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Europeans Debate Creating a Bigger Military Policy with a Smaller Military

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A second marriage, it is said, is the triumph of hope over experience.  So is a European Union debate over defense.  At the latest European Council meeting in late December, European leaders issued new promises to do more than free ride on the U.S. 

The continent is made up of frustrated wannabe global powers.  It was hard enough to get the Europeans to divert cash from their generous welfare states during the Cold War when there was a plausible enemy.  But today? 

The financial crisis, enduring recession, and Eurozone imbroglio have sapped what little interest most Europeans had in maintaining real militaries.  Earlier this year a top NATO official admitted at a private luncheon that “there is no chance for budget increases, not even for keeping spending levels as they are.” 

The result has been embarrassment when the Europeans go to war.  They ran out of missiles when fighting the grand legions of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.  France’s Little Napoleon, Francois Hollande, had to turn to the U.S. for air “lift” to get his forces to Mali in 2012. 

Despite their usual political posturing and abundant hypocrisy, European leaders aren’t stupid. So they have been issuing calls for better if not more spending—in fact, “smart defense” has become a NATO mantra. But it doesn’t matter how smart you spend if you don’t spend much.

The latest Council meeting delivered what we have come to expect from the European Union: expansive talk, wonderful pronouncements, grandiose promises, and minimal expectations.  Europe will grow only more dependent on America—at least if Americans allow it.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, only Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain fall within world’s top 20 military spenders.  Even that sounds more impressive than it really is. London spends 8.9 percent of Washington’s outlays on the military.  Madrid spends 1.7 percent. 

Even the Central and Eastern Europeans, who claim to worry about Russia, are laggards.  They all prefer that NATO, meaning America, prepare for a war which would be disastrous and would serve no conceivable U.S. interest.

The European Council admitted as much in its discussion of the Common Security and Defense Policy. “Defense matters,” the Council began. However, the body added:  “Defense budgets in Europe are constrained, limiting the ability to develop, deploy and sustain military capabilities.” 

Instead of urging more outlays, the Council called “on the Member States to deepen defense cooperation by improving the capability to conduct missions and operations and by making full use of synergies in order to improve the development and availability of the required civilian and military capabilities, supported by a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive European Defense Technological and Industrial Base.” 

What does this bureaucratic gobbledy-gook mean if even the continent’s “big” powers, Britain and France, are shrinking their militaries?  In time all of the largest states could end up with what Christian Moelling with the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik calls “bonsai armies” rather than armies shouting “Banzai.”

Indeed, the Council members indicated they weren’t very serious even as they approved the latest communiqué.  First, Great Britain sought to keep Europe dependent on America through NATO.  Prime Minister David Cameron explained:  “It isn’t right for the European Union to have capabilities, armies, air forces and the rest of it.”

Second, France found little support from its fellow EU members for French military operations in Mali and the Central African Republic.  Paris did, however, win a Council call for a report on how the EU could address the “challenges and opportunities arising for the Union.” 

Europe will almost certainly continue its downward military descent.  After all, the Europeans face no serious enemies.  

Moreover, the Europeans don’t believe they have to do anything, other than the bare minimum necessary to quiet U.S. complaints and forestall U.S. reaction.  Their only fear is that Washington might eventually tire of playing GloboCop for countries that prefer to devote their resources to economic development and social welfare.

However, Washington should start saying no to European dependency.  The American military’s job is to most effectively and inexpensively defend the U.S.—its people, territory, liberty, and prosperity.  Safeguarding the European welfare state should not be Washington’s objective.

Give the Europeans their due.  They love to perform.  “We must do more on defense,” they all said.  Now they will go home and reduce military outlays.

Washington should turn responsibility for Europe’s defense over to Europe and bring America’s troops home. It’s time to dismantle the Cold War alliance and treaty structure.  And for America to invite Europe to take up its proper military responsibilities in a new and changing world.

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