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Europe is entering a new kind of Cold War

A new report says Europe is entering a new kind of Cold War “whatever the outcome of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”

It says political leaders must prepare citizens for a long-haul investment in stronger defence and resilience.

This is the message from a report published by the Brussels think tank Friends of Europe.

The study, entitled ‘After the war: how to keep Europe safe,’ offers a sobering assessment of the likely post-war strategic situation and offers recommendations on how to navigate this increasingly dangerous geopolitical landscape.

“If and when the fighting stops, there will be no return to the world before. European leaders must prepare their citizens for a decade of defence by spelling out the price of their sovereignty, security and freedom,” writes Paul Taylor, Senior Fellow at FriendsofEurope.

“A new hard frontier stretching from the Arctic to the Black Sea will divide the continent for as long as Putin, or successors who share his aggressive, anti-Western revisionism, hold power in the Kremlin,” he says.

NATO should thicken its eastern flank defences but stick with a rapid reinforcement strategy without parking large permanent forces on the borders. The alliance should focus on maintaining its technological edge over Russia rather than preparing for a 20th-century war, drawing lessons from Ukraine’s innovative use of drones, precision weapons, apps and cyber-warfare, as well as from new member Finland’s whole-of-society defence approach.

The report, launched during FriendsofEurope’s annual summit Vilnius and Brussels, argues that Ukraine will need commitments from major Western powers to equip its armed forces with state-of-the-art weaponry, intelligence and training to deter any further Russian aggression, since it will not be able to join NATO soon after fighting stops.

Taylor says European leaders must be ready to take greater responsibility for their continent’s security, notably in supporting Ukraine’s massive reconstruction effort, since whoever wins the 2024 US presidential election, the next administration is likely to turn attention and resources increasingly to the challenge of China.

Taylor suggests strengthening cooperation between the EU and NATO to guard against hybrid threats and ensure European countries’ increased defence budgets are spent in a coordinated way, avoiding waste and duplication.

While Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine reaffirmed NATO’s role as the backbone of collective defence inEurope, “[t]he war has also hastened the transformation of the European Union from an overwhelmingly civilian economic and regulatory organisation into a geopolitical player, supporting Ukraine.” The overlap between the two organisations should lead to “a new EU-NATO division of labour”, Taylor says.

The EU should widen its concept of strategic autonomy to include economic security and technological sovereignty. European governments should invest their extra defence spending collectively wherever possible, building on the model of common ammunition purchases for Ukraine, to create capabilities that both strengthen NATO and can be used for crisis management and peacebuilding operations further afield when NATO and the US choose not to engage.

European governments must work proactively with the private sector, civil society, local authorities, the military, internal security forces and emergency services to safeguard critical infrastructure and ensure resilience against a wide spectrum of potential threats. This will require “an unprecedented degree of cooperation among government actors, companies, first responders and citizens,” the report says.

Taylor examines how nuclear deterrence has worked on both sides of the war, deterring Russia from touching NATO territory while conditioning the incremental pace of Western weapons supplies to Kyiv, and the terms on which they may be employed, to avoid potential escalation.

The West should continue to engage diplomatically with Russia “even if Putin remains in power”, the report argues. “That dialogue should also probe for any openings towards a return to existing arms control agreements and for possible future negotiations on disengagement and arms limitation.” Keeping channels of communication open with Moscow is crucial to avert miscalculation.

“Talking to Russia is not rewarding Putin,” Taylor says. “Talking to the Soviet Union saved the world from potential nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban missile crisis, multiple Berlin crises and the standoff over intermediate-range nuclear forces in the 1980s.”

However, Western governments should at the same time support Russian civil society and independent media, both inside the country and abroad, and avoid vexatious blanket bans on Russian visitors, in a long-term effort to promote a freer, more democratic Russia.

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