On Sunday, John Hinderaker posted an article at Power Line Blog wondering what protection against Russian invasion does Europe have from NATO or the European Union. It’s a very timely question.
The article notes:
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused a number of European countries–probably all of them–to reconsider their military defense postures. If Russia attacks them, will they be able to resist? And whom can they count on to come to their aid?
Responses vary. Germany is talking about abandoning its post-WWII de-militarization. France, in Gaullist tradition, wants the EU to take the lead on security. Others rely on a presumed airtight NATO guarantee of military assistance.
Sweden is an interesting case. Sweden is not a member of NATO, although it has collaborated closely with NATO’s central command. Instead, Sweden has allied itself with the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, the U.K.
This is a portion of the interview with Björn Fägersten, head of the Europe program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, included in the article:
Does the EU’s mutual defence clause have a similar effect to Nato’s Article 5?
Björn Fägersten: In a purely legal sense they are equivalent – in some ways the EU is a bit sharper. But on the other hand, the EU’s clause has a sub-clause that makes clear that it doesn’t affect member states’ individual choices on security policy, for instance for those countries that are neutral.
A key difference between the EU and Nato is that the EU has no real apparatus. Nato has a joint military headquarters, SHAPE, but the EU doesn’t have an equivalent.
Within the EU there are also expectations that Nato will be at the centre of European planning – most EU countries are members. In the EU’s Global Strategy from 2016 it is made clear that Nato is the cornerstone of the EU’s defence.
Looking to the future, many in the EU, not least Macron, have long spoken about the need for strategic autonomy, where Europe will take a more independent line in defence from the US. Last week Germany announced a huge increase in defence spending. How will that change the equation for Sweden?
BF: If in the long term Europe starts taking greater responsibility while the US takes the main responsibility for handling China, that would change Sweden’s calculation. Sweden would like there to be an American interest in its security, but if, for example, a new president was elected in the US in 2024 who had a more doubtful approach to European security, Sweden would be forced to rapidly reevaluate its defence strategy.
The article concludes:
Call me a cynical lawyer, but does “such action as it deems necessary” really obligate the U.S., or anyone else, to a full military response to Russian aggression in Europe? Might “such action” merely encompass economic sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of, say, Lithuania?
I suppose it is best if Russia’s leaders assume that Article 5 represents an airtight mutual security pact, but it is easy to imagine a weaselly or mentally challenged president–or, perhaps, one who is uniquely focused on American self-interest–going back on 70 years of interpretation of Article 5 and more or less abandoning our European allies. No doubt that is something that they, too, are imagining.
Which I think is probably to the good. Donald Trump was right: it is long past time for powerful European countries, including Germany, to look to their own defense, even if in cooperation with us. And, of course, the more able they are to defend themselves against Russian aggression, the more likely they are to receive military help from their NATO allies, including us, should the time come.
There is value in working together and providing mutual aid, but there is also a lot of value in standing on your own two feet.