Vol. 58, No. 1

In this edition

With the United States facing more global threats than perhaps at any time since the end of World War II, The Ripon Forum caught up with House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul to get his read on these threats and the steps he believes Congress should take to confront them.

Protecting Our Kids from Social Media

Online platforms must be responsible for the content provided to our youth and tools must be in place to prevent harm.

The Role of NASA in the Age of Elon Musk

The private sector is playing an increasingly important role in space exploration. But the federal government still has a mission to perform, as well.

Conservatives Must Seize the Opportunity to Lead on Education. Here’s How…

Democrats have fumbled their lead on education. But outside of school choice, Republicans have put forward few solutions to fill the policy vacuum.

Everyday Freedom: Designing the Framework for a Flourishing Society

In his latest book, good government expert Philip Howard argues that America is facing a bigger problem than mere bureaucratic dysfunction.

The Obesity Epidemic: What Americans Can Do

What will it take to solve the obesity crisis — increased personal responsibility or policy, systems, and environmental changes?

The Illegal Immigration Election

The crisis at the southern border has given the OP an opportunity to show they can make a difference. Will they wait until next year to do so?


If it’s hard keeping up with the Foreign Affairs Chairman, it’s because the world is on fire, and he’s trying to keep things from burning out of control.

Russia’s Crimean Gambit: Ten Years after the Invasion

Hindsight is 20/20, but the warning signs were visible from the start of Ukraine’s independence that Russia was not reconciled to this realignment.

NATO At 75: Can Europe Defend Itself Without U.S. Support?

America’s transatlantic allies have responded to recent threats with unity and a recommitment to defense. But can they go it alone?

The Prospects for Peace in Ukraine

Two years into the war between Ukraine and Russia, the chance of a negotiated settlement appear as elusive as the declaration of victory by either side.

Obamacare Has Been a Success, and It’s Just the Start

In the nearly 14 years since the Affordable Care Act was passed, we’ve seen dozens of legislative attempts to repeal it—all to no avail.

Obamacare has Three Key Failings and Needs To be Reformed

To fix Obamacare, it’s important to first take stock of its three key failings.

Ripon Profile of Lori Chavez-DeRemer

Lori Chavez-DeRemer explains why she doesn’t view compromise as a dirty word.

NATO At 75: Can Europe Defend Itself Without U.S. Support?

NATO will celebrate its 75th anniversary at the Washington Summit this summer. Most people retire before turning 75, but NATO can’t. It is still indispensable.

The threats facing Europe are more dangerous now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. With American leadership, the transatlantic allies have responded to those varied threats — especially Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine — with unity and a recommitment to defense. But Europe is not yet capable of meeting these threats alone.

Ironically, at a time of maximum need, NATO is more vulnerable than ever to renewed isolationism in the United States. After nearly two decades of focus on counter-terrorism and hybrid challenges, the primary threats to NATO today come from major powers and regional war in the Middle East.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago has been contained but not reversed. NATO’s effort to halt Russian aggression without starting World War lll has been successful so far. Defensive trench lines on both sides resembling World War l leave some 18 percent of Ukrainian territory occupied. Neither side appears ready for a cease fire despite the current stalemate, so reconstitution of forces will be critical to the outcome. The Russian economy is on a total war footing and could have the advantage in a war of attrition.

With American leadership, the transatlantic allies have responded to varied threats — especially Russias brutal invasion of Ukraine — with unity and a recommitment to defense.

The current situation in Ukraine leaves open the prospect of wider conflict that could still engulf all of Europe. Should the West fail to fully resupply Ukraine, Russian aggression will not stop at the current line of contact. Other nations will become more vulnerable. And yet a longer war sustains the risk that escalation could drag NATO in directly through accident or miscalculation. Several key arms control agreements and incident management procedures have been set aside, removing guardrails that could constrain future escalation.

Following its 2023 summit in Vilnius, NATO issued a communiqué which stated that Beijing’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.” While China is viewed as a competitor and strategic adversary rather than a near term threat, NATO is seeking ways to support America’s position in the Far East.

The reason is simple — Europeans are beginning to understand that should the United States be drawn into war with China over Taiwan or freedom of the seas, Europe would be instantly more vulnerable.

The Middle East
The war in Gaza has also increased threats to European security and commerce. Iran is engaging in surrogate warfare — designed to halt closer Israeli-Saudi ties — that has destabilized the region. Iran enabled Hamas’ brutal October 7 attack, supported cross border shelling into Israel by Hezbollah, encouraged Houthi attacks on Red Sea and Gulf of Aden commercial shipping, and relied on Iraqi Shiite militias to kill and wound Americans stationed in the region.

In this environment, should Iran decide to aggressively pursue a nuclear weapon, war with Iran involving Europe can not be ruled out.

Moving Forward
Faced with this new array of threats, NATO has responded well. Overall European assistance to Ukraine has been roughly equal to that of the United States, all coordinated by a group of some 50 donors led by the U.S. The European Union just pledged $54 billion in additional assistance for Ukraine, while the U.S. Congress has yet to make a similar commitment for 2024. Europe has led the United States in providing Ukraine with several advanced weapons systems such as tanks, air launched cruise missiles and advanced fighter aircraft. With regard to China, Europe has reversed course, reduced strategic dependencies, imposed sanctions, and participated in Asian naval exercises with the United States. In the Middle East, individual NATO nations are supporting U.S. and British air strikes against the Houthis; and the Netherlands, Denmark and France are sending warships to protect commercial traffic.

NATO itself has strengthened its deterrent posture in multiple ways, including membership for Finland and Sweden; nine years of continuous growth in European defense spending (an increase of 8.3 percent in 2023); enhanced forward deployment of primarily European NATO troops to defend NATO front line states; and implementation of new regional defense plans plus readiness and mobility initiatives. If Vladimir Putin intended to weaken NATO, that has backfired so far.

Despite progress, more is still needed from Europe. The U.S. contributes some two-thirds of overall NATO national defense spending, in part because the U.S. has global defense responsibilities well beyond NATO. Overall European Union force structure fell from 3.4 million during the Cold War to less than 2 million in 2019. European readiness, mobility, and defense industry problems persist. As of 2023, several key nations have not yet met the 2 percent of GDP defense spending goal for 2024 (see related chart below).  Germany’s Defense Minister recently said his armed forces are unfit to meet current challenges. The British Army, already dangerously undersized, may shrink further next year.

And Europe is heavily dependent on American enablers in such areas as operational intelligence and reconnaissance, air-to-air refueling, missile defense, airborne electromagnetic warfare, and airlift. Europe’s nuclear deterrent absent America’s nuclear umbrella relies solely of an inadequate number of British and French national strategic systems. In sum, despite real progress, Europe is not yet ready to go it alone against a nuclear armed and conventionally reconstituted Russia.

Despite real progress, Europe is not yet ready to go it alone against a nuclear armed and conventionally reconstituted Russia.

In this environment of greater existential risk and real European efforts at defense unity, NATO is ironically at one of its most vulnerable points in its 75-year history. The U.S. election later this year may determine NATO’s future viability. There have been previous U.S. Congressional efforts to boost European burden sharing. For example, former Senators Mike Mansfield (D-MT) and Sam Nunn (D-GA) both offered amendments in the past to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Europe. These amendments were not adopted. But never have there been serious American threats to withdraw from the Alliance.

Former President Donald Trump has made it clear on many occasions that should he be re-elected, he will not again be deterred from reducing America’s commitment to European security. And he recently went further, declaring during a February 11 campaign speech in South Carolina that he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want.”

His “positive relationship” with Putin and his personal animosity towards Ukrainian President Zelensky has already complicated passage of the Administration’s $61 billion aid package to Ukraine, despite broad Congressional support for the measure. And despite a recent bipartisan provision passed in the defense authorization bill prohibiting a future President from withdrawing from NATO without Congressional approval, Trump could simply use Presidential powers to withdraw U.S. troops from Europe and again question America’s commitment to NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense pledge.

The collapse of NATO’s recently enhanced deterrent posture under a future Trump Administration could lead to unanticipated military conflict. A vague deterrent has often led to a failed deterrent. Transatlantic defense leadership arrangements developed by NATO over the decades would crumble. Europe’s conventional defenses, though improved, would be inadequate for the task of deterring a reconstituted Russia. And Russia’s nuclear dominance over Europe would leave Europe open to nuclear blackmail. Moscow would be tempted to fulfill Putin’s grand design of reversing Cold War losses and could easily miscalculate.

Compared to the risk of widespread war in Europe, America’s investment in European security is modest and should be sustained. But Europe needs to anticipate diminished American participation in NATO should Trump be re-elected or should war break out in Asia involving the United States. Simply meeting the 2 percent of GDP defense spending target would be wholly inadequate for this task.

Hans Binnendijk is a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He previously served in multiple senior US government positions, including NSC Senior Director for Defense Policy, Legislative Director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Director of NDU’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.