NATO European defence policy against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and Trump’s possible victory in the U.S. elections. At the end of May 2024, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg announced the need for NATO countries to create a fund of assistance to Ukraine for five years in the amount of USD 100 billion. We are talking about military aid.

According to Stoltenberg, this fund could guarantee Ukraine’s military aid if Trump wins the US presidential election in November 2024. What is the reaction of European politicians to Stoltenberg’s initiative?

According to Politico, “the plan is a bit confusing,” an Eastern European official said on condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity. Whether the European NATO heavyweights Germany and France will back the plan remains to be seen. Paris has preferred to keep defence spending within the EU rather than NATO, while Chancellor Olaf Scholz is unwilling to spend more than has already been set aside under the country’s Zeitenwende (“turning point”) pledges, stemming from a speech he delivered following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Another official, also from a country friendly toward Ukraine, said he “won’t be surprised” if the €100 billion figure is ultimately revised but predicted the allies would need to find ways to show concrete support for Kyiv. Two other officials with knowledge of the discussion confirmed talks were ongoing, especially concerning the amount of money and ways of allocating it.

The contribution of the United States is questionable after a long-lasting, past partisan debate in Congress related to the military aid of Ukraine. Is the US capable of getting through one more partisan battle in Congress again in the wake of the ongoing presidential campaign? If the US is not capable, who will take leadership of the NATO fundraising campaign for Ukraine?

Stoltenberg’s initiative may raise questions for those NATO countries that can still not meet NATO’s 2% GDP requirement for defence spending. As of 2023, only 11 NATO countries complied with this requirement. To fulfil this requirement, European NATO members have to find about 30 billion euros in additional funding, i.e., increase their 1.85 per cent to 2 per cent. At the same time, they must allocate an additional 20 billion euros to Ukraine each year.

In 2016, then-candidate Trump’s statements about the unfair fiscal burden carried by the United States compared with its European allies was nothing fundamentally new in NATO’s nearly seven-decade history, as Fabrice Pothier and Alexander Vershbow mentioned. We can, for example, refer to the experience of the 1970s, when Henry Kissinger pressed US European partners toward an increase in their defence expenditures.

However, in 2016, Trump moved ahead and declared his readiness to make conditional US commitments under Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which obligates members to defend any ally that comes under attack. Trump has suggested that would depend on whether the ally in question had “fulfilled [its financial] obligations to us.” In this, Trump meant NATO’s 2 per cent gross domestic product target for defence spending.

Stoltenberg should remember his conversation with US President Trump in 2018 on the eve of the NATO summit. The conversation was difficult, as Trump was quite blunt in voicing his displeasure that most European countries were saving on defence costs and not meeting the 2 per cent of GDP requirement in defence spending, i.e., effectively shifting their defence costs onto the shoulders of the United States.

In his memoirs, John Bolton, National Security Advisor to the US President, emphasized that Stoltenberg’s proposal to increase these defence costs gradually until 2024, and in particular in 2018 by 40 billion Euros, did not diminish Trump’s indignation, said that it was only possible to get an immediate result from the European countries by the ultimatum, i.e. either the European countries increase defence costs to 2% of GDP, or the US withdraws from NATO.

The situation in 2018 is much different from the situation in 2024 – it is now the third year of a large-scale war in Ukraine, on the border with NATO and the EU.

It was not a cold war but a hot war that Europe avoided in every way possible since World War II. At the same time, more than 20 NATO countries still do not meet the requirement of 2% of GDP for defence.

Trump addressed the first reminder to the European NATO countries in February 2024 when speaking during a political rally in South Carolina, quoted the president of “a big country” that he did not name as asking, “Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia – will you protect us? I said: ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ He said: ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No I would not protect you. I would encourage them to do whatever they want. You gotta pay.”

If the war in Ukraine does not end before the U.S. presidential election and if Trump wins the election, then immediately after the election, back in November of this year, Trump, meeting with European leaders, will again remind them of their obligations to comply with NATO’s 2% of GDP requirement for defence. And he will remind them in a more radical form than he did in 2018 – the war in Ukraine will greatly intensify Trump’s rhetoric.

Thus, after Stoltenberg’s statement and Trump’s expected ultimatum claims in the future, European NATO countries find themselves between a hammer and anvil – the war in Ukraine on the one hand, and Trump’s demands to significantly increase defence spending and his desire to end the war in the shortest possible time by political means on the other. Are the European NATO countries ready to increase their defence spending by 30 billion euros, i.e. up to 2% of GDP, and at the same time establish a fund for military aid to Ukraine for 100 billion euros for five years? The first initiative – defence spending, will find support from Trump, and the second – regarding military aid to Ukraine too, if we are talking about the postwar aid to strengthen the security of Ukraine.

This is a difficult situation for NATO, especially its European members. It is difficult in geopolitical, security and financial contexts. How do you get out of the position between the hammer and the anvil? Perhaps the way out of this situation is to end the political war in Ukraine before the U.S. presidential elections while increasing defence spending by European countries to 2% of GDP and allocating 100 billion Euros as a fund for military aid to Ukraine.

This can be used by Ukraine to improve its defence capabilities, which is a kind of post-war Security Guarantee for Ukraine, a tool to deter any further aggression of Russia, i.e. the formation of security contours in post-war Europe. This would be a strong decision by NATO, which is responsible for European security. European leaders are limited in time for manoeuvring by November 2024; therefore, the major decisions mentioned above should be made beforehand.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email