Om Ukraina, Kina og europeisk sikkerhet

intervju med Elbridge Colby

Under følger et eksklusivt intervju som leder av redaksjonskomiteen, Ciwan Can, har gjennomført med Elbridge Colby om hvordan en eventuell seier for Donald Trump vil kunne påvirke krigen i Ukraina og sikkerheten i Europa.

Elbridge Colby er leder av Marathon Initiative, et politisk initiativ med fokus på utviklingen av strategier for USA i konkurransen mellom stormaktene. Han er forfatteren av The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict, som Wall Street Journal valgte ut som en av de ti beste bøkene i 2021.

Tidligere i sin karriere har Colby fungert som Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development (2017-2018) i det amerikanske forsvarsdepartementet (U.S. Department of Defense). I denne rollen ledet han utviklingen  av  2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). Gjennom sin rolle i utviklingen og lanseringen av NDS 2018, er Colby regnet som en av hovedarkitektene bak det amerikanske forsvarsdepartmentents strategiske dreining vekk fra Midtøsten og Sentral Asia til å fokusere på håndteringen av utfordringene for amerikanske sikkerhetsinteresser fra Kina, etterfulgt av Russland (great power competition).



The war in Ukraine is challenging the peace and security architecture of Europe, a key operative environment (in addition to the East Asian) of the Liberal International Order (LIO) on which U.S. global strategic superiority is anchored. 

For long, the United States has been the unquestioned security provider of this operative environment against external threats, making Europe safe for democracy. In particular, integration with the United States have provided the liberal democracies of Europe the necessary capabilities to deter Russia from threatening their autonomy and security – recent Swedish and Finnish integration into NATO are examples of this, as well as Norway´ decision to become a founding member in 1949, at that time to deter the Soviet Union. 

Continued US leadership in European security is for many becoming uncertain where a worst-case scenario, from the European perceptive, is a less engaged United States following an eventual victory for Donald Trump. 

A less engaged United States, it is argued, would mean high likelihood of defeat for Ukraine and the unraveling of the post-Cold War peace and security architecture of Europe, consequently weakening the LIO (a key operative environment would no longer be safe for liberal democratic rules and values), and ultimately invite increased Russian engagement and strategic influence in Europe.

Do you expect that an eventual Trump victory would mean less US engagement in Europe, and if so, how do you think this would impact the war in Ukraine?


I want to make it clear that I do not speak for President Trump or his campaign, so I can’t speak about what he would decide for if he’s reelected, as I hope he is. My own view is that the simple reality of the American military situation in terms of readiness, force structure, and fiscal situation, and the political situation in the United states, is such that the United states is not in a position to take a sort of dominant leading role in European security at the same time as it does what it needs to do in the Pacific along the first island chain in particular, and that’s not even considering the potential for the Middle East conflict to escalate. The reality that the United States is not going to be able to do as much as it used to in terms of NATO and Ukraine is just a structural reality, and whoever is elected in November is going to have to grapple with that reality. The key thing for Europe is not to see this as a matter of personalities but rather as a reflection of reality and to grapple with it as quickly as possible.

And how do you think this would impact Russian strategic influence in Europe?

(EAC) I think Russia is a serious threat to European security. Some, I think, are underestimating Russia and some are overestimating Russia. The people who say that Russia can be defeated and the Kremlin’s going to collapse and there’s going to be a much friendlier Russian government…I don’t think they’re taking the Russian threat seriously enough. Russia is unfortunately going to be an enduring and significant threat to Europe, and as General Cavoli have admitted the Russians have reconstituted their military far faster than the United States and NATO anticipated. Russia do also have thousands of nuclear weapons, is the world largest natural resource producer, and has a large army, so Russia will remain a threat to European security. On the other hand, I don’t think Russia is as much of a threat as some people say, not because it doesn’t want to be – it’s not a matter of intent, it’s more of a matter of capacity. The Russian economy is 10th the size of China, Russia is a smaller economy than Germany among other European states, certainly let alone in European NATO. 

I think Russia is going to be a very serious threat in particular to NATO´s eastern front countries – from Poland and the Baltic states to Finland. NATO really needs to step up, and very wealthy countries like Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands really needs to take the lead in contributing a much larger fraction not only of money, but they need to get back to having significant militaries along the lines of what the European militaries had in the 1970s and 1980s.

There’s a lot of focus on 2%, which is an important metric, but countries that is effectively demilitarized like Germany and many of the Scandinavian countries, other than Finland, need to spend a lot more, and it’s not only about the size of numbers but also about fielding combat credible forces that can take primary responsibility for European conventional defense over time. My own view is that the United States should remain in NATO, that the United States should contribute to European security, but that it has to be at a lesser level because the obligations in the Pacific, which is a more important theater because China is a far greater challenge than Russia and Asia is a much more significant region in this day and age, and because that’s where economic growth and scale are concentrated.

What end-scenario do you envisage for Ukraine and US-Russia relations?

(EAC) History is never final, so there’s no end scenario. I think we found in the evolution of the Soviet Union to Russia and to Putin’s Russia, over the last 30 or 40 years, that it’s not prudent to assume that strategic threats and strategic competition will go away permanently. People were talking about the end of history in 1989/91 and here we are with the relationship with Russia that’s probably the worst since the Cuban Missile Crisis. What needs to happen is that there needs to be a balance of power that checks Russia’s attempts to become a dominant power in Europe, and that’s going to require the Europeans stepping up.

In terms of Ukraine, I think it’s going to be very important for the Ukrainians to get the support they need to be able to negotiate from a strong military position – a peace through strength model that President Trump pointed out last week on his Truth Social post. But it needs to be the Europeans who are providing that because the Americans need to focus much more on Asia, and we also have problems at home, and a very difficult fiscal position with dense GDP now around 100%. So, what exactly the end state is in in Ukraine I don’t know, and I don’t think we can precisely anticipate it, but I think we need to be kind of realistic about it – we’re not going to see the collapse of Russia and we are unlikely to see the full realization of the most optimistic claims about Russia and Ukraine, unfortunately.

(CC) The main reason for less US engagement in Europe is the rising challenge to American security interests posed by China. In order to manage this challenge, you have argued, the United States needs to refocus its resources towards building an anti-hegemonic coalition in East Asia and deter China from achieving regional hegemony, if necessary, through a limited war.

Considering that the United States is the main contributor to Transatlantic security, what do you think this shifting focus towards East Asia will mean for NATO and European security in the long-term?

(EAC) Hopefully it won’t mean much of a change…but there is an expression from an Italian novel that “things must change to stay the same”. The current arrangement is very beneficial to Europe because the United states assumes a disproportionate degree of the security responsibilities in the Euro Atlantic area… now let me be clear that that’s not entirely Europe’s fault it was also the fault of, I would say, a foreign policy establishment in the United States that enjoyed being the “indispensable nation” as Madeleine Albright put it. There was sort of a deal between the foreign policy establishment in the US and Europe where Europe would spend less but be deferential on the political matter, so I think that that’s unsustainable because of the challenge posed by China and because of the constraints on American spending and industrial capacity and so forth… so that can’t go on…that model is over. I think 2024 has been positive in this respect…that Europeans really do seem to be internalizing that that is finished…the old way is finished…I mean people like Boris Pistorius I think deserve a lot of credit for making that clear, and others.

The key is to have a transition to a new model that doesn’t open us to too much vulnerability. There is not an easy solution at this point, I think we missed the time at which that was possible. I think European states, especially wealthy ones like Norway, have got to just step up in terms of both their support to Ukraine but also their own defense efforts…and again it’s not so much about the amount of money that’s being inputted it’s also about what comes out on the other side…I mean, Belgium for instance can’t field pilots to fill its F16 or F35 aircrafts, in the 1970s Belgium…you could put 50,000 troops in the field for the defense of NATO…this is something that’s very possible. The Danes had a significant military during the Cold War, the West Germans had a very large and formidable and sophisticated military…so in a sense it’s pretty obvious and straightforward what needs to happen. We need to accept that it needs to happen, and we need to move forward on that basis. The transatlantic conversation needs to be less sort of flashy meetings and grand speeches and more like business delivery…like, how are we doing? let’s get practical here!..which again is starting, is happening, but the question is that the pace and the scale of what’s happening…I think we’re not moving in…especially the European countries are not moving, with some exceptions like Poland and Finland and so forth…they’re not moving with the required urgency.

Do you see any role for NATO in deterring China from achieving regional hegemony in East Asia?

(EAC) Not really, honestly, I don’t think European military capabilities are sufficient to defend even its own territory in the East and especially any military capacities that would materially influence a war in the first island chain, so I think NATO is pretty much irrelevant to a first island chain conflict.

What NATO needs to focus on and where it does matter is in its self-defense because I think we have to assume that if China were to move Russia might move at the same time or beforehand or after to try to exploit US enmeshment in Asia. The most important thing for NATO is to defend itself and that’s where the willpower…because I don’t believe that Norwegians or Danes are going to support a significant effort to fight over Taiwan, I just don’t believe it. I do think that Norwegians and Danes and Swedes and Germans and Dutch would support defending themselves and their neighbors against Russian aggression so let’s focus Europeans on what they’re more likely to want to do.