Oct 10, 2022 - World

Armed Services chair: NATO holding together despite Putin's pressure

Adam Smith. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

It's a testing time for the NATO alliance as European energy prices surge due to Russian supply cuts, Vladimir Putin issues nuclear threats, and the war rages on with Ukraine on the offensive and no end in sight.

What they're saying: House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who led a congressional delegation to four European NATO allies last week, tells Axios that while European leaders are concerned about the energy crunch and potential escalation, the alliance remains surprisingly unified.

  • "It's a pleasant surprise," Smith says, because past experience had taught him that NATO members “rarely seem to agree on anything and have a hard time getting organized and moving forward" — particularly on issues concerning Russia.
  • Smith spoke with Axios by phone on Sunday shortly after returning to Washington from the delegation's trip to Spain, Portugal, Greece and Croatia. Meetings with political and military leaders in those countries left him with the sense that "everyone is pretty much on the same page."
  • "Integration with Russia, at least for the moment, is on hold. I think that pivot has been made throughout Europe," Smith says. Germany, for example, went from pushing ahead on the Nord Stream II pipeline before the Ukraine invasion to swiftly calling for an end to Europe's energy reliance on Russia.

Yes, but: While the U.S. and its European allies have been closely aligned over sanctions, there's a growing disparity between the billions of dollars in arms the U.S. is sending to Ukraine and what's arriving from Europe.

  • "We're leaning on everybody," Smith says. That includes pushing Germany to supply tanks and also sounding out Greece about whether they can send additional artillery.
  • While European countries are working with smaller military budgets and bigger energy crises than the U.S., "we're still going to press them to help more," Smith says. "It's an emergent situation."
  • But Smith rejects the argument made by some of his Republican colleagues that, as he puts it, "the U.S. shouldn't help anymore because others aren't helping enough."

Asked whether another gap is growing between NATO members predicting a Russian defeat in Ukraine and those who want to preserve all diplomatic options, Smith says European leaders "by and large agree" that no path to peace will be possible "until Putin is stopped."

  • "As long as [Putin] thinks that it is still possible for him to take over significant chunks of Ukraine, he's going to keep fighting," Smith says.

What to watch: European leaders have been making the case to their populations for continuing to support sanctions on Russia and aid to Ukraine, but that's "not an easy argument" as energy prices soar, Smith says.

  • As the war continues and prices rise, "the constituents are uneasy and they're wondering where all this is going," he says.
  • But Smith says "across the board," the political and military leaders he's spoken with are committed to staying the course.
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