Almost one year into the Russian war against Ukraine, the US and its allies are constantly and also fiercely debating about the right level of military support for the Ukraine, as you will also do at the Munich Security Conference. How do you judge the current efforts in Europe to support the Ukraine?
Jason Crow: Though the war is far from over, we have done a remarkable job coming together as a coalition, not only through NATO, through the larger Ukrainian Defense Contact Group, in providing the aid that puts Ukraine in a position to win - not just weapons, but the equipment, the financial aid and sanctions against Russia that are necessary. Three years ago, the theme of the Munich Security Conference was "Westlessness". There was this notion that the west had lost its way and that the Transatlantic Partnership did not have the same meaning that it used to have. There was a constant debate about the future of NATO. Fast forward to today, it is a very different discussion. NATO is stronger now. The transatlantic partnership is stronger, and people recognize the need for it.
Brendan Boyle: This last almost exactly a year has been a shining moment for the transatlantic alliance and especially for NATO. Today, no one is calling NATO brain dead or questioning the importance or the strength of the transatlantic alliance. Four years ago, there were jokes whether NATO would still exist by now. Overall, I am quite proud of the unity within NATO, the unity in Europe and in North America and especially from the United States. Making sure that we keep that going is a real priority of mine, especially if we will see an economic downturn at some point this year. It will be vital for those of us who are in elective office to continue to support fighting Russian aggression in Ukraine even if some of our publics start to want to turn within and focus on domestic issues.
Yet there have been issues within the transatlantic alliance over the last year, most remarkable over the delivery of Main Battle Tanks to Ukraine ...
Boyle: ... and whether or not Germany would step up and provide the Leopards, true. Occasionally there are frictions, but we have to keep that in proper perspective. I was at the NATO parliament meeting in Brussels this time last year. In literally the days leading up to the Russian invasion, the vast majority of our parliamentary colleagues from other NATO countries did not believe there was going to be a Russian invasion. Where we are now, by and large all of us supporting the war effort, is really remarkable and it is something that we should not take for granted.
Crow: I reject the notion that disagreement and debate is problematic. There is no debate in Russia, there is no debate in China. That is not who we want to be. When you bring together a partnership and a coalition of free, independent and democratic nations, all are welcome to bring their perspectives and their views, and nobody has a monopoly on being right all the time. At the end, debates will get us better results. Vladimir Putin thinks that this is our weakness – and that is ultimately what this is about. This is a test of competing models, of competing worldviews. He thinks that democracies with free and open debates are weak. He is wrong. You can bring together a coalition of 50 plus countries that can have healthy disagreement and still find the best way to support Ukraine so that it will win.
You speak about coalition, you speak about unity of NATO. But in the end, is the US doing Europe's job in Ukraine?
Crow: No. The Defense Contact Group, which has over 50 countries, has come together and they have all brought things to the table. US leadership has been indispensable and we have helped put that coalition together, but we are not doing it alone. Everybody has brought a very special piece to this puzzle, whether it is a specific weapon system, the training of the Ukraine military that is happening in Germany, Poland and throughout Europe, whether it is intelligence support and sharing information, or whether it is the sanctions that different countries have helped to lead on at different times. This has been a remarkable multilateral mission, the likes of which I we have not seen in modern history. This many countries from this diverse background coming together with the common mission of helping Ukraine defend itself and be on the front lines of democracy.
The war against Ukraine dominates daily politics. But the conflict with China is coming more to the front, be it the shooting down of the balloons or a former US-General saying publicly that there will be war with China within the next two years. What does the confrontation with China mean for the transatlantic relationship?
Boyle: First of all, I would cast a very skeptical eye toward anyone making definitive predictions about war with China. I think that spending time guessing how many years away we are from a war starting is rather silly. China is a competitor to the United States and to NATO, but we are not going to go back to the way we faced the Soviet Union in the Cold War because we are so economically intertangled. To use that analogy: In the Cold War, the west had almost zero trade with the Soviet Union and indeed with the Eastern Bloc. By Contrast, with the exception of Canada and Mexico, China is our largest trading partner today. China has a significant trading relationship with a number of EU countries, including Germany. We have to figure out how to be able to be economic partners on the one hand, and competitors on the other.
Secondly, sending a balloon over US-territory is a provocative action from the Chinese - and a very sloppy one. China and every other country should be aware that if you are going to violate US airspace, expect to have your balloon or flying object shut down.
Final point, ten years ago, under NATO's strategic document, there was not one word about China. We just revised NATO's strategic document last year, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly produced a number of resolutions and position papers, some of them I helped to craft as chair of the political committee. China is now discussed extensively in the NATO strategic document, and that is appropriate.
Crow: The United States does not want to be in a conflict with China. In some ways we are adversaries, in others we are competitors, but nobody would win in a conflict, military or otherwise. Unlike Russia and the former Soviet Union in the Cold War, we have mutuality of interests with the Chinese people. While we have deep disagreements with the Chinese Communist Party as it poses dangers to a rules based international order, some degree of collaboration is required to address issues such as the climate crisis, labor standards or a 21st century economy. Keeping that door open in a smart and deliberate way is going to be the key.
A point of debate between the United States and Germany and the European Union is Chinese technology. In 2020 the US delegation to the Munich Security Conference was repeatedly warning of the dangers of Huawei and Chinese telecommunications infrastructure investment. Germany and other countries started to move towards divestment as they recognized that China is using this technology to spy and that those investments come with substantial costs. Divestment of certain critical technologies continues to be necessary. But you cannot divest if you do not have an alternative. Therefore, a telecommunication infrastructure has to be built in the European Union, through multilateral cooperation with NATO.
With ongoing tensions and systemic rivalry with China, what does Washington want from the EU?
Crow: Number one, as I sit on the Intel Committee: given the threats that we collectively face, a greater degree of intelligence cooperation is necessary. But that will only be possible if European countries and our partners address counterintelligence threats and gaps in telecommunications infrastructure. Put it another way, we are not going to share our intelligence with European partners unless we are confident that your telecommunication infrastructure and counterintel capability is sufficient for that degree of cooperation.
Number two: a greater degree of investment in the European security umbrella. Germany is making those moves with the 100 billion Euro investment. Other countries are doing the same, but there needs to be more: meeting the two percent requirement on defense spending as well as modernizing sufficiently.
Number three: We are going to need a greater collaboration on the defense industrial base. The defense industrial base has been extremely strained by Ukraine and it is going to take years to recover our stocks and our inventory as a lot of the weapons are being provided. There has to be a greater cooperation between the US and European industry to accomplish that.
And then fourth: economic cooperation, building out our trade, building out particularly our research and development and our science technology cooperation to divest some of those critical technologies from China and the Chinese sphere of influence.
Boyle: There had been a range of views in Europe in terms of how to approach China. The revised NATO strategic document reflects that we are now on the same page, that many of our European friends and allies see the same threat and danger that we see, while at the same time recognizing that we need to work to attempt to avoid any armed conflict. I remember being in at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany in 2017 and seeing Xi Jinping fetted as if he was a great democratic leader. He is not. If anything should have been learned over the last couple of years, it is that Vladimir Putin's Russia and the Chinese Communist Party's controlled China do not share our values, and that the transatlantic alliance is more than just a collection of wealthy nation states with high GDP’s that want to come together to help each other militarily. So I would expect, moving forward, our allies to recognize that and act accordingly.
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