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?

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  1. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    &blockquote cite=”comment-1043969″>AIG: Of course all this is silly talk.  You’ve got that right. 

    AIG: Nuclear deterrence works.

     Deterrence “worked” in the sense that we didn’t have a nuclear war.  Whether you can give all the credit to the deterrence policy is certainly open for debate.  Maybe you could say your truck driving habits are “safe” if you speed through a red light blaring your horn and everyone clears out of your way. We were very, very lucky to avoid nuclear war on several occasions. 

    The basic problem with relying on deterrence is that it assumes nobody will call your bluff.  It’s a catch-22, because while the goal is to threaten unacceptable losses against any aggressor, the aggressor also understands that in the event of a nuclear exchange, the defender would suffer unacceptable losses.  So when they know that we know that they know that we know … which is the credible outcome?  When you have big countries fighting small countries, the answer is not so clear. 

    Fundamentally, nuclear deterrence relies on a grotesque immorality, holding hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians hostage.  President Reagan understood this.

    • #61
  2. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    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.

    Yes, in fact, it was a good move.  When your enemy uses land-based MIRVs, it increases your incentive to launch a first strike, because you can destroy enemy nuclear warheads 10-for-1 instead of 1-for-1.  Again, destabilizing.

    AIG:
    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.

     I am attempting to distinguish between the Byron Horatio/Dan Carlin/AIG position and the status quo.  US nuclear weapons under NATO command are not at all the same thing as dissolving NATO and putting nuclear weapons under the sovereign control of random European countries.

    • #62
  3. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: When you have big countries fighting small countries, the answer is not so clear. 

     When it comes to small countries, it’s even more effective. The small country has everything to lose, and the large one very little, in case of a conventional conflict. In the case of a nuclear one, both stand to lose everything; i.e., things are more balanced. 

    What you say about nuclear deterrence may, or may not, be true. I do believe that prospect theory has something to say about that, and I’m not so sure I’d reach your conclusion in that case. 

    Also, spreading your nukes around to other nations (as is already practiced in Europe), complicates matters even more for an adversary. 

    • #63
  4. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    &blockquote cite=”comment-1043976″>Mark Wilson: Yes, in fact, it was a good move.  When your enemy uses land-based MIRVs, it increases your incentive to launch a first strike, because you can destroy enemy nuclear warheads 10-for-1 instead of 1-for-1.  Again, destabilizing.
     I’m not so sure about that. destroying enemy missile silos depends on warhead accuracy, first, and second on the ability to penetrate enemy BMD. Our warheads were/are far more accurate than Russian ones. Our BMD is/could be far more capable than Russian one. So I’m not sure that Russian MIRVs…could/can…target individual silos. A 200-300m CEP is probably not good enough to knock out a hardened silo, given the small size of MIRVs. 

    Second, it’s all contingent on warning time and reaction time. If your attack is detected in time, and reaction time is small, then there is no advantage to knocking out empty silos which have already discharged their missiles. Neither side would be likely to catch the other with their pants down. 

    So what you gave was the “politically correct” rationale for eliminating MIRVs. Technically, I doubt it very much.

    • #64
  5. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG:

    Mark Wilson: When you have big countries fighting small countries, the answer is not so clear.

    When it comes to small countries, it’s even more effective. The small country has everything to lose, and the large one very little, in case of a conventional conflict. In the case of a nuclear one, both stand to lose everything; i.e., things are more balanced.

    If the small country’s nuclear force is small enough that it could be sufficiently weakened by a first strike so that retaliation becomes either unlikely or an acceptable outcome on the part of the aggressor, what are the incentives?  Russia has serious counter-force weapons.  These small countries on its border would necessarily store their nuclear assets within range of Russian conventional PGMs. 
    They are also much more vulnerable to coup d’etats, toppled governments, economic collapse, etc. that would put control of the weapons in doubt.  I just can’t see how the upside would be better than the downside.  In fact I don’t see much of an upside at all.

    • #65
  6. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: Our warheads were/are far more accurate than Russian ones. Our BMD is/could be far more capable than Russian one. So I’m not sure that Russian MIRVs…could/can…target individual silos. …

    Second, it’s all contingent on warning time and reaction time. If your attack is detected in time, and reaction time is small, then there is no advantage to knocking out empty silos which have already discharged their missiles.

     Well, you can fiddle with the ratio if you want, say 10-for-3 instead of 10-for-1.  We don’t have a strategic BMDS, so that point is irrelevant. 
    And now that you’ve brought up warning and reaction time, that is another point of instability in the deterrence scenario.  If you rely on senors and a launch-on-warning doctrine you are much more likely to launch a counterstrike based on a false alarm.  Note that the smaller countries will not have nearly the sophistication in their early warning systems that the US does, yet we still had several near misses and bad false alarms during the Cold War.

    • #66
  7. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    &blockquote>Mark Wilson: If the small country’s nuclear force is small enough that it could be sufficiently weakened by a first strike 
    That’s why you give them 50, not 1 :)

    Well, you can fiddle with the ratio if you want, say 10-for-3 instead of 10-for-1.  We don’t have a strategic BMDS, so that point is irrelevant. “

    No, we don’t. But we could, and will.

    If you rely on senors and a launch-on-warning doctrine you are much more likely to launch a counterstrike based on a false alarm.”

    You might get 1 false alarm.  100 missiles on your radar screen, however, aren’t a false alarm. 

    You also pointed out before that the times-of-flight between Russia and Eastern Europe are very short, so you don’t have all that much early warning. “

    Russia has mobile ICBMs, which means you don’t know where to hit them for a first strike. Which renders the MIRV argument mute. We chose not to develop such ICBMs (bad idea), but from E.Europe to Russia you don’t need ICBMs. They can have mobile missiles too, making a first trike unlikely to eliminate them. 

    • #67
  8. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: Second, it’s all contingent on warning time and reaction time. If your attack is detected in time, and reaction time is small

     You also pointed out before that the times-of-flight between Russia and Eastern Europe are very short, so you don’t have all that much early warning.  This further increases the probability of launching on a false alarm because you have less time to corroborate before making the decision.

    • #68
  9. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG:

    Mark Wilson: If the small country’s nuclear force is small enough that it could be sufficiently weakened by a first strike so that retaliation becomes either unlikely or an acceptable outcome on the part of the aggressor, what are the incentives?

    That’s why you give them 50, not 1 :)

     But I’m saying 50 is still not enough.  They need an invulnerable force, like SSBNs, or a sufficient number that they are sure to have some survivors after a first strike.  I think that number is near US levels.

    • #69
  10. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    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.

     Good question. Are we just paranoid? Speaking for the Romanians I know, and they might not be that representative, the view is this. On its own Romania never could militarily stand up to Russia, if the US won’t back them they might as well surrender and save themselves the pain of loosing a war.  So as a smallish nation an army against a vastly superior foe is pointless. Maybe that is too pesemistic, maybe if Romania had a per capita GDP like the US or England it could form a reliable army, but it doesn’t have that yet. 

    • #70
  11. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: But I’m saying 50 is still not enough.  They need an invulnerable force, like SSBNs, or a sufficient number that they are sure to have some survivors after a first strike.  I think that number is near US levels.

     10 or 20 or 50 mobile missile systems (like Pershing) in eastern Europe, equipped with nuclear warheads, would make the system pretty difficult to detect and eliminate. Remember how much of a hard time the US had to find mobile SCUD launchers in Iraq in 1991? That’s the idea. This is what the Russians already do with their ICBMs (which makes the MIRV argument mute). 

    Technically, this is all not only possible, but has been done since the 60s. Of course, there’s no political will, and I’m not…REALLY…advocating we do this. But on the other hand, we seem to be putting our hands in the air and surrendering already, on an appeal to our “sanity” (because, apparently, when dealing with an insane gangster, backing down is what works?)

    Not just Europe, we are too. 

    • #71
  12. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: You might get 1 false alarm. 100 missiles on your radar screen, however, aren’t a false alarm.

     I just took a course at Stanford taught by former SecDef William Perry in which he told us about a midnight phone call he received back in the 70s from a NORAD commander saying he had hundreds of inbound missiles.  A human error had caused a training scenario to execute on the computers and nobody knew it.

    • #72
  13. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    &blockquote cite=”comment-1043990″>Mark Wilson:  I just took a course at Stanford taught by former SecDef William Perry in which he told us about a midnight phone call he received back in the 70s from a NORAD commander saying he had hundreds of inbound missiles.  A human error had caused a training scenario to execute on the computers and nobody knew it.  

    And apparently all the safeguards worked. So then?

    This argument could just as well be that we shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, at all, because they can lead to accidental launch. Also the MAD argument could be implied to mean that we don’t really need nuclear weapons because w’ere never going to have the willingness to use them, hence, why even pretend? Whoever launches first, wins, knowing that the other guy won’t launch. Hence, give up now. 

    But that doesn’t seem to be how it works.

    • #73
  14. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: “We don’t have a strategic BMDS, so that point is irrelevant. “ No, we don’t. But we could, and will.

     A US strategic BMDS is at least several decades in the future, and I don’t see how it is relevant to your point.
    Regardless, BMD technology favors the larger country.  If Russia developed a strategic BMDS it would completely undermine whatever deterrence you thought you had due to the nuclear forces of small countries in Europe.

    • #74
  15. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    &blockquote cite=”comment-1043991″>AIG: And apparently all the safeguards worked. So then?
     Good luck and good instincts on the part of the man-in-the-loop, not deterrence, prevented nuclear war.  The reasoning from the general was “this is impossible”.  In other words, he believed that the Russians believed that we believed that the Russians believed … that it couldn’t be happening.

    • #75
  16. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: Good luck and good instincts on the part of the man-in-the-loop, not deterrence, prevented nuclear war.

     Which is another argument for getting rid of nuclear weapons entirely, unilaterally. If a simple accident can cause nuclear war, why would we expose ourselves to that risk? Right? Let’s surrender now.

    “A US strategic BMDS is at least several decades in the future, and I don’t see how it is relevant to your point.”

    Due to political will. BMD systems have been canceled multiple times over the decades.
    “If Russia developed a strategic BMDS it would completely undermine whatever deterrence you thought you had due to the nuclear forces of small countries in Europe.”

    And would force Russia to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to do that. That was the idea that led them to bankruptcy the first time around. Let see if they fall for it a second time around. 

    • #76
  17. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: This argument could just as well be that we shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, at all, because they can lead to accidental launch. Also the MAD argument could be implied to mean that we don’t really need nuclear weapons because w’ere never going to have the willingness to use them, hence, why even pretend? Whoever launches first, wins, knowing that the other guy won’t launch. Hence, give up now.

     Exactly, it’s a catch-22, a bad dilemma, and an unstable situation.  I’m with Ronald Reagan, we should figure out how to eliminate them, not proliferate to dozens of small countries that may or may not be our allies a decade from now.
    In the meantime, we are safest if we let everyone else huddle under our umbrella until we figure out a way to let go of the wolf’s ears.

    • #77
  18. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: “A US strategic BMDS is at least several decades in the future, and I don’t see how it is relevant to your point.” Due to political will.

     Not only political will.  There are very significant technological and financial challenges that make it extremely difficult to field anything but a limited system. The technology will fuel another arms race between missile and interceptor.  And a comprehensive system might not ever be financially feasible, based on the relative cost of an ICBM versus an interceptor.
    And I’m not a soothsayer on BMDS, I have spent my career trying to make it happen.  I’m just being realistic.

    • #78
  19. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: Mark Wilson: Good luck and good instincts on the part of the man-in-the-loop, not deterrence, prevented nuclear war. Which is another argument for getting rid of nuclear weapons entirely, unilaterally. If a simple accident can cause nuclear war, why would we expose ourselves to that risk? Right? Let’s surrender now.

     A world with no nukes would be safer than what we have now, but the path to that hypothetical world is much more dangerous than what we have now.  Until we can devise a safe way to get there, we are better off trying to keep things stable.

    • #79
  20. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: Exactly, it’s a catch-22, a bad dilemma, and an unstable situation. 

     But it’s not. I was being sarcastic, of course. The arguments you presented for downsizing, eliminating systems etc are all the same arguments that can lead to…unilateral disarmament. 

    The solution to MIRVs is to make your forces mobile, not unilaterally eliminate MIRVs in the hope that you won’t “provoke” the other guy (that worked, didn’t it!)

    The solution to BMD is to make more MIRV-capable missiles. 

    This…was Reagan’s plan. Which were all cancelled in the 90s. Vladimir Putin walks out of all the START treaties, exports weapons to everyone he wants, and what do we do? We unilaterally decrease our nuclear forces. I don’t think that was Reagan’s idea. 

    • #80
  21. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: Until we can devise a safe way to get there, we are better off trying to keep things stable.

     So what happens when the other guy gets up from the table, and starts exporting missiles to whomever he wants? Those new NK mobile ballistic missiles paraded recently, where did you think they came from? From Russian SLBMs sold to them. 
    Seems to me, the way to keep things “stable”, is to force the bad guy back down at the table, not to put your hands up and say “well, there’s nothing I can do about it!”

    • #81
  22. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    So what I mean is, no, we should not unilaterally disarm or surrender.  But we can’t pretend we are in a good place either.  Nuclear deterrence (as opposed to conventional “peace through strength”) is an unstable doctrine and we have been lucky to avoid nuclear war thus far.  We need to avoid making mistakes that increase the risk of intentional or accidental deployment of nuclear weapons, or the loss of control of the same.  One such mistake is proliferating nuclear weapons to many other countries.

    • #82
  23. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: Seems to me, the way to keep things “stable”, is to force the bad guy back down at the table, not to put your hands up and say “well, there’s nothing I can do about it!”

     I am definitely not advocating we throw up our hands — I’m not sure where you got that idea.  I’m simply advocating against proliferating nuclear weapons to multiple small countries in Europe.

    • #83
  24. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: So what happens when the other guy gets up from the table, and starts exporting missiles to whomever he wants? Those new NK mobile ballistic missiles paraded recently, where did you think they came from? From Russian SLBMs sold to them.

     By keeping things stable, I mean we do our best to prevent stuff like this.  Do you think I implied that I would be ok with this?

    • #84
  25. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson: One such mistake is proliferating nuclear weapons to many other countries.

     Sure. But 3 points:

    1) They are already proliferated to many European countries, even if they may be under NATO control. The argument for “coup d’etat”, instability, collapse etc could all apply to Italy, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Turkey, just as they could to Poland, Czech Republic or Estonia. I.e., they don’t…really…apply. 
    2) What happens when regional powers get nukes, and threaten their neighbors like NK, China and Iran are doing? One solution is to deploy our own nukes against them. The other, is to give nukes to countries which counter-weight them. I.e., do I have a problem that…Israel…has nukes, but Iran doesn’t? Nope. Do I have a problem that China has nukes, but Japan and SK don’t? Yep.

    3) The deterrent effect against regional dictators with nukes is not as effective if those nukes are in US hands, vs in the hands of the countries they threaten. Putin knows the US isn’t going to nuke Moscow is he invades Estonia. He knows, Estonia very well might, however. Deterrence isn’t simply the presence of nukes.

    • #85
  26. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    &blockquote cite=”comment-1044000″>AIG: This…was Reagan’s plan. Which were all cancelled in the 90s.
     Reagan’s long-term plan was the total elimination of nuclear weapons.  He just needed to figure out how to get there. In the meantime he took steps to keep us secure, including arms reduction like the INF treaty, which mutually eliminated an entire class of weapons.  That is probably how we will have to do it if we can ever get to zero.

    • #86
  27. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Mark Wilson:  By keeping things stable, I mean we do our best to prevent stuff like this.  Do you think I implied that I would be ok with this?

     But this is what they’re doing, now. It’s too late to prevent it. Proliferation has already happened. Iran will get nukes, 100%. 

    So what’s the solution? Either we deploy our own nukes against them (which we are), or we equip trusted allies with them too. There is a difference between the two, in the willingness to use them, as I described above. A nuclear Japan is a lot more of a deterrence to China, than a nuclear armed US.

    • #87
  28. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    1) I don’t know what you mean in point 1.  Nuclear weapons under NATO control and secured by US personnel are certainly different from nuclear weapons under sovereign Estonian control.  Much safer, if you ask me.
    2) The US is more secure if the US is in control of the nukes and grants a nuclear umbrella to the concerned countries.  The US is less secure if we do not have control over how the nukes are used.  You are also theoretically asking countries to adopt nuclear deterrence doctrines that they might not agree with or be able to stomach politically. 
    3) This is the whole point of NATO.

    • #88
  29. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    &blockquote>&blockquote cite=”comment-1044013″>AIG:

    Mark Wilson: By keeping things stable, I mean we do our best to prevent stuff like this. Do you think I implied that I would be ok with this?

    But this is what they’re doing, now. It’s too late to prevent it. Proliferation has already happened. Iran will get nukes, 100%. So what’s the solution? Either we deploy our own nukes against them (which we are), or we equip trusted allies with them too. There is a difference between the two, in the willingness to use them, as I described above. A nuclear Japan is a lot more of a deterrence to China, than a nuclear armed US.  

    There is no solution.  This is a terrible, dangerous, and unstable game.  It is not necessarily a good thing if countries are more willing to use nuclear weapons.  Suppose they follow the US example and refuse to implement a “no first use” policy.  Maybe they decide it’s their policy to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in retaliation for a conventional attack, or some border dispute over islands, or even a rogue action by the Pakistani ISI.  A nationalist party wins the elections and decides to be ambitious, using their nuclear weapons to blackmail some neighboring non-nuclear country — “you can’t stop us, we’ve got nukes”.  Civilization hangs in the balance.   We are safer if the US controls the nukes.

    • #89
  30. user_1184 Member
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    AIG: One solution is to deploy our own nukes against them. The other, is to give nukes to countries which counter-weight them.

     I think it’s a fallacy to presume these countries will continue to exist in counter-balanced pairs.  Alliances shift, interests change, and antagonism come and goes.  The pendulum swings of Iran and Iraq in the 20th century should illustrate this point well enough.

    • #90
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