You know, our country is broke—and is still going deeper into debt every day. One thing we have backed out of is our role as international Super Power; we’re no longer the world’s cop. That is a good idea, but our dropping out so quickly does leave a big vacuum, and lots of nations are looking at filling in at least a part of that vacuum—China for one.
Well, in Europe, our NATO allies have been cutting their military budgets back for decades—letting the US do the work. Most European nations, England and Poland being the two exceptions—oh, and Switzerland, and to some small degree, France—are the only countries with a military capable of doing anything that is combat. Oh, they all have some kind of special ops force, but these are quite small. So, when it comes to even defending their own country, Europe is basically unarmed.
Well, last month, NATO called on European Union leaders to work on improving their defense cooperation in the face of dwindling military budgets or face American disengagement—you see, we’ve told NATO that, while we’ve carried the biggest part of the expense of defending Europe since WWII, we won’t—can’t– do that anymore.
So, British Prime Minister David Cameron came straight from a trip to WWI’s battlefields in western Belgium to tell a summit of the 28 EU leaders to stand together to meet new defense challenges, even as he rejected pooling resources under a common EU flag.
At the same time, French President Francois Hollande used his country’s military actions in the Central African Republic to underscore the need for common EU funding to back up the costly military operations of a single member state.
Despite those differences, Cameron said “we are making good progress” on closer alignment at the summit.
Still, NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen told the leaders to move swiftly since the US might be inclined to weaken its military relationship, which dates back almost a century to WWI. “Unless we Europeans take our security seriously, North Americans will rightly ask why they should,” Rasmussen said. “Unless we recommit to our own defense, we risk seeing America disengage – and Europe and America drift apart.”
For decades, NATO member states have paid lip service to joint projects and closer cooperation of their defense industries, but in the high-technology and high-investment age of drone incursions and cyber warfare, the EU still struggles to find synergies between its member states-it’s all talk and no action.
“We allow ourselves the luxury of maintaining 16 large shipyards which build warships – the USA has two,” EU parliament President Martin Schulz told the leaders during the opening session of their two-day summit.
“We have 19 different types of armored personnel carrier and 14 types of battle tanks – the USA has one of each,” Schulz said. Hollande acknowledged that it was a key point the EU needed to address. “Today we want to have a certain number of results, especially on the defense industry, which has to increase its cooperation on equipment,” he said.
France has always been at the heart of drawing the EU nations together into an ever-closer union, so it came as little surprise that Hollande, faced with the mounting cost of military action in Africa, sought troop, equipment and financial input from partner nations. “I have received a lot of support from European governments, from almost all of them. So financing also has to follow that political support,” Hollande said. Yup, you have to put your money where your mouth is—and that’s always the hard part.
Britain, ever wary when it comes to closer integration, sought to draw a line on how far European military cooperation should go. Cooperation, yes, said Cameron, but “it is not right for the EU to have capabilities, armies, air forces and the rest of it, and we need to get that demarcation correct.” Failing to get that balance right has cost the EU in duplication even as defense budgets suffer from the economic crisis. “In 2001, the EU member states were still spending 251 billion euros ($343 billion) on defense, whereas in 2012 the corresponding figure was 190 billion euros ($260 billion)—a 25% decrease,” Schulz told the EU leaders. “In many cases, we would be quite incapable of carrying out a military operation without the support of the US,” Schulz said. And that’s very, very true.
So, while Europe struggles with the same bad economy we’re wrestling with, they have to find more dollars for defense—dollars they’ve been spending on social benefits for decades; and the citizens are now very used to big government benefit programs and will strongly resist losing them. Things are tough over there. But we are correct in demanding that Europe take primary responsibility for their own defense; Europe must build a military that will not only provide for their home defense—against whatever challenge—like Radical Islam, but also play a key role in necessary overseas military operations—like France is in Africa.
Will they do it? It’s awfully hard to cut back on welfare once it’s started. But if Europe does not pick up that responsibility, what will we do? Can we leave our biggest trading partners defenseless? Stay tuned.