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Will Europe Ever Get Serious About Defense?

At this year’s Munich Security Conference, European leaders missed yet another opportunity to show how they plan to strengthen NATO’s European pillar and develop a robust European defense industry. Yet with the prospect of another Donald Trump presidency looming, there can be no room for such failures.

MUNICH – “Words, words, just words,” sighed one VIP attendee at the Munich Security Conference as representatives of three European Union member states discussed security cooperation. “China will get the message: ‘No need to worry about us here,’” said another about the signals being sent from Bavaria.

A lugubrious mood hung over the entire gathering of policymakers and security experts this past weekend. Leaders seem overwhelmed by the confluence of crises and deepening global challenges; many simply appeared exhausted. The news about Ukraine losing the city of Avdiivka certainly did not help. Ukraine’s ammunition supplies are running low, and no one knows if US President Joe Biden will be able to get another aid package through Congress before the end of his current term. Meanwhile, the death of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny further underscored the brutality of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship in Russia.

But the biggest chill came from the looming prospect of a second Donald Trump presidency, which would weaken NATO and increase tensions with China. The timing could not be worse: Russia may be trying to send nuclear weapons into space, and China’s defense budget has reached record highs. On the conference stage, the dialogue was mostly about reassuring European allies (as it is every year). In the corridors, however, US participants warned their friends that they should start preparing to take care of themselves.