alliances, allies, burden sharing, EU, Europe, European Union, free-riding, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, North Atlantic treaty Organization, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine-Russia war
Even a long-standing critic like me of the record of U.S. allies in Europe in sharing the burden of their own defense found the graphic below to be quite the stunner. It makes clear that, so far, countries that for decades have been deadbeats and free-riders when it comes to fielding armed forces capable of defeating first Soviet and then post-Soviet Russian aggression, are behaving just as selfishly and miserly in supporting Ukraine’s resistance to the Kremlin’s invasion – and presumably keeping themselves safe from attack or bullying by Moscow.
The graphic comes from a leading German think tank – the Kiel Institute for the World Economy – and it shows that between the February 24 start of the invasion of Ukaine through March 27, the United States, in the words of the Institute’s research director, “is giving significantly more than the entire [European Union], in whose immediate neighborhood the war is raging.”
The specific amounts of combined financial, humanitarian, and military assistance (in euros) , according to Kiel: the United States, 7.6 billion; all European Union countries combined, 2.9 billion; EU institutions (like the European Investment Bank, 3.4 billion. Adding the United Kingdom (not an EU member) increases the European total by $712 million euros – and would still leave this figure below that of U.S. aid in all forms.
True to RealityChek‘s long-time insistence that data be presented in context, the Europeans come off somewhat better when these aid figures are presented as percentages of total economic output. After all, it’s completely unrealistic to expect even the most vigilant very small economy to donate as much in absolute terms as a much larger economy, all else equal.
But as the Kiel graph beow shows, most of the Europeans don’t come off that much better.
In fact, except for Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Sweden, the United States holds the lead according to this measure, too. And remember: Poland and Slovakia are right next door to Ukraine, Estonia and Lithuania border Russia, and Sweden is located just across the Baltic Sea to them. As for the rest of Europe, I’ll just circle back to the point made by the Kiel Institute research director: It’s their “immediate neighborhood”! So their relative efforts should be exponentially greater than America’s, as should those of the countries even closer to the fighting.
Moreover, it’s easy to understand why European military aid has been so modest. These countries have been skimping on their militaries for decades. But as a result, they should be compensating by providing much greater amounts of economic and humanitarian assistance.
These figures are damning enough as examples of continued European fecklessness. But they’re even more important because the continent’s free-riding means that for the foreseeable future, American military forces will keep playing a predominant role in any response to the Ukraine invasion. And even if President Biden sticks with his pledge to keep U.S. troops out of the fighting in Ukraine, their very presence in the vicinity of a conflict could expose the U.S. homeland literally to mortal danger.
For as I’ve noted, if the war spills over borders into the countries where the American units are based, and that enjoy a legally ironclad promise of protection by the United States and the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. and Russian forces will almost surely wind up shooting at each other, and the prospect of escalation to the all-out nuclear war level becomes terrifyingly real.
A Europe willing and therefore at some point able to defend itself would reduce this danger to acceptable levels. But as the Kiel data show, because the Europeans remain protectorates much more than genuine allies, this point looks as far off in the future as ever.