4 Questions to Heather Conley about a Modern Marshall Plan for Ukraine

“Ukraine, and even Israel and Taiwan, have become collateral damage of domestic issues.” – Heather Conley

The Marshall Plan is viewed as one of the most successful US foreign policy decisions. It did not only rebuild Europe after the Second World War, but also helped to consolidate the position of the United States with the position as global super power.

On the 13th of December 2023, The Netherlands Atlantic Association hosted Heather Conley, President of The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and author of the report “A Modern Marshall Plan for Ukraine”, in an online conversation with Bob Deen (Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Security Unit, The Clingendael Institute), moderated by Anna van Zoest (Director, Netherlands Atlantic Association). Together with Conley, they reflected on the report and what ought to be done to find support for the GMF’s ideas. Furthermore, they considered broader questions related to next year’s NATO summit and the 2024 US presidential elections.

How does your proposal for a Modern Marshall Plan for Ukraine differ from its original?

“Well, the reason why we focus so much on the Marshall Plan is because it is heavily associated with success. That is one of the reasons why we are not talking about reconstruction, but about a new Marshall Plan. Also, for the United States, the term reconstruction is associated Afghanistan and Iraq, which both were reconstruction projects that failed. One important difference between the original Plan and the new Plan is that the former was designed in such a way that the United States was supporting and investing in 16 European countries. The Modern Marshall Plan refers to 50+ countries supporting one country, so the support for Ukraine does not fall upon the shoulders of one partner alone.”

In the report you state that there was enormous bipartisan support in Congress at the time of the original Marshall Plan. However, if we look now at American politics and society, there seems to be a lot of polarization, a support package of 65 billion dollars is being held up in Congress, and we are witnessing a decrease in public support for Ukraine. Are you concerned about the commitments of the United States to Ukraine and European security in general?

“Yes, I have been very concerned about this and I am very concerned that the Biden administration, while being incredibly supportive of Ukraine, has not dedicated itself enough to explaining to a variety of American communities why this investment in Ukraine is so critical to the United States’ prosperity and security. This absence of understanding why it is important to support Ukraine has left the door open for people who do not like supporting Ukraine or oppose Biden. This has caused even more polarization, which now dominates Congress. The conversation in Congress has shifted to the domestic issue of border security, away from the discussion on the consequences of the war in Ukraine for the national security of the United States. Ukraine, and even Israel and Taiwan, have become collateral damage of domestic issues.”
“At next year’s NATO summit, I do hope that there will be clear language and a clear signal to the Ukrainian government that the members of NATO decide whether Ukraine can join the Alliance. The members of NATO really have to show that they will not be deterred from the vision to incorporate Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. On top of that, the NATO summit in Washington will be 4 days before the Republic National Convention. This hyper-politicizes NATO and the issues that will be discussed, but it is essential that every American understands how important NATO is for their security. There are costs to that security, but the benefits are much more greater.”

Keeping the next year’s US presidential elections in mind, there are concerns in Europe about the future of the United States’ commitments to NATO, especially if there will be a change in the White House. What can you say about that?

“It is very hard to predict who is going to win in 11 months. There are two presumed presidential candidates, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Right now, the American people agree on one thing and that is that they are not crazy about their choices, which makes it a very volatile and unpredictable race. My advice to our European colleagues would be to prepare as best as you can. It is not 2016, you will not be surprised when former President Trump returns back in the White House. Furthermore, it does not matter who ends up in the White House, European countries have to strengthen their defenses and their economy. Third, European allies and partners have to realize that their relationship with the United States is not limited to the White House. So, I would encourage Europeans to engage with states, governors, mayors and local leaders to rebuild the transatlantic relationship from the bottom-up. This will also contribute to the realization that it is an investment in our shared prosperity and shared security.”

A final question, what needs to happen for public support to remain solid for Ukraine on both sides of the Atlantic?

“Here at the German Marshall Fund, we believe that we have to help people understand why support for Ukraine is important for their own economic prosperity and security. That is why we are going on a tour in the United States to convey this message. Secondly, the adversaries of the West are aligning. Russia, Iran, North-Korea and China are investing in each other, which means that they become more connected. As a consequence, we do not have the luxury to choose the threat that is most pressing. And I really hope that NATO will understand how they have to interact with this adversarial alignment. Lastly, I would like to emphasize that we have to have a winning mindset, because this will provide the hope that there are better days ahead. If Ukraine is unsuccessful in winning this war, it will fall on NATO borders very quickly and this will have enormous destabilizing effects. So, we have to keep supporting Ukraine, they are fighting for our freedom. We did it in 1947 with the Marshall Plan and we can do this again.”