The Skeptics

Why Isn't Europe Preparing for a War with Russia?

It’s fair to assume that no one in Germany, at least, expects the Bundeswehr to be in action. Even the Germans joke that the role of their soldiers is to stop the Russians until real military forces arrive. 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 make up a grand expeditionary force to push back jackbooted Putinistas? As once was said of Oakland, there’s no there there when it comes to most European militaries.

The problem is not inadequate resources. European nations collectively have a larger population and equivalent economy as America. Their military strength may lag behind that of America, but they are not helpless. On a power index France and the United Kingdom are next, followed by Turkey. Then come Germany and Italy. All of them could do much more if they desired.

And the Europeans have plenty of military manpower. Turkey alone has nearly four hundred thousand men under arms. Admittedly Ankara isn’t looking much like a loyal ally these days, but if not, then why is it still in NATO? In any case, Italy has some 250,000 citizens under arms. France has about 200,000, Germany has about 180,000, Greece has about 160,000 and the United Kingdom has more than 150,000. Spain has 124,000 citizens under arms. And they could expand their forces if they believed there was a security justification for doing so. Instead of the United States, these countries should be offering the extra combat brigades and a lot more to deter Russia.

More than seven decades 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.

Moscow can beat up on a small neighbor, such as Georgia, but could not easily swallow Ukraine and certainly not conquer Europe. And if there is any doubt about the latter, the Europeans could accelerate militarily past what is a declining power facing economic stasis, demographic decline, and political crisis in upcoming years.

Uncle Sam is effectively bankrupt. It faces trillion-dollar deficits in coming years. Yet Congress refuses to make tough decisions, preferring to reduce revenues rather than address spending. As federal debt, social spending and foreign commitments collide, crisis is likely to force action. America’s promiscuously interventionist foreign policy is likely to suffer. Few American seniors will volunteer to sacrifice Medicare and Social Security to enable the Europeans to continue underwriting a generous welfare state. Better for Washington to make cutbacks thoughtfully and systematically, rather than frantically in the midst of a crisis.

The Europeans will never cease calling for increased U.S. military commitments, but U.S. officials could stop offering to pay. Washington should remain in NATO and other alliances only so long as they advance America’s security interests. Defending countries well able to protect themselves does not advance those 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.

Image: Flickr / Department of Defense

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