Blank Checks

Europe will never have its own military capabilities unless America stops subsidizing its defense.

Leading Europeans have long promoted the idea of an independent European foreign policy and military force. Creating such a continental capability is one of the top arguments for strengthening the European Union through the Lisbon Treaty. In practice, however, Europe is moving in the opposite direction as individual nations reduce their militaries and commitments. On Bastille Day, French President Nicolas Sarkozy presided over a military parade that included German and Indian military personnel. Sarkozy has brought Paris back into the NATO command structure, opened a base in the Persian Gulf, and promised military "modernization" and high-tech development. He also has proposed establishing a "permanent and autonomous strategic planning capacity" for the EU along with a deployable military force. But France is about the only European state intent on increasing its military reach-and only after sharply reducing its defense efforts since the end of the cold war.

Throughout history, Great Britain has been America's closest military partner. The government recently announced a review of British defense policy, shortly after the Institute for Public Policy Research predicted significant cuts in London's defense budget of roughly $54 billion.

One potential target is the planned $124 billion replacement program for Britain's sea-based Trident nuclear-missile program. Earlier this year three top retired military officers proposed dropping Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suggested reducing British nuclear weapons as part of international negotiations.

Also under scrutiny is London's contribution to the Afghanistan war. Rising casualties are taxing public patience. The economic crisis is increasing calls for cutbacks. The Royal United Services Institute recently proposed "a radical scaling back" of the British contingent. Britain can, explained the Institute:

plausibly argue it is contributing much more than any other US ally to the Afghanistan operation. Given this, the US ‘surge' into Helmand and Kandahar provinces could be used to relieve the pressure for further increases in the UK's own forces.

Prime Minister Brown has resolved "to complete the work that we have started in Afghanistan and Pakistan." However, with elections due by mid-2010, even Brown's Labour Party might feel forced to retreat. In any case, the opposition Conservatives are likely to take power next year and what would happen then is unclear. One Tory MP says: "The death toll means we should do it properly or we shouldn't to it all."

The Financial Times reports that:

An increasingly heated British debate about its role in Afghanistan has sparked concern in Washington about the sustainability of the military strategy and the US public's own willingness to commit troops for the long term, senior officials and analysts say.

American officials say they wouldn't be surprised at such controversy in Germany, but Great Britain is different. Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institute scholar who ran the Obama administration's review of Afghanistan policy, admitted: "The British are crucial to the NATO mission in Afghanistan" and that U.S. "public opinion will be affected negatively against the war if our key ally in Helmand starts to look for a path out."

A British withdrawal would be particularly bad news for Washington, since Britain is one of the few countries providing meaningful assistance in Afghanistan. Although many NATO members have contributed forces, only Britain, Canada and the Netherlands have not added "caveats" restricting the use of their contingents. Even under U.S. pressure, it took eighteen months to negotiate the total number of caveats down from eighty-three to seventy. Complains General John Craddock, the outgoing NATO SACEUR, or supreme commander in Europe: "There are restrictions at every level." No wonder American personnel joke that ISAF, officially the International Security Assistance Force, really stands for "I saw Americans fight."

Germany is one of the worst. It has insisted on sending its troops to the relatively secure north, in order to keep them out of combat. Reports the London Times: "Now Germany's battered military reputation has received a further humiliating blow. According to official reports the three thousand five hundred troops in northern Afghanistan drink too much and are too fat to fight." We can all be happy that Berlin's war-mongering past is over, but it is unfortunate that Europe's most populous and prosperous nation is unwilling to do more to promote international security.

None of this is likely to change, whether or not Irish voters ratify the Lisbon Treaty in October. "Old" Europe has pretensions of global leadership but is unwilling to devote the resources necessary to create a corresponding continental military. Most Europeans see no threats to justify such expenditures. "New" Europe is more concerned about military issues, principally containing Russia, but lacks the capacity to make a significant military contribution. Incorporating countries like Albania and Croatia has turned NATO expansion into a farce.

But both parts of Europe have one thing in common: They continue to look to the United States for a de facto bailout.