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Ukraine's stalled counteroffensive and U.S. failure to pass more aid, concern Europe

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

European leaders have been asking how long they can really rely on the United States. Germany's defense minister has called upon European countries to do more for their own security in years to come. Former President Trump was notably close with Russia's leader and has shifted his party's views of Ukraine and European security. Our co-host Leila Fadel spoke with Dan Baer, who is director of the Europe program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

DAN BAER: It's certainly the case that many in Europe are very focused on the 2024 elections here and concerns about what a possible second Trump administration would mean for European security, given the former president's statements about withdrawing from NATO or reducing U.S. commitments to Europe. I think more pressingly, though, is the ongoing war, Russia's war against Ukraine, which has made clear that European security is not a done deal.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

So let's break that down. Let's first talk about Russia and Ukraine. When we talk about this major security concern through the views of Europe, what does that look like?

BAER: Well, the reminder that there is a major land war, the largest land war since World War II, in Europe is a reminder that war is not done. I think more pressingly is the fact that there's a deep understanding that is emerging that if Russia is allowed to win in Ukraine, that won't be the end of the story. So Germany and others are recognizing that it's not what anybody wants, to have an antagonistic relationship with Russia, but they need to settle in for the long haul of recognizing that Russia will remain a major security threat to Europe for the foreseeable future.

FADEL: How does that change if there's another Trump term?

BAER: Another Trump term will accelerate the need for the development of the European industrial base. And in some ways, part of the defense minister's comments were an intra-European sign, I guess, because the new government in Poland, headed by Donald Tusk, presents an opportunity. There's been an acrimonious relationship between Poland and Germany in recent years, and this is an opportunity. And I think the minister was sending a signal to Poland about the willingness to work together. And if the Weimar Triangle, which is Poland, France and Germany, can work together on developing European security, they can be a powerful force.

FADEL: I guess I want to get more focused, though, on Congress in the U.S. and the fact that aid for Ukraine is up in the air, that it's been delayed. I mean, what message has that sent to Europe?

BAER: Well, it sends a message to Europe in that the United States can't be relied upon to do what is in the United States' interest, as well as in European interests. It also sends a message to the rest of the world, and I think that can't be underestimated. It's not only a failure that will make it more difficult for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression. It's also a failure that makes the United States look weaker in the world. It makes any potential partners question the value of our partnership. And so it is something that sets the United States back in our ability to build the kinds of partnerships that we need in the 21st century.

FADEL: Why haven't European countries invested in defense and security capabilities in recent years? I mean, why are they in this position of playing catch-up?

BAER: I think largely because of optimism about the progress of the European project, the European Union and the relative lack of conflict since World War II has given the European powers a sense of complacency. There was a long-standing belief in Germany that Russia could be a partner, not an adversary, and that the major strategic threat, therefore, that was obvious was not so much of a threat. And obviously that has been proven wrong. So I think what we're seeing now is a need to renew a commitment to hard security and to investing in defense.

FADEL: But there's also something kind of terrifying in what you just said, like a loss of faith that the threats are over, a possibility of another world war.

BAER: Well, I mean, I think you don't want the major powers of the world constantly jockeying for an upper hand, because that's the kind of situation that has in the past produced misunderstandings or conflagrations that result in large-scale wars. But I think there's also a way forward here. As the U.S. power relatively declines with the rise of other powers, there is a vacuum that is created, and Europe and other partners need to step up and fill that vacuum so that there are responsible security actors who are looking toward peace, rather than looking toward the kind of contests and competition that result in conflict.

FADEL: Dan Baer is the senior vice president for policy research and director of the Europe program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thank you so much, Dan.

BAER: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "CIRCLING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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