28 September 2011

Europe Continually Awaiting US to Ride to Their Rescue

The Economist ran this column a whole back, but it's still worth discussing that Europe has been more than happy to let the US lead with their military and their wallet, and that in the long-term, that's unsustainable.

...if the European taxpayers do not want to pay to preserve their own security, why should Americans shoulder the burden? Only five of the 28 NATO allies meet NATO’s recommendation that countries should spend at least 2% of GDP on defence: America, Britain, France, Greece and Albania. Today America’s key security interests are in the Middle East and in Asia. Europe will be the obvious place for America to cut expensive overseas commitments.

Europe has more soldiers than America, but can deploy far fewer of them on overseas operations. This is partly the result of history: in the cold war European armies were built to hold the line in Europe, while awaiting reinforcement by American forces which, by definition, had to be designed for expeditionary warfare. Another is that “Europe” is not a sovereign state, but a collection of small- and medium-sized countries. Its considerable defence spending is hoplessly fragmented among a multitude of armies, air forces and navies.

Specialisation, pooling and sharing equipment is the obvious way forward. Defence experts across Europe have known this for a long time and, here and there, countries have embarked on some important experiments. A recent paper by the Centre for European Reform, and think-tank in London, makes some sensible recommendations (PDF). But what is rational in terms of defence accounting too often falls foul of political and operational reality. Many smaller countries have little interest in international commitments. And the bigger states that still retain some kind of global vision, like Britain and France, do not want to be dependent on smaller states for their military capability.

By: Brant

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