The outcome of the war in Ukraine will likely turn not only on issues as Europe’s ability to ramp up its defense spending to produce artillery shells for Kyiv, but particularly on what happens in the November US elections, defense and security analyst Francois Heisbourg told AAPA members on March 12 via Zoom.

The return of former President Donald Trump to power would be “catastrophic” for Ukraine, Heisbourg said, with Trump likely to strike a deal to end the war on terms unfavorable to Ukraine. But a Trump presidency could also raise the security risk for Europe: Heisbourg believes a Trump victory could lead Russian President Vladimir Putin to assume that Article 5 of NATO (an attack on one member is an attack on all) would be “playable.”

Heisbourg’s on-the-record discussion with AAPA members also touched on terrorism threats facing the Olympic Games in Paris, the specter of a rising far-right politcal bent in Europe, new challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, and French-British defense industrial cooperation.

Heisbourg said French President Emmanuel Macron’s toughened stance towards Moscow — seen in his recent controversial suggestion that Europe could send troops to Ukraine under what his office terms ‘strategic ambiguity’ — reflected a broader shift that began months before.  Heisbourg also shared fears expressed by some experts and European leaders that after his invasion of Ukraine, Putin could set his sights on a European Union country in a matter of a few years. He said the bloc needed to boost its defense spending to 3 percent of GDP by 2030 to respond to these new security realities.

Heisbourg was less concerned about a shift in European policy toward Ukraine if the far right scores strongly in June European Parliament elections, noting security decisions are made by states and not EU lawmakers. He pointed to Italy as an example, where right-wing leader Giorgia Meloni strongly supports Ukraine and the transatlantic alliance.

And if US support for Ukraine returns — with Congress passing Ukraine aid, but also in the longer term, should President Biden secure a second term in office — Russia’s prospects of prevailing in Ukraine could fade. In a scenario “where the US is back in the game,” Heisbourg said, “then I don’t see how Russia could win.”

Photo credit: courtesy F. Heisbourg