The war in Ukraine Is splitting the United States from Europe

  • 2024-06-17
  • Anders Aslund

The other day, I had lunch with an old friend and security specialist, who had just visited Ukraine. He had found his conversations with Ukrainians unsettling, never having encountered such criticism of America. But wasn’t it worse during the Iraq war? No, he responded, the Iraq war was seen as a matter of US overreach. It was ill advised, but the US was perceived as strong. Now the Ukrainians questioned US competence and ability. It was seen as foolish and weak.

    As a Swede, I have been happy to see how Europe has come together in support of Ukraine, leaving the corruption-promoting Viktor Orban aside. The five Nordic countries have become united with the three Baltic countries in their foreign policy for the first time since 1523.

    The US tends to act fast and put more military assets and financing on the table than inert Europe, but by last summer Europe had caught up in terms of financing. One European country after the other has surprised us by providing Ukraine with more arms and funding than expected. Europe is slow but it is moving in the right direction and it provides Ukraine with long-term financing.

    The opposite is true of the US. It seems unable to act for more than a maximum of one year at a time. Last fall, the US administration presented a substantial aid package for Ukraine, but it took more than half a year for it to get the funding through the US Congress. It succeeded only because the republican speaker of the House of Representatives eventually supported it. The US has plenty of relevant arms, but it delivers them late, and holds back on the arms that Ukraine really needs, and often only the US has the best arms.

    Ukraine as well as most of Europe felt great relief when the US finally came through, though the US hesitancy caused more concern than relief. Donald Trump, the convicted republican candidate, opposes all assistance to Ukraine and is likely to want to force Ukraine to give in to Putin, and he has turned half the GOP against Ukraine. Trump is the main risk to Ukraine, and he might become president, so the US cannot be considered reliable. 

The situation is even worse. His former national security advisor John Bolton believes that Trump would withdraw from NATO, which would hardly survive without the US, which accounts for 40 percent of all military budgets in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. After having been the guarantor of peace in Europe, the US has suddenly become the main risk to European security, since Trump may even not defend Europe against Russian aggression. 

Unfortunately, the Biden administration does not appear all too reliable either. Weirdly, it has declared no goal in this war. It appears afraid of a Ukrainian victory and a Russian defeat, while Europe increasingly sees Ukraine’s cause as its own since, unlike the US, it countenances a rising Russian military threat. 

Incredibly, the US does not allow Ukraine to shoot into Russian territory from which the Russian forces attack Ukraine. Logically, Russia has concentrated its recent aggression to Kharkiv, a major city just 30 kilometers from the Russian state border, where the US protects it against Ukrainian fire. The US even complains when Ukraine bombs Russian strategic targets with drones it has produced itself.

This makes no sense. Ukraine’s best friends – Poland, the Baltic States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Nordic states, Czechia, etc. have one after the other stated that Ukraine is welcome to attack strategic targets on Russian land. France and even Germany have arrived at the same position. On May 30, informal news finally claimed that the US will allow Ukraine to shoot at Russian bases but only close to the border around Kharkiv.

On July 9-11, NATO is scheduled to celebrate its 75th anniversary with a summit in Washington. Unfortunately, unlike most NATO members, the US and Germany do not want to invite Ukraine to become a member. Unless they change their position, this summit is likely to become a train wreck. 

While Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has increased European unity, it has opened up a new gap between Europe and the United States, which is likely to last even if the threat of Trump does not materialize.