Dr. Mayssoun Zein Al Din (Executive Director of the Academy of International Affairs NRW), cordially greeted the distinguished participants hailing from the realms of academia and practical policymaking during the workshop’s commencement, delivering a keynote address to set the tone. Under the guidance of Dr. Iulian Romanyshyn (Fellow at the Academy) the session’s context was elucidated. The Russian war against Ukraine, which transpired on February 24, 2022, marks a resurfacing of large-scale military conflict in Europe and is widely regarded as a pivotal moment for EU and Euro-Atlantic security, according to numerous analysts. Of particular surprise is the extent of unity demonstrated through unprecedented support for Ukraine. Equally significant are the sanctions imposed on Russia and the resulting shifts in defense policies among several European nations. Nonetheless, previous security crises failed to produce comparable transformations in the European defense and security framework. Thus, what sets this event apart from its predecessors? This question formed the crux of the subsequent discussion, wherein the impact of the existential military threat on security and defense cooperation in Europe was examined.
The initial focus centered on Germany’s Zeitenwende, commencing with a keynote address delivered by Prof. James Bindenagel (ret. Ambassador). Notably, the introduction of a promising 100 billion-euro special fund aims to bolster Germany’s defense capabilities and fulfill its NATO obligations. However, the prompt realization of tangible outcomes remains uncertain at present, partly due to the outdated procurement office. Additionally, the question arises as to whether Germany will achieve NATO’s 2% spending target, which will hinge primarily upon political will. Crucial to this endeavor is the forthcoming national security strategy, which must incorporate the necessary investments. Nonetheless, the formulation of this strategy is still subject to debate, particularly regarding “China policy” matters, among other issues. Moreover, the transformation of Germany’s doctrine from “peace with Russia” to “peace against Russia” assumes a vital role in the Zeitenwende. This shift is evident, for instance, in the permanent deployment of German troops along NATO’s eastern flank.
Subsequently, the inquiry emerged as to the implications of the Russian war for NATO and the U.S. commitment to European security. In this regard, the United States demonstrates significant leadership within the transatlantic alliance and continues to make a substantial contribution to European security. Against the backdrop of global power shifts accompanied by a relative decline in Western influence, the U.S. will inevitably need to focus its security engagement on the Indo-Pacific region in the future. Consequently, the call for greater independence in security and defense policy within the European Union gains momentum. Within this context, there is a recurring demand for fairer burden-sharing (notably advocated by the United States), and strategic autonomy (particularly championed by France). Moreover, the role that the EU will assume in its relationship with NATO moving forward remains an open question.
Remarkably, for the first time in its history, the EU responded swiftly and cohesively to an external shock following the Russian war of aggression. As a result, EU policy towards Russia underwent profound changes. Unlike in 2014, the EU implemented a robust sanctions regime (including a reevaluation of dependencies on Russian energy supplies) aimed at curtailing financial support for Putin’s war machine, although the precise impact remains to be seen. Furthermore, the direct provision of arms by the EU to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility represents an entirely novel approach. Simultaneously, Russian aggression presents a significant opportunity for enhancing cooperation within the Common Security and Defense Policy, an area that has seen limited progress in recent years but has now moved to the top of the political agenda. Interestingly, the EU Commission has assumed an active role in this process, introducing legislative proposals such as the Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP) and the European Defense Industry Reinforcement through Common Procurement Act (EDIRPA). Previously, the EU lacked a coherent strategy in response to the unexpected annexation of Crimea, which was characterized by Russian hybrid warfare and caused internal disagreements within the EU. The current extensive use of military force renders Russia less agile and, paradoxically, confers a strategic advantage to the EU, leaving no doubt about Russia’s intentions. Although the European security architecture had already experienced significant fractures, the Russian war, as the largest interstate war in Europe since the end of World War II, signals the end of a rules-based order.
Consequently, this shift in dynamics resulted in a reevaluation of defense policies among countries like Finland and Sweden, which traditionally maintained a neutral stance but now joined or are about to join for NATO. Furthermore, we are witnessing a resurgence of EU enlargement policy, as exemplified by the granting of candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. This also triggers new political realignments within the EU, fostering opportunities for new leadership. In the absence of previous German initiatives, Eastern European states, particularly those neighboring Poland, are asserting themselves with heightened confidence. In this regard, the significance of the Baltic states should not be underestimated, as the Russian war represents the most significant geopolitical shock to the region in decades. The Baltic population harbors widespread concerns of a potential Russian invasion due to their shared historical past with Ukraine in relation to Russia. Similar narratives, including allegations of a resurgence of Nazism, discrimination against the Russian population, and the perception of NATO as a threat, prevail in Russian discourse regarding the Baltic states. The defense of Ukraine therefore is regarded as a direct defense of the Baltics, fostering overwhelming support and solidarity with Ukraine and prompting far-reaching security and defense measures. The Baltic states also play a vocal advocate for a more stringent sanctions policy against Russia within the EU. In contrast, Hungary’s attempt to normalize Russian aggression stands out. Thus, the war also serves as a test for regional cooperation frameworks within the EU and the Eastern Partnership. Ultimately, the question lingers as to whether Europe possesses the political capacity to enhance its military capabilities and attain strategic unity, specifically in terms of the EU’s policy on China.
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