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What Will the Post-NATO European Security Order Look Like?

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Since the 1990s, the European Union (EU) has been trying to build its own security architecture. Having not yet succeeded in establishing a European Army, the EU is still dependent on the protection umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). This is why European countries have had to turn a blind eye to threats by former US President Donald Trump to withdraw from NATO if he takes office.

Indeed, on 12 February 2024, Trump stated that he “will not prevent any Russian aggression against NATO allies that do not meet their financial obligations”.[1]  Two days later, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that 18 of the 31 members of the military alliance would meet the target of spending 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence this year.[2] Trump’s recent remarks have mobilised all European countries, especially Ukraine, to “provide their own security”. Ukraine, which is struggling economically and militarily to continue its war against Russia, will remain completely dependent on Europe if it does not find the support it expects from the United States.

In the current situation, Europe’s biggest hope seems to be that “Biden will continue his duty by winning the elections at the end of the year”. Indeed, if the Biden administration continues, there will be a possibility of continued support for Ukraine, but it seems difficult for the Republicans to give more support to Ukraine. Moreover, Trump warns that they may withdraw from NATO. Therefore, European countries have already started to make moves regarding Ukraine in case Trump is re-elected.  For example, Ukraine signed a bilateral security agreement with the UK on 14 January 2024 and announced that it will sign such bilateral defence-security agreements with many other European countries.[3] The last of these was France. Zelenski is expected to sign a similar agreement with Germany. These agreements envisage the provision of additional aid and arms to Ukraine in the event of an attack. Since January, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has said that Ukraine has been negotiating the signing of similar agreements with 30 partner countries that support the G7 declaration of support for Kiev.[4]

In February 2022, shortly before Russia attacked Ukraine, the UK, Poland and Ukraine announced the formation of a triple defence alliance.[5] Nevertheless, this defence partnership did not prevent Russia from attacking Ukraine. After the outbreak of the war, NATO members tried to provide defence support to Ukraine in solidarity. Since it would not be possible for Ukraine to become a member of NATO while the war continued, Western countries focused on finding another way to deter Russia and defeat it on the ground. Today, it has become clear that NATO collectively cannot provide Ukraine with certain defence guarantees. Moreover (with Trump’s latest threats), NATO’s defence support to Europe may be coming to an end. In addition, the possibility of the US cutting further arms-defence support to Ukraine under Trump has mobilised European countries, particularly the UK. 

Since the first day of the war, continental Europe has been worried about being Moscow’s new target, even though they have been under NATO protection. Europe’s military-security strategy has also started to change due to the recent developments in US domestic politics. Rather than collective security, bilateral, trilateral and multilateral defence partnerships are now emerging in Europe. In particular, as the protection support provided by the United States to Europe through NATO is decreasing, European states are looking for solutions in bilateral defence agreements in order to respond to Russia. In this context, blocisation within Europe is increasing.  In Eastern European countries, the threat of attack from Russia is increasing day by day. It is estimated that this escalation race between Russia and NATO states may eventually lead to a conflict.

Ukraine’s decision to sign bilateral defence agreements with other European countries shows that the West is now pursuing a new strategy for the defence of Ukraine independent of NATO. Unable to find the support it seeks from the US, Europe is trying to take a decisive stance in defending Ukraine and “stand on its own feet”.  However, the West’s new defence-security guarantees to Ukraine may lead Russia to take new and unexpected steps in other regions. More than half of NATO countries have increased their defence budgets to 2% of their GDP,[6] it is interpreted as an important indicator that Europe is preparing for the post-NATO order. In his statement on 15 February 2024, Stoltenberg warned the member states not to allow a gap to form between the US and Europe. Stoltenberg made the following important statements:[7]

“I welcome European allies investing more in defence and NATO has been calling for this for many years. But this is not an alternative to NATO. It is actually a way of strengthening NATO. And we must not go down any path that suggests that we are trying to separate Europe from North America”

On the same day, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps called on NATO countries to stick to their commitments and meet the 2 per cent target.[8] Supporting Trump’s remarks, Shapps said that all countries should do their part. Shapps said that NATO countries spend more on defence not because of Trump, but because “a war in Europe shows that this is necessary”. In short, the UK emphasised the need to increase spending within NATO in order to establish the security of Europe. At this point, the UK is the guarantor or mediator of the security support provided by the US to Europe through NATO.


[1] “Trump’tan NATO Çıkışı: ‘Rusya’yı Faturayı Ödemeyen Ülkelere Saldırmaya Teşvik Ederim’“, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/turkce/articles/c8vnye053y9o, (Date of Access: 16.01.2024).

[2] “NATO Defence Spending To Hit Record As Alliance Braces For Potential Trump Win”, FT, https://www.ft.com/content/2e7fe5e0-2eb7-4ee3-be04-22f9ca856bd4, (Date of Access: 16.01.2024).

[3] “Security Agreement With Britain Will Be A Model For Similar Agreements With Other Countries – Zelensky”, Ukrinform, https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-polytics/3813392-security-agreement-with-britain-will-be-a-model-for-similar-agreements-with-other-countries-zelensky.html, (Date of Access: 16.01.2024).

[4] Same place.

[5] “Ukrayna, İngiltere ve Polonya’dan Üçlü İttifak”, Trt Haber, https://www.trthaber.com/haber/dunya/ukrayna-ingiltere-ve-polonyadan-uclu-ittifak-655964.html, (Date of Access: 16.01.2024).

[6] “NATO Defence Spending To Hit Record As Alliance Braces For Potential Trump Win”, FT, https://www.ft.com/content/2e7fe5e0-2eb7-4ee3-be04-22f9ca856bd4, (Date of Access: 16.01.2024).

[7] “NATO Chief Warns Against Dividing US And Europe Or Undermining Joint Deterrent”, France 24, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20240215-nato-chief-warns-against-dividing-us-and-europe-or-undermining-joint-deterrent, (Date of Access: 16.01.2024).

[8] “Pay Your 2 Percent, UK’s Shapps Tells NATO Allies After Trump Threat”, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/nato-uk-grant-shapps-donald-trump-threats/, (Date of Access: 16.01.2024).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer graduated from Sakarya University, Department of International Relations in 2014. In the same year, he started his master's degree at Gazi University, Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies. In 2016, Tamer completed his master's degree with his thesis titled "Iran's Iraq Policy after 1990", started working as a Research Assistant at ANKASAM in 2017 and was accepted to Gazi University International Relations PhD Program in the same year. Tamer, whose areas of specialization are Iran, Sects, Sufism, Mahdism, Identity Politics and Asia-Pacific and who speaks English fluently, completed his PhD education at Gazi University in 2022 with his thesis titled "Identity Construction Process and Mahdism in the Islamic Republic of Iran within the Framework of Social Constructionism Theory and Securitization Approach". He is currently working as an Asia-Pacific Specialist at ANKASAM.