LONDON — Would you believe you can create an economic superpower by combining many weak economies into one that’s centrally-controlled by a bureaucracy unaccountable to voters? Would you believe that a bunch of countries that refuse to spend at an adult level to provide for their own defense now want to devote a chunk of their scarce military resources to make themselves independent militarily of the U.S.? Well, chief, if you believe that you must be a big supporter of the European Union.
“Tottering Along Nicely” is one of those popular Brit TV shows in which the Brits poke fun at their own foibles, and it’s pretty funny. But watching BBC you’ll never learn that the EU reached its apogee last week, and the only direction it will go from here is down. The EUnuchs thundered and blundered on both economics and defense in ways that will eventually sink their attempted alliance. One of the principles the EU is founded upon is that the quasi-socialist governments of its biggest members needed to be protected from the profligacy of the others. In the mid-1990s, Germany insisted on and obtained agreement that if any EU member had a national debt in excess of 3% of its gross domestic product, it is susceptible to fines and other sanctions by the EU. This was aimed at Italy, which — like France and most of the rest — was debt-ridden and thought to be unable to recover without drastic reforms.
That’s the advertised product. But that’s not what the EUnuchs deliver of course. None of the EU nations have been willing to face the problems caused by their semi-socialist policies that preclude significant economic growth. Sclerotic economies are the norm in Europe, aging populations brutalized by taxes and not even able to reproduce to create a new generation to pay for the old. The EU’s own books — reflecting the bureaucracy’s spending habits — don’t balance enough for outside auditors to even say they’re accurate. France — recently most famous for letting ten thousand of its citoyens die in a heat wave because everyone responsible for dealing with the problem was on vacation — has reached a level of decadence unseen since Madame Guillotine first came to prominence in 1789. Staggering wages, frequent strikes, statutorily-created long vacations and breathtaking taxation have resulted in French debt in excess of 3% of its Gross Domestic Product for the third year in a row.
Germany, also in the Red in more ways than one, also exceeds the 3% threshold. All that made both countries susceptible of fines for breaking the rules designed to protect the Euro. But there they go again. Last week the two founding members of the Axis of Weasels railroaded an agreement that broke the Euro deal, and that Humpty Dumpty won’t ever be put together again. Now, the rest of the EU members — many of which are not EUnuchs, such as Spain — are left holding the bag for their supposed economic partners. It is only a matter of time before this problem unravels the whole EU deal.
The problem for us is that the political momentum behind the EU ensures that it may totter along nicely for another five or ten or twenty years before it comes apart. Too many politicians have too much invested in the EU to let it fall apart over something as petty as the foundational economic principles. Even Tony Blair — under fire in his own nation for rising crime and discontent over British participation in the war in Iraq — is edging along the EU deal in trepidation. The EU economic shenanigans and the defense deal that is still evolving may yet damage fatally our only important military alliance, NATO.
It’s all in the math. The kerfuffle over the separate EU defense force is important, but more symbolic of the problem than a real blow to NATO. The Weasels want a defense structure that is capable of operating independently of NATO, which is fine. If Europe will take on the burden of peacekeeping operations and other matters in which American interests aren’t clearly implicated, we should encourage them to do so, and we have.
The principal reason that NATO is strong is that its forces train together and operate with weapon systems that are, at least mostly, compatible with each other. At the base of the Weasels’ ambitions is to build a defense force that not only is capable of operating independently from American forces, but is equipped with European-made weapon systems. For the head weasel, France’s Chirac, it’s always about the money. If France can divorce the EU from NATO, France’s defense manufacturers may be able to profit from increased sales (if there were any to all the EU nations’ defense establishments, which there ain’t).
We live in an era of “plug and play” warfare. In the Iraq campaign, the intensity of the conflict was an essential part of the successful strategy. Compatibility and some commonality of systems — along with decades of training together and establishing personal relationships among the warriors — enabled American and British forces to fight together in a way that can’t be created otherwise. “Network-centric” warfare is a favorite buzzword around the American and Brit military establishments. But behind the buzzword is a concept of ultimate importance. If you can’t plug into the network — both a literal computer network and an intellectual network of thinking that provides its framework — you can’t fight as part of the team. It costs money to be plugged in, and none of the Weasels is spending it. Last week, the evolving EU defense deal took a symbolic turn that widens the growing gap between concept and reality that NATO now needs to cross.
Last week’s fight was more symbolic than substantive. The Weasels wanted a separate EU command structure outside NATO, complete with a fancy new headquarters building. Tony Blair has set some “red lines” that Britain supposedly won’t allow the EU constitution to cross. One is the preservation of NATO, to which Britain is committed. At least for now. Blair apparently agreed (he and foreign secretary Jack Straw have sent conflicting signals) that there could be the separate command structure, to which the UK will devote about 130 officers and men who would otherwise be assigned to NATO or something else useful. But Blair’s dedication to NATO is being whittled away gradually, and NATO’s relevance is being eroded daily. Regardless of what the EU constitution eventually says, it’s doubtful that many NATO members will be able to provide more than their good wishes to meet their mutual defense commitments under the NATO charter.
Thanks to the irresponsible attitude toward defense spending displayed by most NATO nations since the Evil Empire filed for Chapter 11, NATO may achieve irrelevance even before the EU constitution is agree to. For us, the question boils down to this: Can we convince our NATO allies to provide sufficiently for their own defense so that they can commit, deploy, and fight in NATO’s interests? For nations such as Germany, whose defense expenditures amount to only about 1% of its GDP, the answer will be a resounding no.
We need NATO, but not if NATO’s only a shell. Big Dog Rumsfeld and the White House will be putting a lot of pressure on the EU nations to not destroy NATO outright. But while we do this, we had better ask ourselves which nations we want to be obligated to go to war to defend? Those nations that are unwilling to protect themselves — and to reform their economies sufficiently to afford to do it — aren’t nations we should spend blood and treasure to defend. Again.
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