A Russian attack on NATO is possible, five years from now, maybe eight, says German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. Moscow is increasingly threatening the Baltic countries and Moldova, and the chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, is stressing the need for a transformation of the Alliance towards a war footing.
In Sweden, a country that was neutral until just recently, the top brass of the military are calling on citizens to “mentally prepare for war.” The Lithuanian foreign minister is saying that “there is no scenario … that could end well for Europe” if “Ukraine doesn’t win,” while the Polish leadership, which is already allocating 4 percent of its GDP to defense, is stressing that at this point no scenario can be ruled out.
Outside the EU, the British Defense Minister speaks of “moving from a post-war world to a pre-war world,” while the army chief, Patrick Sanders, stressed the need for more troops (“Ukraine brutally illustrates that regular armies start wars; citizen armies win them”).
From Italy, which has assumed tactical command of Operation Aspides in the Red Sea, Minister Crosetto speaks of a “global hybrid threat,” proposing the establishment of a military reserve and calling for more tanks (which are clearly not meant for the purpose of defense in the Mediterranean).
What is happening in Europe and how can we interpret these signs?
After years of American pressure, the first signs of a trend change in military spending came a decade ago, amid the derailment of the Arab Springs (in Syria and Libya first of all), the rise of the Caliphate and the intensification of the “war on terror.” From 2019 to the present, military spending on the continent has grown roughly 25-30%, with a significant jump after the invasion of Ukraine and increasingly prominent initiatives from within the EU itself.
For a continental political entity that was born on the premise of peace built on the rubble of World War II, and which has long described itself as a “civilian power,” we are in the midst of an epochal transition: a number of questions are arising which call for an open debate. Little is said, for instance, about the implications of the new wave of EU enlargement, in the Balkans and towards Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. The previous enlargement was hailed as an expansion of the area of liberal peace, with a Union moving towards a neighborhood model described as “a ring of friends” by Romano Prodi, then-head of the EU Commission. Today, Europe finds itself embroiled in a context of growing geopolitical rivalries: at its center is Germany, technically in recession, with the far right on the rise and industrial tensions brewing; at its periphery, the “neighborhood” has become a ring of fire.
So, what are the war scenarios fueling this returning militarism? And, mirroring Putin’s propaganda about the inevitability of victory, what war scenarios are fueling this return of si vis pacem para bellum, of one-sided debates, of choices forced by supposedly self-evident facts, actually made exclusively on the basis of the worst-case scenario? And, finally, what will be the unknown political, economic and social consequences of this 21st-century military Keynesianism? The very international order we know is being challenged, with no clear view of what lies ahead.
In il manifesto we have long been pointing out an incontrovertible fact: protracted wars tend to expand, that is, to involve the neighbors, which ends up being us. A historical pattern connects the dots between the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine and expanding Middle Eastern war scenarios. Putin is seeking a rejuvenating boost of electoral legitimacy while the Russian economy has so far managed to adapt to sanctions and withstand the war effort. If we project the ongoing dynamics influencing deterrence calculations into the future, new war scenarios are not implausible. For example, the prominent role taken up by the U.S. in terms of military aid to Ukraine has meant a smaller role played by Poland and the Baltic countries. We are not yet accustomed to thinking of Poland as a first-rate military power capable of leading a war, but newly-appointed Prime Minister Tusk’s statements about the need to take up the duty of providing all the aid Ukraine needs tell us what might happen in case the U.S. pulls out, whether due to a congressional blockade or a Trump win in the elections. Furthermore, the U.S. and Germany are putting the brakes on Ukraine’s NATO membership, deeming it a dangerous option, but it is an option that will be kept on the back burner for the future, for the purpose of negotiating an agreement that might be able to stabilize Europe’s eastern border along the line that Finland, the Baltics and the Ukrainians themselves are currently fortifying, at the edge of the occupied territories.
Bolstered by having secured European financial support, Zelensky is attempting to sideline Commander Zaluzhny, who on the other hand showed he has the support of the nationalist right-wing militias by having himself photographed next to the Right Sector leader. At stake is the mobilization of new forces: one can’t win a war with 40-year-olds exhausted by two years of fighting on the frontline. These dynamics illustrate the risk of dangerous unexpected developments: horizontal escalation is now a reality. It’s not just the refineries on fire in Russia, or warships being attacked on the high seas: in the Middle East theater, the U.S. is selectively responding to the attacks coming its way by picking Iranian targets to strike.
Putting the brakes on these expansive dynamics would require a coordinated European political effort. We are experiencing the paradox of liberal and social-liberal pro-European parties (not to mention the German Greens) being far more positive towards support for the Ukrainian front than nationalist and sovereignist forces, creating the optical illusion – exploited by the red-brown fringe – that the rise of the right-wingers would be a step forward for the pacifist option. In London, Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is expected to win the next election, has made it clear that his own idea of parliamentary control over British military interventions applies only when there are boots on the ground, while air raids are exempt. The left risks making little headway if it limits itself to calling for compliance with the rules of the game. In Brussels, the clauses that condition EU-Israel trade relations on compliance with key provisions about respecting human rights in the conflict with the Palestinians have become a hot topic. We have no option but to mobilize to defuse the deaf and blind logic of war, advancing like a hydraulic press, by reknitting the threads of politics based on a vision of social change.