BRUSSELS – Both US President Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the Republican party’s putative nominee to succeed him, have criticized European members of NATO in recent months for failing to fulfill their defense-spending commitments. They have a point.
Europe has indeed failed to uphold its side of the collective defense bargain. Almost all of America’s European allies have allowed their average defense spending to fall below the promised level of 2% of GDP, with some spending far less than that. More important, they have failed to build up a genuine European defense community. Unless they step up, they risk lending credence to Trump’s reckless claims that the Europeans are merely free riders, exploiting an “outdated” alliance at the expense of American taxpayers.
One area where Europe can demonstrate its strategic value to the US is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Some already argue that the European Union has failed to exercise the soft-power options available to it to deal with an overly assertive Kremlin. But, while a broader EU strategy toward Russia is certainly lacking, there is still time to do what is needed to curb the Kremlin’s provocative behavior.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, EU countries implemented economic sanctions, including restrictions on credit to Russian banks and energy firms. The sanctions were linked to the implementation of the 2014 Minsk Protocol, which brought about today’s patchy ceasefire with Russian-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, and are supposed to expire at the end of next month.