Can Europe defend itself if US withdraws from NATO – expert interview

French and Polish soldiers during NATO Dragon-24, part of Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024. Poland, March 4, 2024
French and Polish soldiers during NATO Dragon-24, part of Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024. Poland, March 4, 2024
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Global security analysts are grappling with a potential Russian attack on NATO, given Donald Trump’s possible second term on office could de-facto suspend Washington’s security guarantee to another Alliance members.

In an interview with NV Radio on March 17, Ukrainian military expert Ivan Kyrychevskyi, who works for Defense Express security news outlet, examines how prepared Europe is to face the Russian threat alone.

NV: Given the difficult situation with the United States, do you think Europe has begun to understand that the U.S. security umbrella is no longer a given?

Kyrychevskyi: All these stories about European Russophilia, when there were “special relationships” with Russia, when [French President Emmanuel] Macron made friendly overtures to [Russian dictator Vladimir] Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, or when Germany still counted on some special relationship with Russia — it was precisely the understanding that the United States wouldn’t protect them.

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What can we talk about if the problem of rapid troop redeployment is still not resolved within NATO? When, in theory, if a major war with Russia breaks out on the European continent, the rapid response forces of Poland, [the Baltics] should hold Russia back, while U.S. reinforcements should land somewhere in France and the Netherlands.

But if the problem of expanding transport highways hasn’t been solved since 2021... Moreover, even the problem that troops from one country to another should pass without border checks hasn’t been solved... We thought that NATO is a single collective force that can pounce at once and crush the enemy. This is not the case.

Not to mention that not all roads in Europe can even accommodate U.S.-made Abrams tanks. In Romania, for example, no. That is, they want to buy Abrams tanks, but their roads cannot bear such a heavy tank.

Therefore, Europe already understood [that the United States was unlikely to fully protect them]. The problem is that they’re still putting off all these problems about their own defense capabilities.

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We can see how well the [procurement] of shells has accelerated. But France, amid the prospective deployment of troops [to Ukraine] that we’re discussing here, still hasn’t abandoned their doctrine of a light ground force. That is, according to their concept, the army should prepare exclusively for defensive battles, firstly, and secondly, it should rely on light armored vehicles. They produced 600 Leclerc [tanks] for the entire French army, with 200 left. They’re not going to manufacture more of those.

This is just in case someone thinks that the French troops could be rushing to Odesa to the tune of La Marseillaise on tanks and decimate the Russians.

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This is just one example. Even empirically, it has been proven that Western military equipment, although made from good concepts, doesn’t withstand a collision with reality.

Other [examples] can be found both in the public domain and on our website, how the French broke their Leclerc tanks at the Shyrokyi Lan training ground [Mykolaiv Oblast] in 2002, during the [presidency] of [Leonid] Kuchma. And, you know, it was that paradoxical story when, since the 2000s, we had been talking about replacing the S-300 air defense systems with [U.S.] Patriot ones, as well as replacing the old Soviet planes with [U.S.] F-16 or [European] Eurofighter jets, and then it turned out that the old [Soviet] T-64 tank is better than the Leclerc tank in our conditions. If only because the T-64 can withstand a 50-kilometer march, while the Leclerc’s brakes catch fire.

NV: It’s dismal to think that the French army has only 200 main battle tanks in service.

Kyrychevskyi: It’s dismal that they have 116,000 active-duty troops. Even though sending a brigade of 4,000 soldiers to Romania for training is such a superpower that requires the coordination of all NATO countries, changes in national legislation in Romania, and the development of the relevant military infrastructure.

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And then we talk about the fact that France has the most powerful ground forces in Europe if we don’t count Poland. Bundeswehr [Germany] and Italy’s army are in tatters. Other countries’ forces are even smaller, at the level of one or two mechanized brigades.

NV: Germany invests EUR 100 billion ($109 billion) in military modernization, Poland is also spending huge amounts of money of defense. Does this mean the EU is updating its approach to security?

Kyrychevskyi: The case of Germany is like “when you haven’t done sports for 20 years but decided to catch up in the last two years.” Catching up is difficult.

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But the Germans are at least trying, unlike the Poles who have something strange going on. They had a change of government, which seemed to be pro-European, pro-liberal, more organized. Not only do they behave strangely with the ongoing blockage of the Ukrainian border by Polish farmers, but they suddenly began to revise all their security agreements with South Korea, which were ambitious. Like, “it’s not beneficial for us.” To which South Korea responded congenially: “You know, we have other buyers.” For example, Saudi Arabia, they have no question at all about how much to pay. They’re ready to pay billions for South Korean air defense systems just because they have them. I think tanks will also be sold [to Saudi Arabia].

By the way, regarding Poland. We can scold ourselves as much as we want for not having dug the battlefield fortifications in time. But Poland has an even bigger problem. They cannot build their fortifications on the border with Kaliningrad [a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania] precisely because of these farmers. Like, they don’t give them land rights.

You know, we can talk about our problems as much as you want, but the West has even more problems.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine