Europe unifying, strengthening alliances in face of Russian aggression

U.S. Sec. for Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, right, speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, during the North Atlantic Council meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 16. Photo: The Associated Press

By Michael R. Malone

U.S. Sec. for Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, right, speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, during the North Atlantic Council meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 16. Photo: The Associated Press

Europe unifying, strengthening alliances in face of Russian aggression

By Michael R. Malone
President Vladimir Putin may have intended to exploit a distracted and divided Europe, yet his invasion of Ukraine instead has bolstered EU and NATO alliances and likely will inflict costly long-term consequences for Russia, University of Miami international law, security, and European policy experts say.

Beyond the untold suffering and human tragedy caused, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted one of President Vladimir Putin worst nightmares—a unified Europe rallying around the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliances, according to Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Chair and director of the University of Miami’s European Union Center. 

“What Putin hates is Europe, the EU nations, getting together to become the collective front of European defense,” said Roy, “but that is what’s happened.” 

Roy identified three “shields” whose origins surfaced in the aftermath of WWII—the EU, NATO, and the Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Plan. 

“These three shields that Europe built with the United States have been a constant message to the Soviet Union back then and to its successors, and they have been the three winners, or beneficiaries, of the Russian invasion,” Roy said. 

“The Marshall Plan is back. We are all going to pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine—and Putin has unified and accomplished what no one else could,” he added. 

Roy referenced Hungary and Poland as examples of a more unified EU. Both nations had been problematic recently, questioning the economic union’s strength and even the fundamentals of European integration. With the invasion, the Hungarian president has turned silent, and Poland is heading the rescue effort to accommodate Ukrainian refugees, he pointed out.

He also highlighted the catalyst for forming the EU. In the aftermath of WWII and the rise of Hitler’s Germany, French diplomat Jean Monnet, U.S. President Harry Truman, and other political leaders recognized that the state itself was capable of being the “bad guy.” 

“The nation state—itself a truly European invention—had gone berserk, so they determined that what needed to be done was to reduce or limit the power of the state,” he explained. 

And to that end they created a collective entity to reconstruct Europe which was initially the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), created in 1951 and which launched a process of integration that evolved to become the more expansive European Union. 

“So that first EU [the ECSC] is still here and those of us who study the union always point to the fact that members rarely seek to get out,” said Roy, adding that “Brexit can be considered an exception, derived from the fractious membership of the UK in the EU.” 

Pablo Rueda-Saiz, an associate professor in the School of Law, highlighted that the invasion has shifted the focus and direction of the EU. 

“Instead of contesting U.S. influence, which is something they wanted to do, now they want to call on more military presence in the EU because they realize that is the most effective way to deter Putin and Russia,” Rueda-Saiz said. 

Also, EU members realize that the U.S. on its own has multiple deterrent mechanisms and that they are the first ones that would be affected by any future measures taken by Putin, Rueda-Saiz said. They’re also feeling pressure on the part of the Scandinavian countries that might be more affected by what Putin might do in the near future. 

Both experts recognized how Germany, along with France the two major players in the EU, has shifted its role in the alliances. 

“Until very recently Germany’s leadership has been very careful, not wanting Germany to go back to the old times where it was perceived as being too strong militarily. But the current circumstances are forcing the new leaders to say: ‘Hey, we did enough, we behaved enough, and now it’s time for us to be not only an economic leader of Europe, but one of the most important partners,’ ” said Roy, noting that “in most cases Germany and France are cooperating even more than before.”

“Germany in terms of energy, mining, and other investments has been very dependent on Russia—it was a stance they believed they needed to follow,” said Saiz. “So, this situation has been very costly both for the country and for its role within the EU. But now they’ve realized that it’s in their best interest to shift away from that dependency.” 

Bradford McGuinn, a senior lecturer in political science, is familiar with the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), one of 11 combatant command centers around the world. McGuinn highlighted the strong relationship between the U.S. military and European nations through NATO that he observed during visits to USEUCOM bases in Europe and the U.S. over a nearly 20-year period. McGuinn suggested that the recent conflict has strengthened those bonds. 

“NATO members understand one another’s history, their command structures, and military doctrines. They engage in joint exercises, simulations, and war games,” he said. “So much of the culture of USEUCOM was based on what was generally a shared threat assessment [of the Soviets], as well as many joint missions in recent years. As a consequence, you have generations of military leaders—both U.S. and their European partners—who know one another very well.” 

In terms of NATO, Roy highlighted a sarcastic reference to three original priorities of the military-purposed alliance formed in 1949: Keep the Americans in Europe, keep Germany down, and keep the Soviets out. 

“The only exception to that has been that Germany is not ‘down’ anymore,” he said. “The U.S. is solidly in, and Putin-Russia remains out.” 

Roy pointed to Article 5—the “heart” of the treaty, which stipulates that an attack against one of the alliance’s members is an attack against all, as a major success in deterring Russia’s expansion in the past. This article of “collective self-defense” was invoked when the U.S. retaliated for the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, and invaded Afghanistan. NATO participated in Iraq and in some battles in the former Yugoslavia based on this article, Roy said. 

Rueda-Saiz, an international law expert, noted the many nuances and complications of interpreting the right to self-defense or collective self-defense—whether invoked through NATO’s Article 5 or the U.N. Security Council’s Article 2, which sets forth the charter’s sovereignty principles and governs the use of violence or armed conflict internationally. 

In this regard, he cited the case of the former Yugoslavia where NATO acted even though the country was not a NATO member state. 

“The point could be made that NATO acting on behalf of Albanian and Kosovo minorities and that Albania was seeking membership, but the fact was Yugoslavia wasn’t a member at the time,” Rueda-Saiz maintained.

He highlighted that the question of “preemptive self-defense,” which was debated last year by the Security Council, can be a particularly gray area within international law. 

“It’s a right that is not contingent on recognition, so in Ukraine’s case it could act in their favor or against them,” Rueda-Saiz explained. The secessionist states supporting Russia, in eastern Ukraine can also claim the right to self-defense, that secession is no longer an affair internal of the Ukraine and they could claim they have a right to defend themselves against Ukraine, he added. 

Regardless the military outcome in Ukraine, the timetable will be long and the costs for Russia will be massive, Rueda-Saiz noted. 

“Even if Russia wins, this is going to be a costly war,” Rueda-Saiz said. “You have guerrilla forces in Ukraine that will continue operating against an eventual military occupation. And if Russia decides to leave Ukraine, and the country is faced with the possibility of having to face secessionist forces in these two regions, Russia will need to try to protect those areas,” he added. 

“Whatever the immediate or mid-level outcomes in the war or battles to come, this is going to last a very long time, one way or another,” Rueda-Saiz concluded.