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Why Don’t Europeans Provide Troops for Europe’s Defense?

Three years ago, the U.S. withdrew combat units from Europe. Now it is sending them back to deter a Russian attack. Explained Brig. Gen. Timothy Daugherty: “Preparing for war is a lot cheaper than executing one.”

True. But why isn’t Europe doing the preparing?

During the Cold War the U.S. had about 300,000 troops in Europe. The number was down to 65,000 a couple NATO Spendingyears ago. Even so, that was too many: the continent long ago should have graduated from America’s defense dole.

Yet the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had extended up to Russia’s borders and was threatening to add Georgia and Ukraine, former territories within the Russian Empire as well as Soviet Union. Along the way Washington and Brussels dismantled Serbia with nary a consideration of Russia’s historic interests in the Balkans.

Although the consensus in Washington was to treat the Defense Department as a fount of international welfare, protecting prosperous and populous allies, candidate Donald Trump suggested possible change when he criticized U.S. defense subsidies for the Europeans. But since taking office he has continued to sacrifice the interest of Americans for the benefit of European governments which prefer to offload responsibility for their own defense.

Many on the continent perceive no serious security threat. And European governments, whether they worry or not, figure Washington will defend them.

Why are Washington policymakers, and especially President Trump, so ready to make Americans bear that burden? Despite the overwrought rhetoric that fills Washington, Moscow poses no meaningful military threat to the U.S.

Mucking around with the 2016 election was offensive, but Washington has done the same, only far more often in many more nations. The Trump administration should insist that Russia desist, while promising America will not make the same mistake again in the future.

The Russian Federation is the only nation with a comparable nuclear force, but to use it would guarantee destructive retaliation. Moscow is a serious regional, not global, power. Nothing suggests that Putin has the slightest interest in a confrontation with America.

Moreover, the U.S. and Russia have no substantial disagreement over important interests. Instead, the two governments have collided on peripheral issues—such as Syria (with which Moscow long was allied and which matters little to America) and Georgia/Ukraine (which are not important for U.S. security).

Yet Washington is putting American troops back in Europe. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said that “We, the U.S. Army, think that additional capability is probably needed” to deter Russia.

What are the Europeans doing about Russia? Good question.

Gen. Hodges lauded Lithuania for devoting 2.07 percent of GDP on the military, but if that government is nervously awaiting the arrival of Russian tank divisions, it should double or triple its outlays. The point is not to defeat Moscow’s legions, but to ensure that any attack would be costly and not worth the price.

So too Estonia, Latvia, and Poland. They all seem to crave American garrisons. What they should receive are contingents from their European neighbors.

But move away from the border states and most Europeans are too busy to bother much with military matters. Germany’s outlays went from 1.18 in 2016 to 1.22 percent this year, but are expected to drop back in 2018.

The likelihood of Germans heading east to save the Baltics, or Poland, or anyone else is minimal at best. But then, who believes Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, Danish, Montenegrin, Luxembourgian, Slovenian, Slovakian, and Czech troops will push back jackbooted Putinistas?

The problem is not inadequate resources. European nations collectively have a larger population and equivalent economy than America.

And the Europeans have plenty of military manpower. Turkey alone has nearly 400,000 men under arms. Admittedly Ankara isn’t looking much like a loyal ally these days, but if not, why is it still in NATO?

In any case, Italy has some 250,000 citizens under arms. France about 200,000. Germany 180,000. Greece about 160,000 and the United Kingdom more than 150,000. Spain has 124,000. They could add extra combat brigades and a lot more to deter Russia.

Long after the close of World War II, the Western Europeans have recovered economically, overturned alien communist regimes, and absorbed Central and Eastern European states into the European project. Collectively they vastly outstrip the remains of the once fearsome Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

But the Europeans will never cease calling for increased U.S. military commitments. U.S. officials must stop paying. Defending countries well able to protect themselves does not advance America’s security interests.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

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