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Europe’s Revealed Preferences

State of the Union: European actions contradict European rhetoric. 

Credit: evan_huang

Is Russia a continental hegemonic threat or not? Every good foreign policy doctrine is hinged on a proper threat assessment. However, while listening to Europeans lamenting, one gets contradictory ideas. 

The Financial Times quotes Nils Schmid, an MP for the German left-wing Social Democrats and the party’s spokesman on foreign affairs, warning that “Ukraine is at risk of becoming a victim of radical Republicans”, and adding, “I hope the majority in both parties in Congress, which wants to continue supporting Ukraine, will quickly pass a resolution to this effect. Otherwise the credibility of U.S. foreign policy will be badly damaged.” 


This, readers, is a German left-wing MP we are talking about here, a politician from the most formidable economy in Europe, and arguably the most powerful state, albeit one whose defense spending never quite seems to reach the required levels. 

Furthermore, the Washington Post reports, “But the failure to push the aid through Saturday could still have consequences for the war effort...giving America’s European allies an excuse to pare back their own financial commitments...” The Wall Street Journal adds, “European leaders face a question they had hoped to avoid: If the U.S. steps back from leading Western support for Ukraine, could they fill the gap?”

All these are, of course, flawed questions. The real questions are as follows: Do Europeans think Russia is a major continental hegemonic threat or not? If they don’t think Russia is a continental threat, then why is America there? And if they don't step up to share the burden equally, even when they think Russia is a continental threat, is that really worth prioritizing further engagement in Europe, at the cost of local threats such as the Mexican border?

Europe has four times the manpower and ten times the GDP of Russia. It can, if it so desires, balance Russia on her own. West Germany alone had a twelve-divisions army in 1989. If the Europeans think Russia is a major threat, they’d “internally balance” any potential American retrenchment. That is the standard hypothesis. And that would be visible, in potentially massive and rapid rearmament and production. It is not. In fact, America is taking the burden even on non-military matters, such as providing money for, quite literally, the salary of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian government servants, and first responders. 

Alternatively, if Europe is correct that Russia is a regional power, they will either free-ride on the U.S. and enjoy the fun while it lasts in a regional war, or throw Ukraine under the bus. Either way, if Europe cuts back on its effort, mirroring American retrenchment, then their “revealed preferences” show something else. Every pro-Ukraine hawk should go back to the drawing board and question his priors, or take a long hard look in the mirror for threat inflation.