A disunited, politically paralyzed, and anti-democratic Europe would erode the ability of NATO to defend and uphold transatlantic norms, values, and institutions, seriously undermining and ultimately questioning the future of the alliance.
Russia has put Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in its crosshairs, launching disinformation and cyber-attacks, issuing threats, and securing political allies and economic partners – through whom deeper penetration of the region is enabled via corruption. Lurking behind it all is the fear of an outright military strike, or a covert invasion, as happened in Georgia and Ukraine. CEE countries and their peoples have begun to push back, and the United States and its allies have started to enhance NATO preparedness. Yet these modest efforts are consistently undermined by the European Union (EU), whose elite continues to push policies more suitable for Paris than Bratislava. What NATO and the EU need to appreciate is that CEE countries seek prosperity over and above security because they can control the first more easily than the second. Russia remains influential through trade, energy resources, and investments and the EU is likewise a lure for the economic benefits it offers. Fear of Russian aggression may nudge NATO members to increase defense spending, but CEE countries will continue to balance their economic relationships with both Russia and the EU, often playing one off the other. The difference is that Russia entices CEE countries with economic benefits while the EU threatens and punishes them.