In the months since, however, these divisions have resurfaced, making themselves felt in new ways. Some countries — most notably France, Italy and Germany — are talking about ways to find a peace settlement in Ukraine, even as they continue to send weapons and funds. Still, polls in Poland suggest it will not support peace until Russia is properly punished. The European Union, slowed by the need to reach consensus, is struggling to keep up. The long-awaited Strategic Compass, a strategy paper released after the start of the war, is a buzzword document promising a “quantum leap” in defense – but in practice does little to address these divisions.
In the absence of continental consensus, the United States is the glue that keeps European security together. Since February, the transatlantic relationship has fallen back into a comfortable rift: The United States provides significant personnel and high-tech weapons, avoiding the need for other NATO members to deploy substantial assets or make difficult choices about joint defense.
Politically, America’s presence is reassuring NATO members in Eastern Europe — who have become painfully aware since February that Western European states aren’t quite as willing to take a hardline against Russia — while allowing Germany to lead Europe. without incurring excessive financial and military costs . The underlying disagreements have not disappeared. But as long as US troops and hardware are on the continent, European states can eat their cake and eat it too.
Understandably, European leaders do not want to participate in punishing political battles at a difficult time. And it may be easy to assume, with 100,000 US troops in Europe, that the US commitment to European security is inviolable. Still, the Trump years should not be so easily forgotten. America’s commitment to European defense, overseen by Mr. Biden, may seem safe today. But with increasing threats in Asia and turmoil in US domestic politics, it is most likely only a matter of time before that changes.
Should he return to the presidency, Mr Trump may well heed his threats to withdraw the United States from NATO. Even some of his less extreme compatriots question America’s role in European defence; in May, 11 Republican senators voted against sending further military aid to Ukraine. There is also a growing consensus in Washington that the United States is urgently needed in the Indo-Pacific to counter the threat from China. Even the best-case scenario – a government in Washington that remains committed to Europe – carries the risk that a crisis elsewhere could lead to a hasty retreat, leaving European states in trouble.
US and European leaders may praise the miraculous recovery of the transatlantic alliance in the coming days. But far from a panacea, America’s support amounts to a plaster covering Europe’s biggest defense disagreements. To be truly united, Europe’s leaders must begin the hard work of resolving these differences and pulling off the plaster.