Evolving European Security Dynamics In A Post-Ukraine Era – OpEd

The security concerns of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) encompass a wide range of challenges of unprecedented magnitude. Since its inception in 1949, NATO has been involved in several military operations in Europe. During the Cold War, it maintained a defensive posture in Europe to deter potential aggression from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact Countries. This effort included the deployment troops, military exercises, and maintaining combat readiness to respond to a potential conflict.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, which occurred in December 1991, NATO faced a significant shift in its strategic posture and purpose. The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought about a fundamental change in the geopolitical landscape of Europe, with far-reaching implications for NATO and its member states. Consequently, NATO had to reassess its primary strategic focus, as the organization had been established in 1949 as a collective defense alliance against the perceived threat from the Soviet Union. The absence of the Soviet threat necessitated a reevaluation of NATO’s role and mission, leading to an expansion in memberships to enhance security cooperation. As the security environment in Europe evolved, NATO increasingly focused on addressing new security challenges, including the rise of regional conflicts, terrorism, and non-state actors. This change in the security landscape led to a broader understanding of security and the development of new capabilities to address emerging threats.

Following the paradigm shift after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, NATO became involved in several notable conflicts and operations. Notable European involvements included Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992-1995, the Kosovo War in 1999, and Afghanistan between 2003-2021, away from Europe as an International Security Assistance Force. Over this period, the militaries of NATO member states underwent significant transformations, resulting in the downsizing of military strength amid economic challenges and changes in the international security landscape. For example, in 1990, the United Kingdom’s military strength was approximately 308000, which had decreased to 152400 by 2023, according to personnel statistics of the United Kingdom. The primary objectives of downsizing military strength were to establish smaller forces that were better equipped, properly trained, adequately housed, and better motivated. Similar methodologies were employed by other states, leading to the downsizing of military strength.

While the concept of downsizing the military is necessary, it should not come at the expense of regional security, which can create over-reliance on a single leadership, like that of the United States. However, this is the reality within NATO, where member states are under-prepared and overly dependent on the United States in all aspects of security matters. As the international security landscape changes, so too does the mindset of military thinkers. The current state of NATO raises questions about member states’ contribution, combat readiness and the premise of downsizing.

NATO’s military might as a defender has never been tested against another powerful military force in Europe since its inception. It is time to rethink and realign priorities for NATO member states to act as a formidable force. As a superpower and the leader of the free world, the United States, with its over-extended responsibilities, is compelled to address the current deteriorating security environment in various capacities, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, heightened tensions between China and Taiwan, and the Israel war against Hamas, which could potentially trigger regional conflict. One of the long standings hotspots where the United States has been heavily engaged since 1950, the Korean peninsula, remains a dormant volcano. This over-extended responsibility placed on the United States may become unsustainable at some point, necessitating a change in strategic thinking and application. It is time for NATO countries in Europe to proactively take the lead and act as a formidable force against Russia. Therefore, it is prudent for NATO member states in Europe to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, become self-reliant, and seize this golden opportunity to enhance security.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has clearly had a significant impact, resulting in a substantial depletion of the Russian economy and military strength, along with international isolation. In contrast, Ukraine has been severely affected, finding itself in a precarious situation and patiently waiting for additional economic and military assistance after a failed counter-offensive strategy solidified a stalemate. Currently, Ukraine is bearing the direct brunt of the Russian invasion, facing a decisive moment in its history. The survival of Ukraine as a sovereign nation and the maintenance of its territorial integrity depends on external financial and military support. Regrettably, Ukraine is limited to requesting financial and military support from donors with justifications, lacking decision-making power or control. In contrast, Russia, under President Putin’s leadership in this war, is not bound by such constraints holds the decision-making authority.

It is widely known that Ukraine is facing a challenging task in securing funding during this critical period, especially in the absence of significant success on the battlefield. This presents a concerning situation for a country like Ukraine to continue its war against Russia without a clear political and military strategy. The United States government is also encountering difficulties in obtaining approval to fund Ukraine. Moreover, the upcoming United States presidential election in 2024 is likely to alter strategic priorities based on the domestic political climate. Against the backdrop of divided attention in the United States, the Ukrainian leadership faced another setback on December 14, when European Union leaders failed to secure much-needed 50-billion-euro package for Ukraine.

Inevitably, like in any other conflict, the Russian-Ukraine war will need to come to an end as one or both nations reach a point of exhaustion. Despite receiving extensive military assistance, including strategic planning and knowledge transfer from the West, Ukraine has struggled to achieve its strategic objectives. Reports indicate a growing resentment within the Ukrainian military and political leadership regarding the war’s outcome in the absence of a clear strategy to achieve desired end states. The prolonged fighting has already taken a toll on soldiers in the form of combat fatigue. Given these circumstances, it is increasingly likely that Ukraine will find itself in an unsustainable position despite external influence. Without a clear military strategy to defeat Russian Forces and a lack of foreign funding for the continuation of the war, the most pragmatic solution for Ukraine may be to seek a negotiated settlement.

Since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian forces have suffered exponential losses in terms of personnel and material, which have not been seen since World War II. Like Ukraine, Russia is also experiencing combat fatigue, being engaged in a high-intensity war with growing domestic pressure. While no war is a blessing, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a blessing in disguise for Europe, allowing them to restructure their military and prepare themselves as a formidable force in future warfighting in the region. This scenario provides enough time and space for European NATO member states to rethink and realign their military strategy to lead their efforts in symmetric and asymmetric warfare.

As a regional power, Russia will maintain a formidable force regardless of the outcome in Ukraine. For President Putin, the war in Ukraine is neither the only nor the last conflict in Europe, as he harbors a larger ambition to undermine cohesion in Europe. At this point, Russia, like the West, is likely to assess its weaknesses and strengths when confronting the West. The lessons learned will inevitably be incorporated into future Russian doctrine and modernization efforts. Given these circumstances, Russia will need at least three years to restructure and rebuild its military following the war in Ukraine. It is unlikely that Russia will be emboldened to engage in another conflict within the next three years that could potentially threaten NATO.

In this information age, many intelligence analyses and assessments that circulate are overblown. In a hypothetical situation, even if Russia were to win the war in Ukraine and achieve its objectives, it would not be able to wage another war in Europe for at least three years, given its depleted military force. This scenario provides NATO with the opportunity to reassess its primary strategic focus and bolster its military strength. With the United States stretched thin in terms of military capability, it is time for Europe to take the lead, become self-reliant, and ensure its security while presenting a formidable force against adversaries.

Finally, the United States’ involvement in any security matters in Europe should be considered as a bonus rather than an obligation. This approach can lead to more genuine and enthusiastic engagement, reflecting a willingness to contribute based on shared interests and values rather than mere compliance with expectations.

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