Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Europe’s power is fading fast

by nytime
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S ome 18 months since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, the conflict continues to confound those offering confident predictions of its probable outcome. The Ukrainian counter-offensive is making some progress, but Russian forces are putting up stiff resistance. The Kremlin appears to have rid itself of a rival with the reported death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner leader, but analysts are unclear as to whether it leaves the Russian president in a stronger position or a weaker one. 

Amid the fog of war, however, there has been at least one constant. Europe’s collective approach to the invasion has been strategically inept. While the Baltic States, Poland and a few other nations have shown commendable strength of purpose, Germany and France have been weak from the start. Berlin has had to be dragged into providing weapons. Paris has flirted with a premature negotiated solution. Their records are not all bad, but their actions have not always matched their rhetoric. This is the gravest threat to European security in decades, and Europe has failed to take the lead in resolving it. 

That is why the outcome of the next US presidential election has assumed greater significance than it ought to have for the war in Ukraine. Several contenders for the Republican Party nomination have made clear that they will not keep up the supply of guns and money. One has even proposed a land-for-peace deal with Russia that would free the US to focus on China. Putin certainly seems to be gambling on Washington scaling back its support for the Ukrainian cause. If it does, and European nations do not pick up the slack, it is not clear that Kyiv can win. 

Countries hostile to Western power are seeking to redraw the geopolitical map. The Brics group, which many suspect is now merely a front for Beijing, plans to admit a series of new members, some of which were once allies of the West. Others are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see where to throw in their lot. The West allowed Prigozhin, the gangster-leader of a mercenary force, to seize influence over a swathe of African countries. 

American leadership might have been lacking in recent years, but much of Europe appears to have given up on playing any international role whatsoever beyond lecturing other countries about their “values”. As Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the US, wrote on these pages this week, demographic trends suggest that Europe’s influence will fade even further in the years ahead. 

Is this inevitable? It is certainly unwelcome. If Europe really is serious about its own security, then it has to will the means to achieve it. That stands for the UK as well.

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