Russian invasion spurs historic shift in European security framework

European countries have begun to shift their focus to strengthen deterrence against Russia, out of a heightened sense of crisis regarding their security framework due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It can be said that a historic shift in Europe’s security system is occurring.

The leaders of the European Union agreed at a summit that each member country will strengthen its defense capabilities and that they will promote defense cooperation, including joint procurement of equipment.

The EU had already decided to provide funds to Ukraine for the procurement of weapons. It is unprecedented for the EU, which is primarily focused on political and economic cooperation, to take such a step in the military realm. “Another taboo has fallen,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat.

What all the EU countries have in common is their recognition that Russia’s invasion has radically changed the security environment in Europe.

Using its significant military power, Russia has launched an atrocious assault on Ukraine and is demanding the “neutralization” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine, which would essentially render the country powerless. This move shows that improving the defense capabilities of each country is essential to curb Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to expand Russia’s power.

The most significant change in policy has taken place in Germany. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed, “This new reality requires an unequivocal response,” and he decided to provide anti-tank weapons and other equipment to Ukraine. Scholz also said he intends to increase defense spending to more than 2% of gross domestic product.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of the United States and Europe, has a defense spending target of 2% of GDP for its member countries. Germany, however, has so far spent only about 1.5% of its GDP on defense, despite U.S. requests for more.

It is likely that other NATO countries will follow suit in increasing their defense spending.

Finland and Sweden, which are not members of NATO, have also begun to provide arms to Ukraine. Both countries attended a NATO meeting on Ukraine and have begun sharing information.

This certainly indicates both countries’ fear that it is no longer possible to remain neutral in the face of the outrage perpetrated by Russia and that they are seeking to ensure security through cooperation with NATO. Switzerland, a country committed to permanent neutrality, also broke with long-standing tradition and joined the sanctions against Russia.

The relationship between the United States and Europe was strained over NATO at one point when former U.S. President Donald Trump complained that the structure in which the U.S. unilaterally defends Europe is unfair.

However, in the wake of the current crisis, awareness of the unity of the United States and Europe and the significance of NATO’s existence has been strengthened more than ever before. The defense systems of the three Baltic states and the NATO member states in Eastern Europe that are close to Ukraine have also been strengthened.

Putin has sought to weaken NATO. It is his own folly that has produced exactly the opposite result.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 13, 2022.