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. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    It’s partly a free rider problem, with federalism exacerbating it.

    If American defense was organized on a state level, it would be massively lower. America as a whole benefits from the Pax Americana, making military spending a sound financial, as well as moral, investment. If Minnesota, on the other hand, eliminated its contribution to defense, the total American military would function almost as well, but Minnesota could cut taxes (if the federal defense budget went instead into state revenue, Minnesota could eliminate income taxes) or increase government benefits (~$2k per person per year buys some nice handouts).  Plus they could all pat themselves on the back for not being Bushian warmongers.

    With that incentive structure, you’d see military spending amongst blue states in a rapid decline. In the states that supply soldiers (mostly the South), you probably wouldn’t see that much decline, but those states don’t have so much money that they could afford to replace the blue contributions.

    In Europe, many states push for higher military spending, but individual states that spend share most of the benefits of that spending, but receive all of the costs. Defense is a regional/ global public good.

    • #31
  2. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    It seems that they see us cutting our budget and instead of stepping up, they interpret that act as a sign that the world is safer.  Even the US has cut their budget, we need to do the same!

    • #32
  3. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    The central advantage, of course, other than morality, to making one’s contribution is, as Kipling noted, the judgment of one’s peers.

    One of the problems with this is that it depends on the overcoming of ignorance and generalization.

    Thus, the response of many to the Ukrainian crisis was to suggest that Europe did not spend on arms and did not support America when America needed armed help. The fact that Ukraine did spend on its military and did send troops to Iraq didn’t seem to make much of a dent. By punishing the Ukrainians for the sins of the Belgians, we eliminate the incentive for better Ukrainian behavior.

    Similarly, there are many people who say that the US should not help nations that do not spend as much on defense as America does, in order to encourage those nations to stand on their own two feet.

    Have you ever met someone who believed that, and advocated American support for the Saudis, whose defense spending as a portion of GDP more than doubles America’s?

    Having never met such a person, I tend to believe the principle to be infrequently applied in good faith.

    • #33
  4. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Do you own a gun Mr. Robinson? I don’t. I can buy one ,even here in Chicago. It wouldn’t cost me that much of my net wealth to buy one and to pay for its upkeep and maintenance as well as regular sessions of practice to improve my proficiency with it. Yet, I don’t buy one or plan to buy one? Why because I don’t think I rally need it. Sure people can make the arguments for having it, but here in Hyde Park between the CPD and UCPD I couldn’t have better police protection anywhere else in the city and that is good enough for me. Now if things deteriorated considerably my opinion might change. I think Europe is in the same situation. Why spend the money when the US police is good enough and the local crime rate isn’t that high? 

    Of course the thing is one day I think they will find the need to rearm quickly, and I think they will manage to do it. As they say the burnt hand learns quickest. 

    I think you will see Eastern Europe begin arming first.

    • #34
  5. user_309277 Member
    user_309277
    @AdamKoslin

    Losing two consecutive generations to wholesale slaughter tends to take the martial spirit out of a people.  Especially so when both generations were sacrificed on the altar of peace.  We’re not talking about a continent of Alexanders who went a-conquerin’ for the sheer glory of the thing.  The Germans came the closest, and they had their civilization practically taken apart and rebuilt from the ground up.  Twice.  We’re simply not dealing with a civilization whose political ideology and recent history are conducive to positive attitudes regarding warfare and violent conflict at the state level.

    Besides, who exactly should the Europeans worry about defending themselves against?  Obviously terrorists are a threat, but conventional military forces aren’t necessarily the answer to that threat.  It’s not like the continental powers still have colonial empires to worry about defending and policing, and they’re certainly not going to fight each other again.  China?  Nope.  Congo? Hahaha. Russia?  Pfeh; Vladimir Vladimirovich is a bad actor, but so far it’s been all he can do to snip tiny, poor provinces away from his neighbors.  That’s worrying to the Poles, not the French.

    Sorry, Mr. Robinson.

    • #35
  6. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    When Europe needs to rearm they will do it. When they need to fight they will fight hard. They always have. The thing is when it happens it will be brutal I think. WWI and WWII certainly were. Maybe Russia will just win quickly like the Prussians in the 1870’s, but that is just the prelude to a bigger fight later on. In all cases I think Europe is on a dangerous path to a vicious war. In the end we will be dragged into it, too.  Maybe we can avoid it, I certainly hope we do. But, can we really count on the Russians to come to their senses, and somehow throw out Putin and make a true Liberal-Democracy? I don’t think so.

    Edit: Huh! I guess nesting doesn’t work? This was supposed to be nested under comment #19.  Sorry for any confusion.

    • #36
  7. Proud Skeptic Inactive
    Proud Skeptic
    @ProudSkeptic

    It goes beyond defense.  After outsourcing their military to the US they did the same with energy from the Russians.  They refuse to drill or frack.  Now they want to buy American LNG.  This will cause our prices to rise.  So Americans will be paying for their military with taxes and for their energy with higher gas prices.  All this so the Europeans won’t have to soil their hands with the realities of being grown up countries.

    • #37
  8. The Mugwump Inactive
    The Mugwump
    @TheMugwump

    My explanation is rather pedestrian and completely cynical.  Spending on defense doesn’t buy votes whereas spending on social welfare is entirely about buying votes.  It’s a sad fact of human nature that many people would rather accept a marginal lifestyle (or worse) on the government dole provided they don’t have to lift a finger than better themselves through honest labor.  The unfortunate result is that social welfare produces a populace of slackers.  The very same people will eventually produce a slacker nation.  Tell me again why we want to legalize marijuana?                    

    • #38
  9. Randal H Member
    Randal H
    @RandalH

    Valiuth:
    I think Europe is in the same situation. Why spend the money when the US police is good enough and the local crime rate isn’t that high?

    You are correct, in my opinion. My experience of having studied and worked in Germany led me to the conclusion that they don’t feel as threatened as we think they should. On the one hand, many of them feel the US is as great a threat to world peace as anyone – much the same as the American left. Just peruse the comment feed on any left-leaning site and you’ll find that to be true. On the other hand, they realize they will never arm themselves to the point of being a counterbalance to the US, so they play the middle, following what they view as a pragmatic approach to managing the 800 lb US gorilla for their own benefit.
    We bear the cost and pain while they reap the gain – if there even is any from their point of view. It’s a pretty sweet arrangement for them. It’s not that we don’t benefit in some way as well, but those benefits are diminishing over time.

    • #39
  10. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    John Davey:
    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.

    I’m skeptical of this argument.  Americans haven’t seen a war on our own soil for at least as long.  Apart from the singular Pearl Harbor attack, which is increasingly beyond living memory, we haven’t seen full scale war in North America since the mid-19th century.

    In the meantime, the Baltic States, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia were invaded by the USSR, the French fought in Vietnam and Algeria, the British fought in Egypt and the Falklands, NATO fought in former Yugoslavia, and many countries fought in the Persian Gulf.

    The US was attacked by terrorists on 9/11, the Spanish were attacked on 3/11, the British were attacked on 7/7.

    Why do you think Europeans in that time period would have war “bred out of them”, but Americans would not?

    • #40
  11. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Proud Skeptic:
    It goes beyond defense. After outsourcing their military to the US they did the same with energy from the Russians. They refuse to drill or frack. Now they want to buy American LNG. This will cause our prices to rise. So Americans will be paying for their military with taxes and for their energy with higher gas prices. All this so the Europeans won’t have to soil their hands with the realities of being grown up countries.

     Oh, come on.  If there is a higher price for NG abroad then at home, you would have us forfeit that extra profit?  That profit percolates through the US economy doesn’t it?  Should we put a tariff on all exports of US goods then, as the same principle seems to generalize to all industries: we drive down exports and thus reduce (foreign) demand for US goods, thus driving down their prices domestically – at least for as long as it takes before some producers reduce production or go out of business?  I don’t know much about economics, but this does not impress me as the most cogently thought out position I have ever seen.

    • #41
  12. user_231912 Inactive
    user_231912
    @BrianMcMenomy

    This goes beyond the cravenly political to the moral & spiritual.  Life in most of modern-day Europe is pretty comfortable.  If one no longer believes in any higher authority (read: God) and believes, whether actively or passively, that this life is all there is, then the emphasis is to make this life as long and as comfortable as possible, without concerning oneself too much about what comes after.  This is reflected in the birthrate collapse (child rearing is hard, time-consuming & expensive), massive social welfare spending (can’t let anyone experience the discomfort of poor choices), etc. 

    The healthy self-criticism built into the DNA of Western civilization has devolved into societal guilt and self-loathing.  This translates into the thought that less and less is worth laying one’s life on the line to protect another.  If a country believes it is not worth defending, of course it isn’t going to spend $$ defending it.  This is the conundrum that faces Europe; on a visceral level, Europe senses that it is worth defending, but the Establishment thinking (and therefore action) goes the other way.   The habits of the last 70 years will be hard to break.

    • #42
  13. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    swatter: 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.

    Now that I think about it, it’s not surprising that people who are afraid of self reliance would be equally wary of self defense.

    • #43
  14. Proud Skeptic Inactive
    Proud Skeptic
    @ProudSkeptic

    Dear Manfred Arcane (from a few posts before this)

    Looks like you missed my point completely.  The market will work as it always has.  I never said that we shouldn’t sell them the gas.  I said that the natural market forces will raise the price due to increased demand through an expanded market.  Based on what you wrote, I believe you would agree with me on that. My point is that the net effect will be that we will pay a higher price because Europe won’t produce their own gas. My comments were specific to gas and no other goods…and I don’t believe I said anything to warrant rudeness on your part.  Usually Ricochet commenters are a lot more mannerly.

    • #44
  15. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Randal H:

    Valiuth:

    I think Europe is in the same situation. Why spend the money when the US police is good enough and the local crime rate isn’t that high?

    You are correct, in my opinion. My experience of having studied and worked in Germany led me to the conclusion that they don’t feel as threatened as we think they should.  

    Worth exploring why.

    • #45
  16. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Unlike us in WWII, even the victors in Europe were totally devastated by the wars.  Entire cities obliterated, tens of millions killed on the battlefield.  So the democracies decided repeating that nightmare would be impossible without massive standing armies.  Russia, having never transferred away from autocracy, seems immune from it. 

    I subscribe to Dan Carlin’s solution to Eastern Europe.  Withdraw from NATO and any stupid treaty we agreed to without intention of honoring.  And then give one atom bomb each to the Eastern European allies as a kind of severance.   They get a free trump card defense against Russian invasion and we get to feel better about ourselves.  If they refuse the bomb, then they can rot as a sovereign “Republic” of Russia.

    • #46
  17. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Several points might be overlooked here:

    1) Over the last 20 years weaponry has become exponentially more capable, and exponentially more expensive. Speaking purely of “men” under arm doesn’t capture the ability of these armies to engage in war. So there is no convincing argument as to why the Royal Navy of today isn’t…in fact…much stronger  than it was in the 60s, 70s or 80s (in fact, I’d say it is. The “no aircraft carrier” meme is a myth. The first Queen Elizabeth class is close to being launched)

    2) The only potential adversary of European nations, Russia, has decreased it’s military capabilities FAR more than  Europe. Russia today posses absolutely no capability to threaten Europe in a conventional sense.  Just as a rough example, NATO’s European countries operate about 1,860 modern fighter/fighter-bomber aircraft among themselves. The entire Russian Air Force has about 1,100 fighter/fighter-bomber aircraft (many of which might not even be operational at all).  

    *by contrast the US has 3,400 modern fighter in operation, with a huge technological, training and support advantage. So lets keep this in mind when people talk about “cuts”.

    • #47
  18. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Another rough example. The combines NATO European armies have about 2,800 modern tanks in service. Russia has about 2,600 (only about 500 of which can be considered modern). 

    Numbers, of course, mean very little. Training, technology,  weaponry, experience etc matter much more, and Europe has a distinct advantage over Russia in all. . 

    So is it really the case that European nations are “giving up”? I’m not sure, given their active military involvement in the last decade, from Kosovo to Afghanistan, to Iraq to Libya. 

    3) In the Cold War the possibility of Soviet invasion of, say, Danmark or Italy was very real. Today, there is obviously no conceivable scenario where any of these countries would be threatened by Russia. Let’s be honest here. Russia is a bully, but it has no desire, ability or will to play anywhere other than its traditional sandbox around its borders.

    PS: Back in the 80s the Soviets had a 5:1 numerical advantage over the US in planes or tanks. Today the US has a 3-4:1 numerical advantage over…everyone else in the world. Let’s put things in perspective!

    • #48
  19. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Byron Horatio: I subscribe to Dan Carlin’s solution to Eastern Europe.  Withdraw from NATO and any stupid treaty we agreed to without intention of honoring.  And then give one atom bomb each to the Eastern European allies as a kind of severance.   They get a free trump card defense against Russian invasion and we get to feel better about ourselves.  If they refuse the bomb, then they can rot as a sovereign “Republic” of Russia.

     1? No thanks. 20 nukes per, maybe. The Baltics get 50 each, while the Balkan countries get to share 20 together. 

    Eastern Europe, however, is really America’s best ally in this world. So lets not stab them in the back even more than Obama has done so far. 

    • #49
  20. ShellGamer Member
    ShellGamer
    @ShellGamer

    This  a question I first started posing during Bosnia’s civil war. Standing idle while a country was “ethnically cleansed” showed the extent of their moral bankruptcy. But they knew if they waited, the U.S. would intervene.

    I’m afraid Europe is the original example of “too big to fail.” The U.S. couldn’t just stand by and watch them descend into permanent Nazi or Soviet tyranny. So we defended them and rebuilt their economies, knowing that if we failed to treat cancer in Europe, it would metastasize and spread throughout the world. Like anyone who believes they’re too big to fail, failure is the only thing that will change Europe’s belief.

    • #50
  21. paulebe Inactive
    paulebe
    @paulebe

    Russian aggression aside for the moment, Europe is historically bound to learn the same lessons over and over.  Disarm, get slaughtered, rearm (with someone else’s help), fight back, rinse and repeat.  

    So what happens if we (or Canada, or the Koch brothers who own Canada – or at least most of Alberta) can’t bail them out?

    What if the jihadists in their midst launch a coordinated overthrow them from within with all those unassimilated youth attending their “cultural centers” & mosques? 

    What if it’s the Chinese with an even more asymmetric attack (cyber, EMP assault- I know, too much survival-porn)? 

    I suppose we have to operate under the assumption that, at some level, European leaders (all democratically elected, methinks) are pondering and planning for these scenarios and more, and that they believe they are budgeting for and configuring their defenses accordingly.

    If they are not, then they deserve (along with the populations that elected them) their fate, don’t they?  

    Won’t that certainly hold true for the USA, as well?

    • #51
  22. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    &a href=”#comment-1043873″ rel=”nofollow”>
     

    Byron Horatio: I subscribe to Dan Carlin’s solution … give one atom bomb each to the Eastern European allies as a kind of severance.

    AIG: 1? No thanks. 20 nukes per, maybe. The Baltics get 50 each, while the Balkan countries get to share 20 together.

    Nuclear proliferation as a way to make us safer?  Ukraine in the 1990s voluntarily gave up their 1,300 inherited Soviet nuclear weapons because they knew the cost and complication of a nuclear maintenance and security regime is prohibitive for most countries. 

    Giving many small countries nuclear weapons increases the probabilities of:

    • their intentional use
    • their accidental use
    • their loss to a third party

    It also increases the number of scenarios in which a nuclear weapon would be released in desperation.  Rather than fighting as an alliance, each country reaches its own “last resort” and could therefore could more easily rationalize the first use of nuclear weapons. 

    It raises the incentive for an invader to launch a first strike to destroy the nuclear weapons. And the very small number of weapons you proposed is not enough to inflict an intolerable level of harm against Russia in an open war.

    Together, these undermine the nuclear deterrence doctrine.

    • #52
  23. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    Sorry about the awful formatting in my previous comment.  I’ve edited it a dozen times and it just isn’t WYSIWYG.

    • #53
  24. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Yes I am in favor of nuclear proliferation in the same way I am for firearms proliferation for rational, mentally competent people.  I think Japan ought to go nuclear as well as a deterrent against China.  The number of bombs is immaterial to me.  Give Poland 1 or 50.  But let the decision for its use be left entirely to our sovereign allies.  Some skin in the game, niet?

    • #54
  25. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: And the very small number of weapons you proposed is not enough to inflict an intolerable level of harm against Russia in an open war.

     50 nukes in Estonia with a 3 minute warning time before they crash into 50 Russian cities, is quite a big deterrent, I’d think. A lot of people would lose their jobs at Pravda, once they run out of “neo-nazi Fascist CIA agent” articles to write about. 
    I agree with Byron Horatio here, nuclear weapons in the hands of sane, dependable allies is to our benefits, especially since they are already in the hands of some rather unstable leaders.

    • #55
  26. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    &blockquote cite=”comment-1043961″>AIG: nuclear weapons in the hands of sane, dependable allies is to our benefits

    Will they always be sane, dependable, and allies?  How perfectly do our interests align?  And why wouldn’t it be even better if they are in our hands rather than our allies?  Why would we give them our nukes?

    Such a small arsenal is destabilizing because it increases the advantage of launching a first strike against the country — unless you’re planning to equip these countries with a fleet of SSBNs. 

    Nuclear weapons also have a nonzero failure rate and imperfect accuracy.  A strike of merely fifty weapons against a country like China, depending on the regime in power, might be considered perfectly tolerable. 

    These would, by necessity, be counter-value weapons.  What small country would be willing to resort to the highly immoral counter-value strategy, and why should the US push them that way, when we have a perfectly capable counter-force arsenal?

    • #56
  27. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: 50 nukes in Estonia with a 3 minute warning time before they crash into 50 Russian cities, is quite a big deterrent, I’d think.

     And sorry for repeating myself, my comments keep getting destroyed by the formatting gremlins.  But I want to emphasize that what you believe is a deterrent is actually an invitation for a swift, surprise first strike by Russia.  It’s why we agreed to ban land-based MIRVs, and why we have SSBNs.

    • #57
  28. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    Byron Horatio: Yes I am in favor of nuclear proliferation in the same way I am for firearms proliferation for rational, mentally competent people. … let the decision for its use be left entirely to our sovereign allies. Some skin in the game, niet?

     Yet we know the price of this freedom in the United States is that we have people who either slip through the filters or go insane, and with our high gun freedoms we have mass murders every now and then.  With nuclear weapons, that is completely unacceptable.  I don’t think it’s a useful analogy to draw.

    • #58
  29. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: It’s why we agreed to ban land-based MIRVs, and why we have SSBNs.

     Fine. Lets give Estonia an Ohio Class SSBN. :p

    “These would, by necessity, be counter-value weapons.  What small country would be willing to resort to the highly immoral counter-value strategy, ”

    For a small country, a Russian invasion would mean the end of their existence. If equipped with some nukes, it might mean an end to Russia’s existence too. Not the best idea, if you’re Russia. As for land based nukes being vulnerable; well not if they’re mobile. 

    Of course all this is silly talk. No one is going to give anyone nukes. But the bigger point is that deterrence is what kept the Soviets at bay for 50 years. Nuclear deterrence works. And I certainly have no problem with a lot of these countries getting nukes, if it adds to the deterrence against Russia, china, NK or Iran. 

    PS: BTW many small European nations…did have…nukes. Strictly speaking they were US nukes stationed in their countries, but available for them to use on their planes. I believe Dutch, Belgian and Danish aircraft were so equipped. 

    • #59
  30. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    &blockquote cite=”comment-1043966″>Mark Wilson: t’s why we agreed to ban land-based MIRVs
     I believe we’re the only ones who did that, not Russia. Very smart move on our part. Very smart.

    PPS: To add to my comment above, US nuclear weapons, apparently, are still available for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey (not Denmark, I was wrong on that). I.e, by their aircraft, but under NATO command. So this is, in a way, already practiced in Europe.

    • #60
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.