It’s becoming an alliance without a military.
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Despite manifold deficiencies of their militaries, European governments still have been able to support peacekeeping operations — until now. However, warned Moelling, “Several European countries have already started withdrawing their troops from multinational operations in order to save money.” As the militaries of smaller nations dwindle to nothingness, the alliance will place increasing responsibility on larger European nations even though they are reducing their forces as well.
The negative cycle seems destined to accelerate. With Europe in economic crisis, there is ever less public support for foreign expeditions, warned Moelling. Indeed: “At a time of significant financial hardship, some may raise difficult questions about the legitimacy of such militaries, and others might even begin to question the merit of having armed forces at all.” Despite the dream of European elites to turn the European Union into a Weltmacht to compete with the U.S. and China on the global stage, the continent increasingly seems destined for geopolitical irrelevance.
After all, even Europe’s stalwarts are cutting their militaries. Andrew Dorman of King’s College in London wrote about the United Kingdom, considered to be America’s most faithful ally. Two years ago the new coalition government announced a four-year real reduction of 7.5 percent in military outlays, but, noted Dorman, “in reality defense spending has dropped by nearly 25 percent” due to a shift in financing of new nuclear submarines and over-commitments by the previous Labour government.
Manpower of 104,000 is slated to fall to 82,000 to 84,000 by 2020. The number of different weapons platforms and number of units acquired will drop essentially across-the-board. Concluded Dorman: “The reductions in the armed forces will have a significant impact on Britain’s ability to project and sustain military power.” The only silver lining in the dark cloud is that Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will restore a limited ability to intervene, but on a smaller scale, with a longer response time, and over a less extended period.
France joins Britain at the top of Europe’s military hierarchy. Determined to maintain an independent global presence, French military outlays dropped just .6 percent in real terms from 2002 to 2011. Although Paris has cut the number of military personnel, it professionalized its force.
But all good things must come to an end. Financial constraints forced Paris to reduce its planned spending from 2009 to 2014 by three percent. Moreover, noted Camille Grand of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique: “it will become increasingly difficult for Paris to meet the 2013-2017 budgetary increases envisaged in France’s 2008 defense strategy.” Indeed, with the Socialist Party taking control of the French presidency and parliament, “it is widely assumed that significant military spending cuts will be introduced.”
Grand figured military outlays could fall short of current targets by about 10 percent annually. Almost inevitable are a smaller force and a reduced ability to intervene abroad. Moreover, such a change would essentially end the fantasy of a continental military. Grand warned of the possibility of “abandoning the cause of EU defense cooperation: France would no longer be in a position to sustain its long standing efforts to turn the EU into a leading player in global security with autonomous military capabilities.”
Most important for the U.S., with a reduced military capability France is likely to become another shameless defense “free-rider.” Observed Grand: “Like most other Europeans, France risks relying on the U.S. to address global crises.” Surprise, surprise!
Germany, despite its storied (though at times discreditable) military history, is a lesser military power than Britain and France. Its military cuts so far have been less draconian than Britain’s but, reported Bastian Giegerich of the Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences, budget concerns are driving reductions which “are likely to accelerate in the period 2014-2016.”
While the government hopes to maintain “the broadest spectrum of military capabilities possible,” it will be reducing force and equipment levels across-the-board. Moreover, this approach means “a reduced ability to sustain troops for long deployments abroad.” With the end of conscription, which should increase the quality of Berlin’s armed forces, personnel levels are falling. The positive is that Germany currently is able to sustain no more than 8,000 of the 14,000 that it claims to be deployable for international crises; ongoing reforms are supposed to bump that up to a still paltry 10,000.
However, these are not likely to be the last cuts. The government is pushing to renegotiate existing procurement contracts, with the threat to reduce research and development on new capabilities if companies refuse. That may not be enough. The Euro crisis continues to expand with Berlin expected to bankroll any and all rescue efforts. The squeeze on German finances will worsen even if the country avoids the recession which has hit many of its neighbors.
The study includes a review of American military spending. Washington’s outlays almost inevitably will fall too. President Barack Obama appears to accept the impossibility of maintaining America’s current outsize outlays, nearly half of the world’s military expenditures.
Adam Grissom of the RAND Corporation predicted that coming reductions will lead to additional personnel withdrawals and base closures in Europe. He argued that the actual cost of basing American units in Europe is small, but his analysis ignores the cost of raising the units. Commitments require force structure. If Washington is going to protect Europe from unknown threats and garrison the continent forever, the U.S. must maintain a larger military. The cost of raising those units is part of America’s NATO cost.
Nevertheless, he correctly contended that the basic issue is one of strategy, a “fundamental decision to cease being a global power altogether,” as he put it, or, more accurately in my view, to stop attempting to micro-manage the world. Being a global power does not require forever subsidizing the defense of those capable of protecting themselves. It certainly does not require doing so when those capable of doing so don’t believe there is any reason to do so. Some Europeans don’t believe there is anything they need to defend against. Others believe that America always will step in if such a need emerges. It doesn’t matter which opinion predominates: the effect is the same.
The Brookings Institution report demonstrates that the Europeans are moving away from even the pretense of maintaining capable militaries. The authors are strong advocates of a relevant Europe, but have no solution to offer. For instance, Christian Moelling admitted: “It will not be feasible for most NATO allies to increase their military spending in the years to come.”
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