Why Won’t Europe Defend Itself? — Peter Robinson


Back when the United States had no qualms about maintaining an enormous defense establishment, I could see why the Europeans wanted to let us do all the nasty work, maintaining only nominal defenses themselves. But now?  President Obama has devoted the last five years to reducing our commitments abroad, shrinking our armed forces, and making us, withal, much less reliable allies than we used to be.

The European response? To make their defense budgets even smaller.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The Obama theory of “collective security” is that as the U.S. retreats from its historic commitments in Europe and the Middle East, allies will step up to deter aggressors and protect Western interests. NATO budget cuts suggest otherwise.

The cuts have created “gaps in meeting core NATO tasks” and resulted in “forces that are not ready, not trained, and not sufficiently equipped,” according to a 2012 study by the U.S. National Defense University. In plain English, this means that if Vladimir Putin sets his sights on NATO’s eastern periphery—by targeting the Baltic states, for example—the alliance may not have the capability to resist even if it has the political will.

European powers in recent years have shelved entire divisions and weapons systems. The British Royal Navy doesn’t operate a proper aircraft carrier. The Netherlands in 2012 disbanded its heavy-armor division, and France and the U.K. each now field a mere 200 main battle tanks. France has cut its orders of Rafale combat jets to six a year from 11. This isn’t even a Maginot Line. 

Most alliance members are also dangerously demobilized: Germany last year announced plans to cut its troops to no more than 180,000 from 545,000 at the end of the Cold War. The French military has shrunk to 213,000 from 548,000 in 1990. The U.K. now has 174,000 armed forces, down from 308,000 in 1990.

It’s not just the “Obama theory” that’s in question here. Lots of people have supposed that, if the United States scaled back its commitments to Europe, then the Europeans would very naturally take on the defense of Europe themselves.

Way back during the late 1980s and 1990s, no less a figure than Irving Kristol suggested that NATO, at least as then constituted (with the United States as very much the senior partner), was close to having outlived its usefulness.  Immediately after the Second World War, Europe needed American protection. But by the late 1970s Europe had not only recovered but become, roughly, just as rich as we—and much, much richer than the Soviet Union. By continuing to permit the Europeans to free ride on our defense budget, Kristol argued, we were infantilizing them.  We should cut back, he insisted, forcing the Europeans to defend themselves—forcing them, that is, to grow up.

The argument made sense to me then—and still does. But in recent years we’ve effectively put it to the test—and instead of taking their own defense upon themselves the Europeans have become…still more infantile. Good Lord.   The United Kingdom—”Hail, Britannia!  Britannia, rule the waves!”—without a single working aircraft carrier.

I just don’t understand. Why should this be?

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 168 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. user_2967 Inactive

    To put it another way, why does a drunk keep buying booze while mortgage payments go unpaid and the pantry stands empty?

    • #1
  2. True Blue Inactive
    True Blue

    In my opinion, the trouble with Europe is moral atrophy.  Deep down, they don’t believe their culture and way of life is worth saving.  So they don’t bother.  At least, that’s the view of the ruling classes.

    • #2
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens


    People can talk about the costs of defense and the costs of welfare, and I think those are valid, but I think the truth is deeper.

    Europe spent itself in two horrible wars, that a 1000 years from now will be seen as one big conflict. In the Second, Europe was destroyed. Only America’s intervention kept there from being mass starvation. For all intents and purposes, they went through the end of the world. You were looking at how borders changed? Think what the map in Europe looked like before WWI, and then compare to after WWII. One side is linked back to pre-modern times, while the other is linked to today.

    I think that in Europe, civilization is tired and (as I can hear your voice saying it), Europe is just done. As the flame of Western Civilization moved from Greece to Rome to France to Britain, it has now passed on. In WWII, one month Britain had more men under arms than anyone, and then it passed to America. Empires burn out, and Great Britain burned out fighting two World Wars.

    Continued ….

    • #3
  4. Misthiocracy Member

    When considering this question, I believe one must remember that there is Europe, and then there is the European Union, and the two may have very different perspectives and goals.

    Europe is a geographic body, not a political one. Right now one European country (Russia) is threatening and violating the sovereignty of several other European countries (Ukraine, the baltic countries, Turkey, etc).

    However, there has (so far) been no violation of an EU country’s sovereignty.

    If the European Union does not fear for its own sovereignty, why should it intervene to protect the sovereignty of non-members simply because they happen to be “European”?

    Maybe the EU has good reason not to fear Russia? Maybe the bureaucrats of the EU and the Russian regime actually have a lot in common, and aren’t truly antagonistes?

    If Russia leaves the EU alone, maybe letting non-EU nations get gobbled up by Russia is a good way to illustrate to Euroskeptics why the EU is oh such a good idea, because it reinforces the idea that EU membership is a bulwark against foreign aggression.

    Or, to put it more callously, maybe Russia and the EU are in cahoots?

    • #4
  5. Cagliostro Member

    People get used to the way things are and then assume they will stay that way forever. There have been 70 years of peace in France, Germany and the UK, so why do they need armies? Plus the elites that run Europe assume that the problems of the world are largely due to western imperialism. So the rest of the world will leave them alone if they ignore the rest of the world. Kristol was right that American generosity infantilised Europe, but you can’t then expect contented little infants to suddenly start thinking rationally. Only a genuine crisis, not just the threat of a crisis (or the invasion of some peripheral country that hardly anybody in Western Europe has ever visited) will jolt them into adulthood. They need to actually be mugged by reality, not just just politely informed that muggings are on the rise in their neighbourhood.

    Anyway, the rest of Europe will probably go to the dogs for a while, but it’s a tradition in Britain that we ignore international problems and run our military down until the last possible moment – and then somehow muddle through. So don’t worry.

    • #5
  6. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens

    …. Continued from #3

    So, a tired people who no longer believe in the morality of their own culture, who are unwilling to make waves, cannot fight. That is not ever last person, of course. There are always those that still believe in the myth of their civilization. Even when the flame has gone out, there are still sparks. But, if there are genes that are more likely to support that fire, they were killed in WWI and WWII. Remember Britain kicked out Churchill before it was over.

    Some day, in the areas of land that are Europe, people will again have a fire of civilization. The real question is, whose? Will it be a renewed sense of the West, or the imported fire of another. Already, more people attend Mosques than Churches in England. The energy in Paris is in the ring of unacculturated slums. It does not bode well.

    My fear, is that in America, in the Last, Best Hope of Mankind, the Left is working hard to extinguish the same fire that keeps  them warm.

    • #6
  7. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane

    @#3 is largely correct, I think.  But an even more pertinent observations is: “where is the threat (to Europe)?”  In this day and age there is none.  Russian may pick at the bones of its former empire, but there is no reason to believe it would go beyond that.  So, ‘where is the threat that justifies large military expenditures?’

    • #7
  8. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane

    So I will push back against #4 above.  I think (but confess to being totally ignorant of Europeans, FWIW) it is as much, if not more, a matter of there being no threat on the foreseeable horizon to Europe.  Why spend dollars needlessly then?

    The biggest threat they face is internal, disaffected and large Muslim populations, and it seems that there is some awakening to this realization.

    There may also be the burgeoning appreciation that the welfare state finances are so bad that this has become the No. 1 threat Europe faces.

    • #8
  9. user_86050 Inactive

    Defense is like insurance. Until you actually experience what happens without it, you don’t appreciate the need for it. And although Europe has a history, its memory of war is basically immemorial … beyond the  experience of most living people (or those who make decisions). 

    People who are experienced know what to respond to, and fast. We’ve always heard that the two words that describe losing are “too late.” Being slow to respond is what brings disaster, and yet the collective Western response (for the last few years) has been very slow.

    That slowness is being exploited now. 

    Robert Gates has a nice article on RealClear/WSJ – worth reading.

    • #9
  10. user_1100855 Member


    First of all great post. As an Irishman I think I can answer the question: because they think they can always sponge of the Americans (same way Ireland in WW2 figured UK would always defend us) and because they naively believe they dont need a military due to their pacifistic internationalist B.S.

    Another reason is self interest in worst way. If politicians started doing such  a policy, they would have to cut back on health and social welfare spending in European countries which makes up vast bulk of government spending. To do so however in peace-time would be signing political party (namely a conservative one as they are only ones who would do  signing its death sentence) as parties on left would use it to win. Its  a cycle that can only be broken if population at large feels the need for it.

    • #10
  11. No Caesar Thatcher
    No Caesar

    They simply can’t afford to defend themselves because they’re spending too much on government health systems (systems not care), unemployment benefits and agricultural subsidies, etc. 

    Human nature is what it is, and until the wolf is at the door nothing will change.

    • #11
  12. No Caesar Thatcher
    No Caesar

    They do have quite good security forces (the French seem especially strong in this area), which address the non-traditional types of attack. 

    Human nature is what it is, and until the wolf is at the door nothing will change.  Furthermore, the change will come and it will be bloody and brutal.

    • #12
  13. user_10225 Member

    Why won’t Europe defend itself? Because they haven’t had to in over a generation (end of the cold war). It is, quite literally, bred out of them.

    As others have noted, the way to politically please the European populace to to buy their happiness, which is what European governments have been doing since the 1970s. And now that there are rumblings of unhappiness, they cannot afford (either politically or fiscally) to divert what is left of the happiness money to the ‘staying physically secure’ money. It is all about priorities, and those priorities are set in stone.

    • #13
  14. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus

    Paddy Siochain: First of all great post. As an Irishman I think I can answer the question: because they think they can always sponge of the Americans (same way Ireland in WW2 figured UK would always defend us) and because they naively believe they dont need a military due to their pacifistic internationalist B.S.

     It’s the worst kind of blinkered idealism. Some of them think that if they disarm, it will “set an example” for the rest of the world to follow when, of course, the truth is that most of the rest of the world finds the very idea laughable.

    I once witnessed a lengthy argument (it was too stupid for me to directly involve myself) involving a Finnish guy arguing that we could achieve world peace if only we could create a worldwide movement to get people to stop joining the military. The majority of the message board were left-of-center Americans, and even they thought this was asinine. That’s what we’re dealing with in Europe.

    • #14
  15. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator

    Europe is behaving like the metaphorical “Boiling Frog” that will stay in the warm water as it continues getting warmer and eventually dies.  The comment stating that more people are attending Mosques than Churches in England says it all.  Europe is no longer the same place it was 50-100 years ago much less 500 years ago.  That begs the next question in my mind, which is why would the U.S. bother to come to their rescue again?  I honestly don’t see them as an essential trade partner any more and they clearly don’t bring much to the table in terms of military aid.  I have a teenage son.  Right now I cannot envision a scenario short of an attack on the Vatican that would make me want to see him deployed by our military in a European war.

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member

    Mario the Gator:
    I honestly don’t see them as an essential trade partner any more and they clearly don’t bring much to the table in terms of military aid.

     Once again, there’s a difference between “Europe” and “The EU”.

    Canada has signed a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (Currently: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. If the UK withdraws from the EU, it would probably join the EFTA.)

    I wouldn’t want them to be overrun by a hostile invader.

    • #16
  17. tigerlily Member


    • #17
  18. Roberto Member

    Let us turn this around for a moment.

    The majority of European nations face no threats, or even conceivable threats, to their territorial integrity in the near term. Some nations in the east have reason to be nervous in the medium term and most definitely in the long term, however if your focus is on immediate problems for most European nations why should a strong military be a spending priority?

    Notice the dearth of spending is not a universal phenomena:

    Poland’s Ministry of Defense is aiming to spend 32 billion zloty (US $10.4 billion) in 2014, an increase of about 2 percent over last year’s initial defense budget. The budget is the highest in the ministry’s history.

    So if you are a French voter and you feel you have a buffer to the east in front of the most likely threat, is there not a crude Machiavellian logic to deferring military spending so you may fund your all important social programs?

    Let the next generation worry about the bear on the doorstep, so to speak.

    • #18
  19. genferei Member

    What does ‘defending itself’ actually mean? No country, other than the US, can afford a real aircraft carrier or any of the leading-edge ‘weapons systems’ beloved of the Pentagon. How many WW2-era air forces could be built for the development budget of an abandoned fighter-jet today?

    As for talk of decline, there were strikingly similar sentiments expressed at the end of the 19th century. And, of course, WW1 was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

    As a conservative, I don’t believe human nature is so malleable to eliminate all martial spirit in a generation or two – or even a hundred.

    And as VDH says, it would be very easy for those Mercedes (or Toyota) factories to start churning out war-fighting vehicles if the mood changed.

    • #19
  20. GKC Inactive

    Europeans live in fantasy land, pure Disney, where climate change is the number one global issue and any weapon, guns especially, represent an antiquated view of masculinity.  Europe is but the effete. I have no faith in Europeans.  Behind closed doors you can press a European to get it, to acknowledge the conflicts and contradictions in their present mode of welfare statism and general moral and cultural apathy, but there won’t be any change until a real (security) crisis hits home.  Americans romanticize a Europe that hasn’t existed since 1900 at the latest.  Decadence and lethargy (and vehement defense of them) — that’s basically what I find in my experience there and in conversations.

    • #20
  21. genferei Member

    GKC: Decadence and lethargy (and vehement defense of them) — that’s basically what I find in my experience there and in conversations.

    How does this differentiate Europeans from the vast bulk of Americans, then? “Those darn 47%-ers. But don’t touch my farm subsidies, mortgage interest reductions or non-means-tested Social Security…”

    • #21
  22. CuriousKevmo Member

    Cagliostro: They need to actually be mugged by reality, not just just politely informed that muggings are on the rise in their neighbourhood.

     This is brilliant.  Kinda describes some of my middle-of-the-road-vote-Democratic friends.

    • #22
  23. swatter Inactive

    Doggone it Peter. I would have thought the guy who wrote the phrase, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” for Reagan would have brought more to the topic than asking the question.

    For the swatter, it is the socialism of the Europeans destroying any pretense of defense over the decades. The Europeans are under siege as we speak with the Islamic takeover of their countries and the sharia laws being passed and accepted by the European courts.

    • #23
  24. user_75648 Thatcher

    I can no more imagine Europe effectively defending herself against something that mattered than I can imagine Pajama Boy effectively defending himself against something that mattered.  This is because the countries that comprise Europe seems to have degenerated into the geopolitical equivalent of a squad of Pajama Boys: metrosexual, effeminate, effete and helpless to do anything when, say, Putin decides that they’re next except call 911. And pray that any American president other than Obama answers the phone. 

    The bad news is that America is following Europe into Pajama Boyhood.  A few decades behind Europe in her descent, but on her way. 

    • #24
  25. user_1938 Inactive

    One factor in all this puzzles me. People often claim welfare programs and other spending priorities demand reductions in military spending. That assumes that the dominant politicians genuinely worry about debts, and aren’t merely paying lip-service to it to mollify voters. But, at least in the US, overall spending continues to increase regardless of cuts to individual programs and agencies.

    Perhaps some governments are truly reducing spending overall. But why would those governments which have thrown caution to the wind and spend as much as they please on domestic programs, without any regard to future liabilities, not simply spend as much as they please on everything, including defense?

    In any government that evidently is not concerned with the cumulative level of spending across all programs and agencies, it seems clear that politicians are cutting defense spending not because they have to but because they want to.

    • #25
  26. Tuck Inactive

    There was once a troop of baboons that was very violent.  As baboons usually are.  Then, by a fluke, all the violent males were eliminated at once by a disease.

    “The forest troop was markedly different after the deaths — calmer, less violent, with more grooming and much more positive interactions than before….
    “An assistant was sent to do a census on the forest troop years later, and returned to Sapolsky very excited. Sapolsky reluctantly agreed to see what was so shocking. He was stunned to find that the members of the forest troop were still acting “friendly,” and doing things no baboons had ever been observed doing before. Male baboons never groom each other — except in the forest troop. Males have no role in raising their kids, and never hold/carry their kids — except in the forest troop. The average distance between troop members was reduced by more that 50 percent.”

    I suspect that this is what has happened to Europe, thanks to the 19th and 20th centuries.

    Time will tell if the Europeans deal with the next Hitler or Kaiser Wilhelm the way the baboons dealt with violent males that attempted to take over the troop.

    “At a dinner and lecture for a fundraiser, Sapolsky did a Q&A after finishing his lecture. Someone asked him, based on his experience and his research, how can we reduce or eliminate violence in our society. His answer: “Kill all the aggressive young males.””

    • #26
  27. user_1938 Inactive

    In regard to the growing portion of many European nations that is comprised of unassimilated Muslim immigrants with no respect for European customs or laws, we should consider not only how those communities distract European politicians or undermine the general will to defend Eastern European nations… but also consider how those hostile communities might take advantage of domestic weaknesses in the event of war.

    Imams are preaching about a cultural conquest of Europe for Islam. If their host nations are weakened by war on the homefront, those imams might not remain content to play the long game.

    • #27
  28. user_1938 Inactive

    Tuck: “At a dinner and lecture for a fundraiser, Sapolsky did a Q&A after finishing his lecture. Someone asked him, based on his experience and his research, how can we reduce or eliminate violence in our society. His answer: “Kill all the aggressive young males.””

    Ironically, Europe’s aggressive “youths” (as liberal reporters so love to call them) are probably the least likely young men to enlist for national defense. This ties in neatly with my last comment, I think.

    • #28
  29. Tuck Inactive

    “Europe’s aggressive “youths”” are mostly immigrants from the middle East, at this point.  With the exception of English Yobs…

    • #29
  30. I. raptus Member
    I. raptus

    Okay, be honest.  Withal cannot really be a word.  (Kidding.)

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.