Germany’s historic remilitarization may be the clearest sign yet that Moscow’s war on Ukraine has reinvigorated the Western alliance. Meanwhile, the European Union imposed severe sanctions on Russia, and NATO member states approved the deployment of its rapid-response troops for the first time since the force was created in 2004. Finland and Sweden, neutral for decades, attended NATO’s emergency meeting after the invasion and now seem poised to join the organization. Even Turkey, which had bought weapons from Moscow, has banned Russian warships from sailing through its waters from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. All this marks a drastic transformation: The unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was opposed by America’s major European allies, apart from the United Kingdom. Donald Trump brought transatlantic relations to a new low with his calls for isolationism and open discussion of a U.S. withdrawal from NATO. And within Europe, the U.K.’s exit from the EU broke its links with the continent. Yet since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Washington, London, and the capitals of Europe have begun to rebuild their old security bloc. Where is this headed?

Matthias Matthijs is a senior fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations and an associate professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. As Matthijs sees it, the revival of Western unity is real, significant, and apt to extend beyond defense, as America and the countries of Europe align their security and economic policies. After watching Putin’s authoritarian regime turn into a threat, Western governments are likely to reconsider their ongoing relationships with other authoritarian regimes, not least China. Still, Matthijs says, there are lingering divisions among Western states that will test their renewed partnership.


Michael Bluhm: What effect is the war in Ukraine having on the West?

Matthias Matthijs: It’s changing the West in the short term and the long term. In the short term, for the last 10 years or so, we’ve heard about the “broken West”—fault lines between the U.K. and the continent, between Eastern and Western Europe over refugees, between Northern and Southern Europe over the Eurozone debt crisis, and, of course, between the United States and the rest during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The Russian invasion has suddenly brought all these countries closer together. It’s even managed to bring Greece and Turkey closer together; that’s quite an extraordinary achievement.

A longer-term change is Germany’s position as part of the West. Because of its historical guilt over the Holocaust, the war crimes it committed, and the way it treated the Soviet Union—and because Germany was split into East and West—since World War II, it’s always tried to keep a foot on both sides. Over the last 15 years, Germany has probably been the country closest to Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China. That was a deliberate choice.

Bluhm: How do you understand this change?

Matthijs: The invasion of Ukraine has overturned the main postwar assumptions of German foreign policy: the idea of change through trade, and thus a close relationship with Russia; a similar approach to China; a relatively weak defense posture; and a commitment to humanitarian aid and never exporting lethal weapons to conflict zones.

Ceyda Çiftçi

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