Researchers fear the US will not help Europe as they have in the past if a new war hits the continent
The US has so far accounted for 90 per cent of arms aid to Ukraine. Going forward, Europeans must prepare to manage without so much help from the USA, researchers say.
Without the US, Russia would have been in control of Ukraine by now.
But the next time there is a war in Europe, Europe cannot count on the US to be as heavily involved in the defence of the continent, according to defence researcher Øystein Tunsjø.
Tunsjø is professor and head of the Asia programme at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies at the Norwegian Defence University College.
“The EU does a lot in many important areas, but without what the US does, Europe would have looked different,” Tunsjø said recently at a meeting of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
“I think there will be war again in Europe. And then we will be quite alone. Especially if such a war in Europe coincides with a war in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
While Europe has all its attention on the war in Ukraine, it is easy to forget that the rivalries between the USA and China have greatly intensified in 2022, the defence researcher said.
“We have to realize that Europe has ended up on the periphery,” he said.
Two important documents
This change relates to China's growth, which has led to a shift in power the likes of which the world has never seen.
“Never before has a state become as powerful so quickly as China has become in the last 20 years,” Tunsjø said.
This has not gone unnoticed among American politicians and defence personnel.
Tunsjø described two important documents that were released towards the end of 2022.
In its national defence strategy, the Americans have now for the first time been very clear about their priorities. Here, China is the main contender. Russia is mentioned at the very end of this strategy note.
“The US developed this document in 2022, while a war was raging in Europe,” Tunsjø said.
The US's national security strategy is also primarily about China.
The researcher believes these are two more pieces of evidence that prove the centre of the world has shifted to East Asia.
We now have two superpowers, the US and China.
Europe belongs to the periphery.
We cannot trust the Americans
Marianne Riddervold, a professor at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, was also at the meeting at the Academy.
She agrees with Tunsjø that Europe is seeing a long-term weakening of transatlantic relations.
“Although the US is focusing on Europe now, we clearly see that they are on their way back to perceiving China as their main challenger,” she said.
She says this is why Europe can no longer trust the Americans to support the European continent in crisis.
“After Donald Trump, we in Europe know that an American presidential election can change American foreign policy and relations with Europe overnight. Trump pursued an ‘America first’ policy. Joe Biden's policies have many similarities. American foreign policy is now very strongly driven by American interests,” she said.
Crises lead to more integration in Europe
European countries now see a need to become more independent from states they no longer trust.
As a direct consequence of this, the EU is becoming increasingly important for security and crisis management in Europe, Riddervold believes.
“We see that crises have been a driver for more integration in Europe,” she said.
“When the Ukraine war came, it was a matter of course that Europe had to find solutions within the EU in support of shared European goals and in cooperation with NATO. They have adopted a large apparatus to respond to this crisis,” she said.
This does not mean that there is always agreement in the EU. This collaboration is often complicated, she said.
“But comparative studies of crises in recent years show a clear tendency: Crises lead to more European integration,” she said.
What happens if there is another war in Europe?
In 2022, President Joe Biden said several times that the United States will defend Taiwan.
New geopolitical developments have increased the risk of war, Tunsjø said.
China has built up its military very quickly. In the early 1990s, the US had a defence budget 20 times that of China. Now that difference is just two to three times larger.
“The US is still more powerful than China militarily. But the gap is getting smaller, year by year,” Tunsjø said.
Europe will stand alone
In the next ten years, Russia will become more dependent on China. But at the same time, China can help Russia with a form of ‘comeback’, Tunsjø believes.
Russia can use a war between China and Taiwan to go after Ukraine again or go after a NATO country in the Baltics.
“Europe then stands alone. In that case, sanctions and dialogue will not do. Then we must have military power, and Europe does not have that today,” he said.
“We must start preparing now if we are to take this development seriously,” Tunsjø said.
Translated by Nancy Bazilchuk
Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no