This moment may define our children’s future - Article by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski and French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Stéphane Séjourné

03.04.2024 - Article

Seventy-five years ago, NATO’s founding treaty was signed in Washington to ensure the security of our territory, the safety of our people and the preservation of our common values: individual liberty, human rights, democracy and rule of law.

Since then, NATO has become the most successful defense alliance in history, guaranteeing the freedom of 32 member countries in Europe and North America.

But today, these values are being tested like never before.

For more than two years, Russia hasn’t just been waging an unjustified and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has also been making clear, time and again, turning his back on decades of approaches for cooperation, that his imperial ambition reaches far beyond Ukraine — that what he’s attacking is the European peace order itself.

Hence, while celebrating NATO’s anniversary, we must not turn complacent. Rather, we must live up to the fact that this moment may define the future our children will live in.

Over the past two years, Europe and North America have stood united and steadfast against Russian aggression. Together, we supported Ukraine’s self-defense with over €200 billion in assistance, with the EU and its member countries providing roughly two-thirds of the overall assistance approved for Kyiv so far.

Our support will continue for as long as it takes, and as intensively as needed.

We are supporting Ukraine to defend our freedom and security — but we are also investing in our own strength in Europe. We should make no mistake: Today, Ukraine is under attack — tomorrow, it may be some other part of Europe. And Russia will not cease its aggressive and imperialist politics for the foreseeable future.

That is why, on its 75th anniversary, we reiterate NATO’s founding principle: An attack against one of us is considered an attack against all. One for all and all for one. Together, we will defend every inch of NATO territory and stand united against any future Russian aggression.

For years, Putin has spread lies and false narratives to justify his war. One of these narratives is that NATO represents a threat to Russia. But the opposite is true: Today, nations are again joining NATO because they feel threatened by Russia. Finland and Sweden had long held a proud tradition of neutrality. However, following Putin’s invasion of a peaceful neighbor, they exercised their sovereign right to freely choose alliances and have now fortified our ranks.

For Europe to be at peace, Russian imperialism must be stopped. We cannot allow for any “gray zones” because Putin sees them as an invitation to undermine territorial integrity and sovereignty, draw imaginary lines on the map and, ultimately, use military force. His full-scale invasion of Ukraine has also proven that a policy of concessions vis-à-vis Russia, in the hopes that it could bring peace or stability back to the Continent, is naive.

This is why European allies should shoulder their fair share of NATO’s collective burden and demonstrate readiness to take more responsibility for Europe’s defense. The enduring transatlantic bond remains the bedrock of our security, and we Europeans must address some of the most urgent shortcomings that have become painfully obvious during the past months and years: capability gaps, the readiness of our forces, production capacity, logistics, standardization and interoperability.

Flags of NATO member countries outside NATO headquarters on March 11, 2024 in Brussels | Omar Havana/Getty Images

The U.S. has long taken on more of the burden than the rest of our Alliance. But collective defense is our collective effort. In that respect, we reaffirm the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense — one that contributes positively to global and transatlantic security and is both complementary to and interoperable with NATO.

To take on this greater responsibility for our joint security, we European allies should take the following steps:

First, spending a minimum of 2 percent of GDP on defense is a necessary prerequisite and the very foundation on which we build our collective defense. Our three countries are meeting this goal this year, however these numbers can only be a starting point. We also need to make sure we spend our funds strategically — above all, for developing the forces and capabilities we need for collective defense.

Second, we need to utilize our Continent’s full industrial potential to upgrade our military capabilities, ramp up production and harvest economies of scale. Our national defense industries are key to this. They need binding long-term contracts — with clear timelines, a level of ambition, fixed financial commitments and purchase guarantees from our governments.

Third, we need to invest in future technologies to maintain our technological edge and close capability gaps. Our innovation efforts will help NATO maintain its technological advantage over potential adversaries and strengthen its deterrence and defense.

Many of these necessary tools are already at our disposal — from the European Defense Fund to the European Peace Facility and the European Investment Bank. Meanwhile, others are being developed to strengthen the European defense technological and industrial base. We need to build on them and reap their full potential to strengthen the European pillar in contributions to NATO. In the context of rising threats and security challenges, we reiterate the EU’s commitment to increasing its overall defense readiness and capabilities to match its needs and ambition.

Two years into his war of aggression, Putin is basing his strategy on the miscalculation that he can wear down Ukraine and outlast our support. He also aims to test our unity and resolve as allies. Thus, strength, unity and cooperation must guide our response. We must make sure his aggression does not pay off — neither now nor in the future. And on NATO’s 75th anniversary, we stand convinced: Freedom and security for the years to come require a modern and forceful transatlantic alliance.

As Europeans, we are ready to do our part.

First published by POLITICO


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