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

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has a message for US Republicans making election promises to reduce support for Ukraine: That will only empower China.

Stoltenberg pushed his point further in an extended interview with POLITICO this week, in which the head of the military organization made the case for a longer American presence in Europe and increased defense spending.

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

However, there are concerns that more US policies may be on the way. The upcoming US mid-term elections could swing control of Congress to the Republicans, empowering an upstart, the MAGA-friendly Republican group that has been pushing to cut US President Joe Biden’s aid to Ukraine.

Stoltenberg warned that the success of the latest war in Kyiv would not have happened without the support of NATO. And he appealed to the strong anti-China sentiment that runs through both major US political parties.

A defeated Russia, he said, “will be bad for all of us in Europe and North America, for all of NATO, because that will send a message to the powerful leaders – not only Putin but also China – that through the use of brutality in the military they can achieve their goals.”

Stoltenberg, however, expressed hope that the US will not soon disappear from Europe – or from Ukraine. Indeed, a number of Republicans have supported Biden’s repeated requests to send money and equipment to Ukraine.

“I am convinced,” said the NATO chief, “that even after the middle ages, there is still a clear majority in Congress – in the House and in the Senate – to continue the important support for Ukraine.”

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Tough decisions ahead

The debate is a product of a troubling reality: Russia’s war in Ukraine looks set to drag on for months as the budget tightens and the economy stagnates.

In Washington, that debate is intensifying ahead of the November 8 election. And a chorus of conservatives is increasingly reluctant to spend more money on aid to Ukraine. Since the war began, the US has pledged more than $17 billion in security aid to Ukraine, more than Europe combined.

Stoltenberg said he was confident that Washington would continue to help Ukraine “in part because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wins in Ukraine, it will be a disaster for Ukrainian people. “

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

But he also emphasized the Chinese connection at a time when Beijing is top of mind for many American policymakers — including some conservatives who are similarly raising questions about the amount of aid to Ukraine.

The Biden administration recently described China as “America’s greatest challenge” to the country’s security strategy.

And this document clearly puts China above Russia in the long term: “Russia poses an immediate and continuous threat to the regional security order in Europe and is a source of confusion and instability around the world but it does not have the power of everyone” in China.

Meanwhile, the conflict of Russia’s protracted war in Ukraine, the domestic political pressure of the US and the growing focus on Beijing are reviving the old discussion of burden sharing within NATO.

In 2014, NATO partners agreed to a “progressive goal” of spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense by 2024. With these last days coming – and realizing that military threats only seem to be rising – leaders are facing what lies ahead. Will they raise the target number? Will they have different spending goals?

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

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

Stoltenberg admitted that this is divisive. But he said the alliance had made progress in dealing with Beijing, pointing to NATO’s decision earlier this summer to clearly outline China’s challenge in a long-term strategic document.

“It’s important that NATO allies come together and deal with the consequences of China’s rise – and we agree, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

While the allies agreed to “deal” with China’s rise, they did not agree on who should bear the blame for the effort. Some US lawmakers, academics and experts advocate that Europe take the lead in managing domestic security challenges so that the US can focus more on the Indo-Pacific.

Daniel Hamilton, a US State Department official during the NATO expansion of the 1990s, calls it “a major strategic liability for Europe.” This approach, added Hamilton, who is now at Johns Hopkins University, would involve European allies providing, within 10 years, “half of the forces and forces” needed “to deter and defend Russia collectively.”

European partners, some experts argue, are too comfortable in their reliance 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 scholar of international affairs. The Europeans, he said, “will not make a sustained effort to rebuild their defenses if they can count on the United States to rush to their aid when they start to show trouble.”

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

Stoltenberg pushed back against a strict division of labor.

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

He has, however, relied on NATO’s European allies—which will include most of Russia’s western continent once membership of Finland and Sweden is accepted—to keep up their defense spending.

“I strongly believe that European partners should do more,” he said, adding that he was “pushing hard” on the topic. “The good news is that all the partners and European partners have increased and are now investing more.”

Still, simple calculations show that Europe is nowhere near self-supporting in defence.

“The reality is that 80 percent of NATO’s defense spending comes from non-EU partners,” Stoltenberg said. An expanding maritime union, the formation of many continents “makes it clear that you need a transatlantic bond and you need non-EU partners 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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