Contrary to popular rhetoric, Europe is doing its fair share to support Ukraine. In fact, European commitments to Ukraine have outpaced those of the United States. Yet, Europe cannot shoulder the task of defending Ukraine at this critical time by itself. US support is urgently needed and will pay long-term security dividends.
As the people of Ukraine continue to courageously defend their territory in the face of an unjustified and brutal Russian war, the US House of Representatives’ decision to drop Ukraine aid from the stopgap spending bill that kept the government open creates uncertainty about the durability of US support for Ukraine. Similar questions arise from recent Slovak elections that ushered in a coalition government whose leader vows not to send “another bullet” to Ukraine.
Support for military, financial, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in the United States has been strong and bipartisan, but in addition to the House vote, statements by some Republican presidential candidates and recent polling suggest that cracks are emerging. Some of this erosion is rooted in a misperception—reinforced by opponents of continued US assistance—that the United States is carrying an undue share of the burden while Europe lags behind. Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, for example, has called for making additional US aid “contingent” on an increase in aid from European countries, insisting that “Europe needs to step up” and “do their job”.
Contrary to such suggestions, Europe is outpacing the United States in aid to Ukraine. The Kiel Institute, which closely tracks contributions, estimates total European commitments from member states and institutions as of July 2023 to be over $145 billion, nearly double the United States’ total bilateral commitment of almost $77 billion. This does not take into account any recent announcements, such as those made in the run-up to the October 11 Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, with Germany just announcing a new aid package worth $1.1 billion.
In discussing total commitments, it is important to understand that aid to Ukraine takes various forms: military, financial, and humanitarian. While the United States has committed substantially more military aid than any other single country ($46.6 billion as of July 2023), the EU and its members together have nearly matched this level of commitment ($44.6 billion) through bilateral contributions and the European Peace Facility.
When non-EU countries such as the United Kingdom and Norway are factored in, total European military commitments easily surpass those of the United States. Additionally, Europe leads in financial support to Kyiv, refugee assistance, and other subsidies that reinforce Ukraine’s ability to endure ongoing attacks while maintaining essential government services and economic activity. Some countries are sending high levels of bilateral aid relative to their gross domestic product, with Norway (1.7% of GDP), Lithuania (1.4% of GDP), Estonia (1.3% of GDP), and Latvia (1.1% of GDP), holding the top four slots. When factoring in EU-directed support, the Baltic countries’ contributions in GDP terms are even higher, with Lithuania’s overall commitments totaling 1.82% of GDP. These are major commitments, especially for countries with smaller economies already spending large portions of their budgets on national defense.
Larger European countries are also steadfast in their support. Based on Kiel’s latest data, Germany is now the second-largest contributor of military aid to Ukraine ($18.9 billion) and its total bilateral commitments as a percent of GDP are higher (0.54%) than the United States’ (0.33%). Factoring in estimated refugee costs, Poland’s contribution as a percent of GDP (3.2%) is nearly ten times that of the United States. The United Kingdom has likewise been providing substantial military and financial aid, in addition to taking the lead on training programs to better prepare Ukrainian forces.
Politically motivated claims seeking to reduce US support for Ukraine do not reflect the reality of the steadfast European commitment to Ukraine’s defense of its territory. While some European allies may lag, most are contributing more than their fair share, up to national limitations, in equipment or financial resources. Some states on NATO’s eastern flank have nearly depleted their weapons stocks in their efforts to support Ukrainians. For this reason, these countries will continue to need the United States’ support to ensure that they can continue to help Ukraine while maintaining their own deterrence posture.
Transatlantic unity since the start of Russia’s illegal war has been firm, with Europe working in lockstep with the United States to impose sanctions on Russia’s military and economy and isolate Russia internationally. Even as the EU continues to expand its long-term commitment to Ukraine, it acknowledged its gratitude to the United States for its “unwavering bipartisan support to Ukraine, and for standing with the European Union as we jointly work to ensure Ukraine’s victory in its ongoing fight for survival as an independent country and a sovereign nation”. Maintaining this unity in the months ahead will be critical to meeting Ukraine’s urgent military, economic, and humanitarian needs, as well as to defeating Russia’s brutal and destabilizing aggression and restoring global security in Europe and beyond.
While the war in Ukraine has served as a wake-up call, Europe cannot yet shoulder the task of defending Ukraine by itself. Some European states have taken too long to meet their overall NATO defense commitments, but European allies are now looking to establish more sustained defense spending levels that would reduce dependence on the United States in the long term. This includes national efforts to increase defense spending and multilateral investment in EU research, development, and innovation programs such as the European Defense Fund. Pulling back US support at this critical moment for the security of Europe—and before new investments bear fruit—would harm Ukraine, threaten European security, and undermine US interests. Reducing support now will only mean a higher price in countering an emboldened Russia and other revanchist powers later. This would be a bad deal for the American people and would be seen as a sign of American disengagement at a time of growing geopolitical volatility. By continuing to work in tandem with European allies in supporting Ukraine’s determined defense against Russian aggression, the United States can continue to lead in defending global order, restoring European stability, and deterring authoritarian threats to peace and security.
Source : GMF