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From the New York Times, I'm Catherine Benhold, and this is The Daily. Over the past few weeks, a growing sense of alarm across Europe has turned into outright panic over the future of its security.


Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the key Eastern town of Avdiivka.


As Russia is advancing on the battlefield in Ukraine. Congressional inaction has meant that Ukrainian forces were outgunned, they were outmanned, and they were ultimately to withdraw. The US Congress has refused to pass billions of dollars in new funding for Ukraine's war effort.


Nato was busted until I came along. I said, Everybody's going to pay. They said, Well, if we don't pay, are you still going to protect us? I said, Absolutely.


Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, has warned European leaders that if they don't pay, they fair share towards NATO.


No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay.


You got to pay your bill. He would encourage Russia to attack them. And...


Condemnation is ringing out tonight after news Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has died.


Russia's loudest voice of internal dissent, Alexei Navalny, has died in prison.


Make no mistake. Putin is responsible for Navalny's death.


Today, my colleague, Steven Erlanger, on Europe's plans to defend itself against Russia without the help of the US. It's Wednesday, February 21st. Steve, you are, conveniently, for the purposes of this conversation, at a major conference devoted to the security of Europe, which, for a variety of reasons, is feeling very insecure at the moment. Insecure because of what Donald Trump just said, and because Russia seems to be defeating Ukraine in some key battles. And so I'm curious what the mood has been at this conference.


Well, the mood is a little unmoored and shaky. This is a conference of security people, of officials, diplomats. But in a way, it's like a security analyst Tinder. You're always running into all kinds of people and people who care desperately about what Russia is doing, what Ukraine is doing, what America is doing. And the mood has gotten panicky here. So while we're here, Navalny dies, which shook quite a lot of people. Russia made a serious advance in Ukraine over the weekend. They took a town after many months of fighting called Avdiivka, which was an important crossroads town. And One had the feeling that with aid to Ukraine stuck in Congress, that Avdiivka was just the beginning of a Ukrainian pullback. It's against that backdrop, that the comments from Donald Trump are particularly worrying. Donald Trump is like this big shadow over everything. Nobody knows whether he's going to be reelected or not. But what he said about NATO undermined the whole idea the alliance which has kept the peace in Europe since the end of World War II. So people are quite nervous about what he said and that the transactional, unpredictable Donald Trump, who seems to govern from his stomach, will somehow put a big hole in the credibility of the alliance, just as Russia is increasing its aggression against Ukraine.


And when you say undermining potentially the alliance, you're essentially talking about Article 5 of the NATO Charter.


Yes. Article 5 is a key part of the founding agreement of NATO, 1949. It basically says that an attack on one member should be considered an attack on every member. Now, countries then have the right to decide how to respond to that attack. But the idea is all for one and one for all. That if a little country that's part of NATO is attacked Act, then all countries of NATO would come to its defense.


Okay, so Europe depends on NATO for its security, and NATO depends on the credibility of the Article 5 guarantee from the US, which Trump is basically undermining.




But then again, we've heard Trump make comments like these before on NATO. I mean, he called NATO obsolete when he was President. Why are these latest remarks making such big waves?


Well, the first change from before is there's a war in Europe. Now, not against a NATO member, but there is a serious land war in Europe by Russia that has invaded a neighboring country, and it has created fear that if Russia succeeds in its efforts in Ukraine, that other former Soviet Bloc countries that are now part of NATO could be next, particularly the Baltic nations. Secondly, there's obviously the prospect that Donald Trump is going to be President again. This really shakes people up. I mean, Trump certainly isn't the first American President to raise this question of underwhelming European spending on its own defense. It has been true, part of what he said is Europe has been complacent. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europeans have spent less and less money on defense, and they have relied on the United States to protect them without making a fair contribution to their own security. This was an issue under Republican presidents, under democratic presidents. Harry Truman first complained about Europeans not spending enough on their militaries. But Trump was certainly the outspoken and the first to issue threats of a kind.


It's interesting. You explain that one reason Trump's comments have caused such a panic here in Europe is that the scenario of a Russian invasion is no longer academic. It's actually happening. Of course, unlike the US, Europe shares a whole continent with Russia, so is arguably feeling that threat and that risk much more. Immediately, how did Europe, given this geography, allow itself to become so strategically dependent on the US? How did we get here?


Well, it's a long story, of course. I mean, let's go back to the end of World War II, obviously, and the defeat of Nazi Germany. It became quickly clear that Stalin and the Soviet Union intended to keep the territories in Eastern Europe it occupied. This became a big ideological battle, communism versus democracy. Nato was set up in 1949. Basically, it was a cliché, but it's really true to keep the Russians out, to keep the Germans down, and to keep the Americans in because the United States, after World War I, went home, which some people blame for allowing World War II to actually happen. So this time, the Americans stayed. At one point in the early 1950s, the Europeans tried to create their own defense community, but they couldn't really get their act together. And always it was dependent in security terms on the American military power and the American nuclear umbrella. And it seemed to suit everybody just fine.


So in a sense that European dependence on America was baked in and even tolerated, if not even wanted by the Americans in those days.


Yes, and that's a very good point because frankly, it was in the American interest, to be honest, for trade reasons, for alliance reasons, to have a very powerful position inside Europe. When you combined it with an aggressive Soviet communism at the time, it seemed to serve everybody's interests, including America's national interest.


So this worked for quite a long time?


It did, and it kept the peace in Europe, which it really was intended to do. But as the Cold War ends and the Soviet Union falls apart for its own bad structure. I mean, it was inevitably going to fall apart. Suddenly, the Europeans think, Well, the threat of war is over. We can relax. We can have what came to be called the peace dividend. We can stop spending so much money on the military because the idea of this broken Russia invading the rest of Europe seemed inconceivable. So they stopped making things like tanks and anti-tank weapons and air defenses, and they really cut way back on the amount of money they were spending. And there was complacency Even when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, and then only six years later, annexed Crimea. So even at the same Munich Security Conference, two years ago, on the eve of the Russian invasion, there was a strong feeling, even among Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that Russia would not invade. Now, the Americans and British thought the Russians invade, but Ukraine would collapse very quickly. The Germans and French thought Putin wouldn't be so stupid to invade at all.


So everyone, in a way, was wrong.


Ukraine, of course, isn't actually a NATO member.


It isn't. And yet Ukraine was a frontier land between Russia and NATO. And once Russia started a war, a real war, It really shook people. And that prompted the Biden administration and the European Union and NATO to get their act together to try to help Ukraine as best they could to resist this Russian invasion. So to some degree, NATO's help to Ukraine was slow, but it began to accelerate, and no one expected the war to go on this long either. And so now we're in a very difficult place where Ukraine is more on the defensive and NATO countries are running out of stocks because they had lived on the peace dividend. They stopped making munitions. They stopped making missiles. They're using up what they have to give to Ukraine, and there's very little left to give.


In a way, two myths have tumbled with Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The first is that Russia does not go to war with European countries. And the second myth is that Europe doesn't need to spend a whole lot on its military.


Yes, that's true. And then against this backdrop, we also see the United States publicly rethinking its commitments Partly because a new generation in America is becoming a bit more isolationist. American funding for Ukraine has been in political limbo for months, and some people don't think it's actually going to happen. I mean, Donald Trump isn't even President, and there's strong opposition in the Republican Party, which seems devoted to him and to his policies, to anything that would offend him, and he is against more aid to Ukraine. So it has become increasingly clear that the Europeans have to start figuring out how to live in a world where support from the United States is less than it used to be, it isn't automatic, and it may not be there at all.


We'll be right back. So Steve, Europe is really starting to contend with this idea that they need to prepare for a future where the US steps back from its role as the main garanter of security on the continent. This is, of course, happening in the middle of a war. The most immediate concern, presumably for the Europeans, is how to continue supporting Ukraine.


Yes, that's absolutely right, because no one wants Ukraine to fall. No one wants Putin to have a victory because there's nothing like victory to grow the appetite, and they don't want Russia to succeed. So the most urgent challenge is that Ukraine is going to have a very difficult year because it is already rationing its use of artillery shells, especially, and there's very little left to give to them this year. The Europeans, for example, have promised to give Ukraine a million artillery shells, and they have barely come up with half that figure because the peace dividend meant that Europe stopped ordering this ammunition, which meant companies stopped making it, shut down factories, getting them open again, takes a long time. It takes two or three years to get an ammunition factory going. But the fact is, all these efforts should have started two years ago, and they did not.


So the cupboards are bare, quite literally. But What would a more strategically independent Europe, a Europe that is responsible for its own security, actually look like?


Well, there's always been this vision of a European army, but the plan never gets off the ground because Europe is not a country to begin with, and to send troops into battle requires political responsibility. So who's going to be the European political leader who everyone in Europe agrees can order its own citizens into battle. It just seems almost impossible to think through. It's a federation of independent countries, and it will never have that collective military.


Right. 27 countries trying to agree on one commander and chief. Never going to happen.


It's never going to happen. Now, there are other ideas for a European NATO, which is an alliance of European countries, maybe with less America, possibly with no America, that would agree, much like NATO does now, on the best way to create conventional deterrence for Europe, which could be done with a lot more money being spent, which nobody wants to do, and some more sophisticated arms productions. But the question will always be, how do you replace the American nuclear deterrent? That's a much harder question.


In conventional terms, this European NATO would be an organization where European countries provide the overwhelming majority of the deterrent, as in troops and weaponry.


Yes, but it would also require Europeans to understand that deterrence matters, that military spending matters, and countries would have to agree to spend probably 4% of GDP or more on defense, which is Cold War levels, which politically would be very, very popular. But at the same time, the Russian war in Ukraine has created an enormous change. You have intelligence agencies all over Western Europe now publicly warning people about a Russian threat that they never did before and trying to get people to prepare for a change in the way they look at their own security, that more money needs to be spent not just for other people, but for themselves.


Ironically, perhaps, Trump and the US Congress maybe have forced this conversation that the Europeans needed to have for a long time.


Yes. I mean, there's nothing like scaring people to get them to do things. Trump, the US Congress, and of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. All those things have been important to force Europeans to begin to understand that they need to do more about their own security.


We've spent this episode focusing on Europe and the implications of a less engaged America on the security of Europe. But what about the security of America? Does it make sense for the US to step back from the NATO alliance and from Europe, for that matter? I mean, Trump is selling this as something that's in America's interest. But is it?


Well, this will be one of the great themes of the American election, I think, because President Biden has argued and has believed for a long time that America benefits from its alliances around the world, not just in Europe, but in Asia, elsewhere, that it has friends, that it has trading partners. Mr. Trump believes that alliances bind the United States, that they reduce America's power to do what it wants to do in its own national interest. So these are issues that actually Americans will have to decide upon, where American interests lie and the value of alliances.


You know, Steve, as we've been talking, it actually took me back to growing up in Germany in the final years of the Cold War, when war with Russia was still a thing that people worried about. In some ways, the front lines of this new conflict seem very familiar.


They do seem familiar, and they seem familiar in a very depressing way. What you have is a Russia that clearly has decided that it doesn't want to stay in the boundaries that were left after its defeat in the Cold War. So it's a dangerous time. And we're also in a world that is much less clear than it was during the Cold War. You have the rise of China, you have Iran being almost a nuclear state, you have disorder, lots of places. It's not a neat world. It's a confusing world. And in the face of all that, there is the real possibility that the United States is retreating.


Steve, thank you for coming on the show.


Thank you.


Tomorrow on The Daily, we'll look at the life and legacy of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and Putin critic who died last week in prison. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. On Tuesday, the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. It is the third time that Washington has blocked an effort by the UN to put an immediate end to the fighting. The US is drafting its own rival resolution that calls for a temporary humanitarian ceasefire, as soon as practical. And days before a Republican presidential primary on her home turf in South Carolina, Nikki Haley fought back against growing calls for her to drop out of the race and endorse the front runner, former President Donald Trump.


I feel no need to kiss the ring.


Haley said that unlike so many fellow Republicans, she was not afraid of Trump's anger or retribution and would remain in the race regardless of what happens in the South Carolina primary.


South Carolina will vote on Saturday, but on Sunday, I'll still be running for President.


Today's episode was produced by Eric Krupke and Olivia Nat with help from Mujd Zady. It was edited by Mark George and M. J. Davis Lynn with help from Devon Taylor, contains original music music by Marion Lozano and Alicia by ETube, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brandberg and Ben Lansberg of WNDYLE. That's it for The Daily. I'm Katrin Benhold. See you tomorrow.