Libya and European Defense Spending

Posted: August 24, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , , , ,

Now that Gadhafi appears to be on the run, NATO (to likely include the U.S.) and the European defense communities will be better able to declare victory and cut defense budgets to the bone.  Maybe cutting through the bone is more apt; Europe and NATO (as well as the U.S., on and off) have been cutting defense since the end of the Cold War.

“Shared defense” in Europe has become a mere bumper sticker.  As such, it and carries a corresponding depth of commitment from most of NATO who has been nearly free-riding on U.S. funded and provided security assurances.  Is Europe in denial on all this?  Not according to the NATO Secretary-General.

"The fact is that Europe couldn’t have done this [Libyan military operation] on its own," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh [Of War] Rasmussen, in an interview last month, citing essential U.S. intelligence support. "The lack of defense investments in Europe will make it increasingly difficult for Europe to take on responsibility for international crisis management beyond Europe’s borders."

Essential U.S. intelligence support, fair enough.  But what about the U.S. airpower?!

The mounting concerns about Europe’s ability to project power overseas come as the world’s military balance is shifting. The U.S., the world’s dominant power, is under growing pressure to control military spending and is increasing its focus on the Pacific region. At the same time, China is undertaking a military buildup that has left many of its neighbors worried about its global ambitions.


Mr. Rasmussen, NATO’s civilian chief and the former prime minister of Denmark, says he is concerned about the "increasing gap" between the U.S. and Europe. Twenty years ago, at the end of the Cold War, "European allies represented one third of total defense spending in NATO," he says. "Today it’s only 20%." If that trend continues, he says, "it may eventually lead to a change of the American attitudes. The U.S. might be more interested in cooperating with emerging powers, because they will fill the gap left by Europe."

Ya think?!  While Americans have traditionally shown a commitment to the infirm, it appears much of Europe is not any more fiscally infirm than the U.S.

Rob de Wijk, a former Dutch defense adviser, told the Netherlands’ Parliament in May that the country’s military spending had fallen too far and the Dutch were now just "international freeloaders" on defense. He says the response he got from politicians left him with the impression that "they just didn’t care."

Is there a solution on the horizon?  That depends on what you think of the following assessment.

Mr. Rasmussen says one answer is what he calls "smart defense." Cooperation among countries in buying defense equipment, in training and in military exercises, he says, can deliver better value for the money. Countries also can specialize in certain military tasks. He wants that issue at the top of the agenda for NATO’s next summit in Chicago next year.

"Instead of pursuing purely national programs, we get more bang for the buck if we pool and share resources," he says. He has identified what he calls 10 critical capabilities, including the strategic airlifting of troops and equipment, intelligence gathering, drone technology and ground surveillance.

My take is another groan-inducing platitude like “smart defense” (code for reorganizing, the traditional bureaucratic fix) won’t be able to carry the day.  In addition to fulfilling the functions Rasmussen identifies (which certainly might be done in a more intelligent manner), the capabilities need to be integrated and the military also needs to be able to train in such a manner.  When the nation of intelligence gatherers opts out of a big NATO exercise (or war), who will stand in the gap or otherwise fill the need?  While specialization is exceedingly useful in a market economy (part of that also includes those who facilitate transactions between the various participants) competition, redundancy, and robustness are also useful attributes.

So what does European defense spending go towards?  

“Most spending is not for military operations, he [Tomas Valasek of the Centre for European Reform] says, but for things like training, education and procurement.”

Four-fifths of European equipment budgets are spent on products from domestic manufacturers, which often don’t offer the best value. "There’s a shocking contrast between the way we fight together and the way we build our forces in splendid isolation from each other," he says. A European Union directive that goes into effect this year mandates a single European market for a large number of military purchases, which will make it more difficult for governments to promote "national champions" in the defense industry.

I take the last sentence to mean Rasmussen’s idea of “smart defense” is inconsistent with the EU position. 

Both the EU and NATO are large and powerful bureaucracies, largely interested in their own growth, perpetuation, and power.  But while NATO has a history of arguably being the most successful international organization of all time (yet, what have you done for me lately?), the EU appears to have been non-beneficial in improving the lot of the normal “European” (whoever that may actually be).  This includes the creation of the euro itself which now appears to be ‘baked-into’ every European financial problem.

The leave-‘em-laughing (or crying) wrap:

Mr. Rasmussen isn’t in favor of all cooperative efforts. The European Union has revived talk about setting up a permanent EU military headquarters. "There is no lack of headquarters," says Mr. Rasmussen. "What we lack in Europe is hardware."


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