Europe once was a military power—many military powers, in fact. But no longer. Today Europe is turning into a continent without a military.
In January Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary general, lauded France for taking “decisive action” in Mali. Of course, Paris is likely to find that it is easier to disperse jihadist rebels than reestablish a stable state.
At the same time Rasmussen noted Europe’s gradual disarmament. The other European states have offered little help, prompting Arnaud Danjean, a French member of the European Parliament, to complain that “Europe cannot always give responsibility to one member state.”
His sentiment was echoed by Nick Witney, who once headed the European Defense Agency, who argued that the European Union “is paralyzed, seemingly unable to do more than offer rhetorical support to France and the individual member states that are chipping in with logistical assistance.” So Paris, naturally, has turned to America.
Alas, Rasmussen’s efforts to strengthen the European alliance so far have had little effect. Over the last five years, as noted by Stars and Stripes, “Cuts by countries as large as Germany and as small as Latvia have resulted in program cancellations, changed equipment orders and, in the case of Britain, a plan to mothball a new aircraft carrier.” Clara M. O’Donnell, a European scholar with the Brookings Institution, explained that “what we’re seeing is basically cuts in capability and little thought on what to replace them with.”
Libya was the Europeans’ war, yet they punched far below their weight. As Con Coughlin observed last month in the Daily Telegraph, in Libya “shortages of fundamental equipment, such as air-to-air refueling tankers, cruise missiles and ships, meant that the European military effort found itself at a distinct disadvantage the moment American firepower was no longer available.”
Nevertheless, NATO officials like Rasmussen count Libya a success. A year ago he contended: “If we are to respond to the challenges of tomorrow just as effectively [as in Libya], more allies should make sure they obtain and maintain those kinds of critical capabilities.” But the latest report acknowledged that the gap in military capabilities is widening among the European NATO members and between Europe and America.
Last month Rasmussen declared that “There is a lower limit on how little we can spend on defense.” But NATO members don’t seem to agree. In 2006 the NATO members promised to spend two percent of GDP on the military. Yet today the Europeans collectively spend 1.6 percent of GDP on defense, an astonishing one-third of America’s 4.8 percent.
Only Britain and Greece have joined America at above 2 percent, and Greece does so more to confront fellow NATO member Turkey than to assist Europe. Italy and Spain are devoting less than 1 percent to their militaries.
The alliance members also pledged to devote a fifth of military outlays to procurement. Just five of twenty-eight members do so. Jonathan Eyal of London’s Royal United Services Institute confirms this trend: “Almost every single initiative adopted by the alliance, to put it kindly, has not met with success.”
Rasmussen has launched a “smart defense” initiative, which he recently said “is the way forward for allies to develop and acquire critical capabilities.” However, multinational cooperation can succeed only if the Europeans do something. So far, figures O’Donnell, “smart defense” initiatives have saved less than 1 percent of the spending cuts imposed since 2008.
Some European states are essentially disarming. As Rasmussen explained, “Defense spending among the allies is increasingly uneven, not just between North America and Europe, but also among European allies.” All the Europeans save Britain, France, and Germany account for just 7.5 percent of NATO’s expenditures. Danjean declared that “Europe is giving up in terms of defense.”