, as well as an economic and normative power, with new countries lining up to join it. Russia’s invasion gives a sense of urgency and moral weight to Kyiv’s EU aspirations. Despite Ukraine and Georgia’s quick EU applications, members have been clear that “fast-tracking” the accession procedures is not politically possible right now. It could be years before Ukraine is accepted. However, it is possible that the traditional pattern of countries gaining NATO membership before EU membership could be reversed going forward.

Photo: Protest in Georgia against the Russian war in Ukraine. Credit: Mariam Kasrashvili via Twitter

Photo: Protest in Georgia against the Russian war in Ukraine. Credit: Mariam Kasrashvili via Twitter

Balancing Russia and China

Finally, understanding the twin challenges of Russia and China and prioritizing them will be vital for the transatlantic alliance. China offers the greatest long-term external challenge to advanced democracies. Yet Russia’s deployment of military force makes it more of an immediate threat to Western interests and the liberal order. Europe and the US face these challenges together but to different degrees. Europe needs the US to defend against Russian military aggression and provide the security guarantee and nuclear umbrella of the Cold War architecture provided by its Article V commitments.

At the same time, the US needs Europe in its global competition with China. The US and Europe share strong interests on many of the issues defining US strategic competition with China, including global health, technology, human rights, democracy, and trade. Combined, the US and the EU compose 42.1 percent of global GDP, while China only makes up 16.3 percent.10 The EU collectively and the US are also China’s two largest trading partners.11 China self-evidently represents a long-term strategic and normative challenge to the US and Europe. But a one-dimensional adversarial approach toward Beijing in every area of foreign and trade policy is counterproductive. Instead, the US and Europe need to make good on their declared commitment to balance cooperation, competition, and constraint in relations with China.

A MORE SECURE EUROPE STARTS IN UKRAINE

The transatlantic alliance’s ability to take on the challenges outlined above in the medium term depends on the short-term reality in Ukraine. The current crisis can lend itself to a revitalization of unity and cohesion in the transatlantic alliance while healing the many self-inflicted wounds (e.g., Brexit) that have hampered Europe’s ability to act strategically. A more secure and stable European order – and thus a more secure and agile United States – begins with a vision for Ukraine’s ultimate victory over Russia in the war. This strategic vision should drive US, NATO, and broader European policy today. Starting from a point of defeatism or fear of provocation will inevitably lead to a more divided Europe and transatlantic community in the medium term and a deeply vulnerable Europe in the long term. Incrementalism today leads ultimately to failure.

In the immediate term, a strategic vision for victory means urgently increasing any necessary military assistance by arming Ukraine with the weapons and systems it needs not just to defend itself but to launch effective counteroffensives while protecting civilians. It means increasing economic sanctions on Russia, especially in the energy sector where Europe has been especially hesitant, even though the immediate pain of such actions would be greater for Russia than for Europe. It also means deploying nonconventional tools in the cyber and information domains to disrupt the Kremlin’s capabilities and its control over the Russian people.

Photos: Olga hugs her boyfriend Vlodomyr as they say good bye prior to Vlodomyr’s deployment closer to the front line, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. Credit: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Photos: Olga hugs her boyfriend Vlodomyr as they say goodbye prior to Vlodomyr’s deployment closer to the front line, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. Credit: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Russia’s defeat over Ukraine could undermine its relationship with China. Countries in Russia’s immediate neighborhood would no longer see Moscow as a great power, and neither would other friendly countries in the Middle East. The implications for Russia’s own domestic outcomes would also be severe, if difficult to predict. For Europe, Russia’s defeat in Ukraine will likely lead to greater confidence, cooperation, and more balanced US-Europe relations as more European countries invest in their own defense – the old East-West lines would become less meaningful. Undoubtedly, China would remain the most significant long-term challenge, but Europe and the US would be better equipped and more confident in managing the balance of cooperation and confrontation with it.

In the medium term, Russian defeat in Ukraine would not sweep away internal European political frictions, including those between Hungary and the EU, the continuing repercussions of Brexit, and doubts about Germany’s leadership role. But a clear win for Kyiv would likely engender greater goodwill toward compromises that were unimaginable before. To be sure, multilateral institutions, most notably NATO and the EU, would need to directly address the core issue areas outlined here, while building more agile capabilities for crisis response. But these challenges would be more surmountable on the heels of victory.

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Photo: A Ukrainian woman with a crown of flowers in the colors of the Ukrainian flag takes part in the demonstration in Krakow, Poland on May 16, 2022. Credit: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto

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