Ulrike Franke is a self-described German millennial who works as a defence analyst. She is concerned about her generation’s aversion to the military, particularly as it rises to positions of power in Europe.
“After 30 years of peace,” she wrote in a widely read piece last year, “German millennials have a difficult time adapting to the reality in which we now live.” We have difficulty thinking in terms of interests, we have difficulty understanding the notion of geopolitical power, and we have difficulty understanding the concept of military might as an aspect of geopolitical power.”
She and others claim that Russia’s vast and blatant military threat to Ukraine is now shattering a feeling of complacency among young and elderly Europeans equally who have never seen war, whether in the heat or the cold. As the prospect of conflict becomes more tangible, the time is seen as a reawakening for some.
However, it remains to be seen how far Europe is willing to go in order to move away from a world where peace and security were taken for granted. For decades, Europeans have contributed very little in terms of money, lives, or resources to their security — and have given even less attention as a result of the American nuclear umbrella that has been in place since the Cold War.
It had started to evolve in recent years, even before Russia’s threatening of Ukraine, with discussion of a more powerful and independent European strategic and defensive posture, which had been discussed before. In terms of security, though, the crisis has done as much to reveal Europe’s vulnerability as it has done to strengthen its feeling of solidarity.
Frau Franke, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, is sceptical that anything short of a large Russian invasion of Ukraine would have a significant impact on public opinion.
However, even after Russia took Crimea in 2014, Germany and Europe did nothing to reduce their reliance on Russian energy supplies or to prepare for the possibility of Moscow weaponizing energy supplies in the future.
Europeans who live near Russia’s borders have long expressed concern about the Russian capital, but other Europeans who live farther away are beginning to understand the point. In her words, “there is now a notion that violence on our continent is a possibility.” According to Ms. Schwarzer,
In 2008, when Russian soldiers invaded Georgia, seized Crimea, and intervened in the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, there was no evidence of a long-term shift in public opinion toward Russia.
Former British ambassador to France and current member of the House of Lords, Peter Ricketts, concurs. According to him, this battle has “brought war back into sharp focus in the trans-Atlantic region.”
‘This is the 19th-century policy exploding and smashing into their 21st-century worries,’ according to the younger generation, which is concerned with the environment, like the German Greens and focused on human rights, gender and racial equality, among other issues,’ said the author.
Generally speaking, Mr. Ricketts said that the crisis serves to remind Europeans of the relevance and role of NATO and the United States in the trans-Atlantic alliance in general. It would “severely harm” the United States’ “faith in engaging Russia rather than deterring” it, according to the president.
Mr. Ricketts predicted that a major Russian military action would result in increased military spending, prompt NATO to increase troop deployments closer to Russia, “deepen the chasm between Russia and the West, and push Russia more into the hands of China and the renminbi zone, with Russia as a small partner.”
Countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the United Nations have already sent soldiers, planes, and ships to bolster member states from Poland and the Baltics to Romania, with France pledging a more permanent presence in the country. Those deployments may endure for an extended period of time.
There are “some long-term effects, some long-term worsening of the security situation in Europe” as a result of Russia’s considerable military buildup and threatening language, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels.
Although the crisis may “give an electric shock” to countries such as Germany that have devalued security concerns for so long, Célia Belin of the Brookings Institution believes that it “reinforces the idea of NATO as a guarantor of territorial security for Europe rather than any illusion of European defence.”
Director of Italy’s International Affairs Institute Nathalie Tocci expresses scepticism that even a massive battle in Ukraine “would translate into European defence, but it is already translating into a resurrection of NATO, since deterrence is what NATO does.” “Mr. Putin has performed wonders by bringing us together,” she said.