July 21, 2024

Europe must rearm now

LONDON – Donald Trump’s potential return to the White House in 2025 poses a grave threat to Europe’s security. With war in Ukraine still raging, European countries must shore up their defenses against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revanchist aggressions before it is too late.

The prospect of an unrestrained and unhinged Trump acting on his threats to abandon the United States’ historic commitment to Europe’s defense is so alarming to most European leaders that they appear to be in denial. But after decisive victories in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Trump is now almost certain to be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in November’s election. Given that he also leads President Joe Biden in national polls and in many battleground states, his return to power is a real and present danger.

During his first term, Trump repeatedly threatened to withdraw the U.S. from NATO, the military alliance that ensures that the U.S. extends its nuclear umbrella to Europe. He was talked out of it by his senior foreign-policy advisers, notably former National Security Adviser John Bolton. But Trump’s increasingly isolationist rhetoric suggests that, if elected again, he will surround himself with yes-men rather than experienced establishment figures.

While Trump needs congressional approval to withdraw from NATO, he can gut American security guarantees without abandoning the alliance formally. He would merely need to declare that the U.S. would not come to the defense of European countries in the event of an attack. And now he has said just that: far from defending a NATO country that came under Russian attack, he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” if he deemed that the NATO ally in question had not spent enough on defense.

Instead of merely hoping for a best-case scenario in which Biden is re-elected and continues to support Ukraine and uphold America’s defense commitments to its NATO allies, Europe must prepare for the worst. Ideally, these preparations should have started much sooner, either after Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 or following Trump’s election in 2016.

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