European leaders are not only unable to counteract the demographic crisis on the Old Continent, but are also losing ground in terms of defense. President Trump’s skepticism and reservation about the military ideas of European bureaucrats Ankara’s increasingly aggressive actions towards Cyprus and Greece, and the rapprochement between Turkey and Russia highlight NATO’s weakness on the eve of its summit in Brussels.
Europe stands no chance if forced to face conflict on three fronts. Two of them are of conventional character: on the eastern flank, where there are continuous tensions with Russia, and in the Balkans near the border with Turkey. The third concerns the Mediterranean area, where young and strong men from Africa and Central Asia cross European borders with the support of a thousand people from the continent’s heartland. Europeans are also militarily involved in Afghanistan, Syria and take part in the growing conflict in Mali.
While Europe is losing its allies, Russia and Turkey are looking for alternative directions of cooperation. Turkey has ceased to be a credible member of NATO, and there are growing fears of the US’s non-engagement in European conflicts. The Gefira team compares the capabilities of the North Atlantic Alliance, without taking into account the American and Turkish armed forces, with those of Moscow and Ankara. The conclusion is clear: the European potential is too weak to deal with any dispute on NATO’s eastern and south-eastern borders.
The comparison shows that European NATO countries spend more than four times on armaments than the Kremlin and Ankara. Despite the fact that the size of the Alliance’s European troops is greater by more than 350,000 people, the advantage of Russian and Turkish ground and air forces is noticeable. NATO’s Navy seems to be stronger, as evidenced by the ratio of nine aircraft carriers to one Russian, but Russia has three times more nuclear submarines. An important element is nuclear equipment: in total, European NATO countries only have 515 nuclear warheads, while Russia has 7,000.
An additional obstacle to the European part of the Alliance is that their troops do not have uniform command. Actions taken by Italy, Poland and Hungary, as well as the euro crisis and migration issues show that Berlin is not able to lead Europe in the face of external threats. France is also trying to take control of European troops, but this has led to the destruction of Libya, while military adventures in Mali are doomed to disaster.
The lack of command procedures without Washington participation is one problem. Logistics is another. Although there are plans to transfer the Alliance forces to the eastern flank, the distance is too large to respond to an unexpected attack. However, given the increasing risk of conflict between Greece and Turkey, NATO countries should reconsider organizational issues that will allow their armies to move more efficiently not only to the east, but also to the south of Europe. Instead of focusing on deterrents, Europe should determine the appropriate logistical procedures that are the basis for a smooth response to an attack on one of the Alliance members.
Although NATO troops are more numerous than Russian and Turkish, even if Article 5 has come into force, no country will sacrifice all of its armed forces. The North Atlantic Treaty gives freedom to members in choosing the means and methods of military defense of a NATO member. Even if each state allocates 10-20% of its soldiers and military equipment (which we consider as a limit anyway), it will not be able to oppose Russian or Turkish troops.
Drawing on the Global Firepower ranking, in the table below, we have compiled the data related to the number of military personnel and items of equipment for three types of armed forces as well as NATO’s and Russia’s budget expenditures. Numbers apart, also technological issues are important i.e. a state’s ability to modernize its military equipment. The Turkish and Russian weapons are regularly tested in operations in the Middle East, which makes it possible to improve them. Most European armies use their equipment only on the training ground and during maneuvers.
First border: USA and Europe
Diplomats admit it openly: Transatlantic relations have been deteriorating for years. Washington is less willing to finance European defense, which is not to the liking of European decision makers who have become accustomed to the United States’ sponsorship to such an extent that many countries are not increasing defense spending to reach the agreed 2% of GDP in 2024. Washington spends USD 647 billion a year on defense, while the military expenditures of other NATO states amount to USD 268 billion. The American president announces that he he is sick and tired of funding European defense. On the other hand, European leaders state that this new American doctrine “has no friends but enemies.” The rejection of the climate change conference provisions by the United States as well as Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, resulting in the re-imposition of sanctions on Tehran, is a bone of contention that brought about a rise in oil prices by hitting importers of this raw material, including Europe.
The trade war waged between the EU and the United States negatively affects transatlantic relations as demonstrated by the recent G7 summit. In addition, Washington is skeptical about European defense plans related to the creation of the European Intervention Initiative, stating that they undermine current forms of cooperation. The growing tension between Europe and the United States may have its apogee at the July NATO summit, when the United States, in order to show the weakness of European allies, may decide to limit its military presence on the Old Continent, and possibly leave the organization altogether. It is important that a few days after the meeting of the Alliance leaders, a meeting of President Putin and President Trump will take place in Helsinki. It is also worth adding that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (Ukraine is not a NATO member) will take part in the July NATO summit in Brussels. spreading the Alliance’s influence to the East may elicit Moscow’s decisive response.
The second border: NATO and Turkey
Europe is openly pointing to Russia as an enemy that could intensify operations in eastern Ukraine or open a new front in the Baltics or Transnistria. However, while the war with Russia in our view is rather less likely, the second – more realistic – place of conflict is the Balkans and Asia Minor. Ankara raises territorial claims against Nicosia and Athens. It can be exemplified by the border violation of Greek air zone by Turkish fighters, or even the Turkish blockade of European ships exploring gas fields in the economic zones of Cyprus. The annexation of Cyprus by Turkey and the attack on Greece (which is also a NATO member) would launch Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Turkey and the other NATO members have diverging interests. An example of this is the “Olive Branch” launched at the beginning of this year against the US-equipped People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the largest Kurdish militia in Syria.10)This causes Ankara to be marginalized by the North Atlantic allies, which Gefira’s team had previously signaled.11)In the current situation, Turkey is not an actual member of the Alliance. Erdoğan’s victory and the strengthening of his position under the presidential system will result in Turkey’s greater activity, and the confrontation between Europe and Ankara, whether it concerns Cyprus or the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, has become very likely.
Europe distances itself from its military allies. Australia, Canada or Japan, potential partners of the Old Continent, do not see any special interest in engaging their own troops in possible disputes in this area. While European policy-makers lose their allies, Moscow and Ankara are trying to create bilateral and multilateral forms of military cooperation. The Old Continent is unable to cope with the escalation of the aforementioned conflicts, without the support of the United States and Turkey. The North Atlantic Pact depleted by two members is losing importance, and the diverging interests of NATO countries deepen existing divisions. Considering the above list of hypothetical events, it should be noted that the Alliance, contrary to the opinion of many analysts and the mainstream media citing them, cannot be perceived as a permanent military arrangement.