Trump's threat: how should Europe defend itself?

A debate over European defence capabilities has broken out after Donald Trump threatened to only grant alliance protection to those Nato states that meet the agreed target of two percent of GDP for defence spending. Commentators discuss what should be done in the event that the US really does cease to guarantee the continent's security.

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Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

This is what Putin was waiting for

Rzeczpospolita worries about the fate of Poland:

“It would be naive to believe that by spending four percent of GDP on the army we have nothing to fear. After all, what does it matter if we fulfil Trump's condition if, for example, the Germans and the French don't, which Trump might see as a sufficient pretext to start withdrawing US forces from Europe? And it would be naive to think that we will be a lonely European island that the US will defend while not defending Germany. That is not feasible in practice. The real consequence of a 'you-must-pay' policy could be that Europe is left alone with Russia. And that it just what Vladimir Putin is waiting for.”

La Stampa (IT) /

If Kyiv stands firm, Europe will stand firm

The real problem is not Trump but Vladimir Putin, La Stampa stresses:

“The solution does not lie in keeping Donald Trump happy. It lies in a defence of Europe that can stand up to Vladimir Putin. This defence starts with Ukraine. ... If Kyiv stands firm, Europe will stand firm. And vice versa. Today the Europeans are not in a position to defend themselves against Russia without American help. This inability has no economic, demographic, industrial or technological justification. It was a convenient 'peace dividend' in the absence of threats to the continent. As long as there are no threats, building up defences against them is pointless. However, it's indispensable when they re-emerge.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Under France's protection

The French nuclear forces are a guarantee for European security, Die Presse stresses:

“There is and never has been any talk of placing the nuclear forces which have supported France's strategic autonomy since 1964 under European or even EU command. ... However, France's 'force de dissuasion' is already implicitly protecting the rest of Europe. ... Consider the words of Nicolas Sarkozy in March 2008: 'As for Europe, it is a fact: By their very existence, French nuclear forces are a key element in Europe's security. Any aggressor who might challenge it must be mindful of this.'”

Blog Damijan (SI) /

EU army a pipe dream

Economics professor Jože P. Damijan asks whether Europe could really achieve military independence:

“If Trump really were to weaken alliance protection under Article 5, wouldn't this offer an opportunity for Europe to become independent from the US in terms of security and military defence? In principle, yes, but in practice it's just a pipe dream. First off, the promoters of neoconservative American imperialist policy will never allow this to happen, because it would mean losing their grip on Europe and reducing their chances of controlling Russia. ... And secondly, even if the EU were to decide to create a new security architecture with its own army and nuclear weapons, the bloc would be too heterogeneous in its interests and too dysfunctional to implement it.”

Expressen (SE) /

Time is running out

Europe needs to boost its defence capacity as quickly as possible, warns Expressen:

“Deterrence is about credibility. Europe must build a credible defence that will survive even a Trump 2.0 in the White House. And this is urgent. Putin is a risk-taker and an opportunist, so the risk of war increases if the US signals that it is not going to honour its commitments. Last autumn several experts said that the Nato states had three years to build up their defences to deter Russia from attacking within six to ten years. Now this horizon seems to have shortened.”

Hospodárske noviny (SK) /

Dust off the old plans

The possibility of Trump colluding with Putin could finally prompt Europe to stand on its own two feet regarding security policy, writes Hospodárske noviny:

“Europe has been struggling with the issue of collective security for years. Let's remember that the idea of building a common European army was already put forward in 2015 by then EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. A few years before that the strategic autonomy of the EU was also under discussion. All of these intentions remained on paper. Perhaps Brussels is now dusting them off.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

The end of the US role as leader of the West

If Trump's statement were to be implemented Nato would be finished, comments Yeni Şafak:

“That Trump, who has always questioned the US's common defence concept, says he refuses to protect a Nato member state means the practical end of this military alliance. The loss of the deterrent effect of the collective defence concept, which is based on Article 5 of the Nato treaty, would not only mean the end of the alliance's guarantees, but also the end of the US's leading role within the Western alliance. For America, which is engaged in a global power struggle with Russia and China, it will be very difficult to fight this battle without unity within the Western alliance.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Not the time for nuclear fantasies

The taz considers the idea that Europe needs nuclear weapons to be misguided:

“Anyone ranting about a German or European bomb now is breaking the law and gambling away trust. Serious security politicians should not be jumping over Trump's stick or having doomsday fantasies - they should say what comes next. But those in charge are keeping quiet about this. Germany and the EU have no strategy for the increasingly hopeless war in Ukraine and no plan for dealing with the wavering superpower that is the US. That should worry us more than any of Donald Trump's election campaign slogans.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Southern and Western Europe must show solidarity

La Vanguardia warns that Putin represents a real threat:

“This is not a Ken Follett or Frederick Forsyth novel. We are facing a real scenario with a main character, Vladimir Putin, who has nuclear weapons. ... After months of failures on the front line, Putin feels emboldened because he has resisted the Ukrainian counter-offensive and sees Donald Trump's victory as highly likely. ... The threat he poses is real. The citizens of Southern and Western Europe are not experiencing the same tension as their neighbours in the Baltic states, Poland or Finland, which border Russia or are very close to it. But a conflict with some of these countries would directly plunge us into a war via Nato.”

The Times (GB) /

Finland got it right

Europe's countries should follow the example of new Nato member Finland, writes The Times:

“In terms of artillery and air power, Finland is well equipped for a small country. On manpower, conscription means that the Finns have a wartime strength of 280,000, with a further 870,000 reservists. All this in a country with a population of only 5.5 million. How did the Finns get this right? For a start, Finnish doctrine was not based on the wrongheaded assumption elsewhere in Europe 20 years ago that Russia after the Cold War was magically no longer a threat. ... The aim of all this preparation, as the Finns understand, is not to start a war but to build the industrial and military capacity to avert it.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Take over the Nato command

Les Echos says it's time to prepare for potential developments in the US:

“The Europeans, particularly the French, Germans and British, must take command of Nato, both financially and strategically. ... There is a growing risk that we will see Ukraine capitulate to Russia due to a lack of ammunition. ... It is vital that Kyiv should be in a strong position on the - hypothetical - day that Donald Trump comes to power. And it is essential that the countries of Eastern Europe believe in our collective defence. Otherwise, each one will seek individual protection from Donald Trump. Without an alliance and without Europe.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

No European defence without solidarity

Rzeczpospolita poses the crucial question:

“While it is self-evident that an American from New York would die for an American from Los Angeles, the dilemma of whether a Spaniard would do so for a Pole is far trickier. After all, this is the reason why Poland spent 3.9 percent of its GDP on defence last year while Spain only spent 1.26 percent. And as long as there is no sense of solidarity among all Europeans, it will be very difficult for our continent to defend itself.”

15min (LT) /

Set priorities, use resources effectively

Political scientist Ramūnas Vilpišauskas is cautiously optimistic about Europe's defence ambitions vis-à-vis Russia:

“On the one hand, the threat assessment gives reason to hope that the Nato countries are on the same page regarding the Russian threat, and this should translate into additional investment in the European defence industry and defence measures. ... On the other hand, resources are limited. ... Let's not forget that even without the US, the other Nato members are far ahead of authoritarian Russia in terms of economic and financial resources and technology. The key is to agree on priorities and use these resources in a targeted and effective way to protect our well-being and way of life.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Germany's key military role

Adevărul asks whether the rapid rearmament of Europe, and in particular Germany, is the right response to Trump's threats:

“Yes, to the extent that the pressure from European generals warning that Ukraine will be completely dependent on supplies from the EU states grows. ... But can Germany become the largest arms producer in Europe? And do the defence and security of the countries on our continent depend on the production capacity of this country's military-industrial system? From a historical perspective, it's a delicate question. The answer must be weighed against the new realities of the world power market. If the Americans decide that they have spent enough on wars, how will Germany take over the leadership of the European military?”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

Nuclear armament would be catastrophic

Naftemporiki is alarmed by reports that nuclear weapons are also under discussion in Germany:

“Unfortunately, the debate about arming the EU with nuclear weapons is not being conducted in some basement by a group of right-wing extremist, war-loving madmen. ... Yet Germany signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. ... A withdrawal by Germany from this obligation under international law would represent a significant escalation in the existing conflict with Russia. The belief that the doctrine of nuclear deterrence creates security is a myth. On the contrary: Europe's nuclear armament would bring us to the brink of nuclear war.”