November 16, 2007


Coalition of the Incapable (Stuart Koehl, 11/09/07, The Weekly Standard)

For many critics of U.S. "unilateralism," there is an implicit assumption that the lack of allied participation in ongoing military efforts is due mainly to U.S. policies and the unfavorable European response to them. This begs the question of whether our European allies would be able to do much more than they are doing now, let alone respond to any unforeseen contingencies in the future, even if they were inclined to do so. The answer, to those who have examined the present state of the European defense establishment, increasingly seems to be "no": European armed forces are neither structured, nor equipped, nor trained to play a meaningful role in the scenarios most likely to challenge the security of the civilized world in the coming decades.

How can this be, when Western Europe has an economy as large as that of the United States, and a combined military establishment of more than 1.7 million troops? Well, as shown in British defense analyst Julian Lindley-French's highly perceptive study for the Bertelsmann Foundation, this impressive force is largely hollow: "There are 1.7 million Europeans in uniform, but only 170,000 soldiers, of which 40-50,000 could be used for robust combat operations at any one time." Lindley-French notes that a large proportion of those 40-50,000 combat-ready troops are either incapable of overseas deployment or already committed to various missions (and thus unavailable for deployment elsewhere). The net deployable combat-effective force generated by Europe may be as low as 25-30,000 men, the majority of which are resident in the British and French military.

How and why did this situation develop? The answer is complex, but a major factor is money: Western Europe simply has not been spending adequate amounts on defense. This was true during the Cold War, when NATO countries seldom if ever met their "burden sharing" objective (a modest 3 percent of GDP on defense). Since the collapse of the USSR, Europe, like the United States, sought to reap a "peace dividend," and spending declined dramatically during the 1990s.

Furthermore, European defense spending did not increase after 9/11 (in most countries) but either remained flat or declined. Today, all of Europe (excluding Russia) has a GDP of $16.17 trillion and spends only about $314 billion on defense--1.93 percent of combined GDP. In contrast, the United States has a GDP of $13.16 trillion, and spends $534 billon--4.06 percent--on defense. The global average for defense spending is 2.0 percent of GDP. Clearly, Europe has not been spending as much as it should on defense, being in effect a "free rider" benefiting from the security provided by the U.S. forces whose activities it regularly criticizes.

Bad as this is, the situation is worse than it appears, because of the fragmentation and duplication of European defense spending. While in the United States it is considered scandalous that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have duplicative research and development (R&D), procurement, and logistic systems, in Europe every country has its own national defense policy supporting redundant R&D, procurement, command, administrative, and logistic establishments. Thus, for example, though Europe spends only about half of what the U.S. does on procurement, and only about a quarter as much on R&D, each European dollar spent buys a lot less capability, as a result of which, the pace of force modernization is much slower than it should be.

This is not helped by Europe maintaining a large and aging force structure intended to fight the Warsaw Pact on the North German Plain. Germany, France, Italy--all have hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery pieces of very limited utility in an age of low-intensity expeditionary warfare. The problem, from a budgetary standpoint, is all those aging tanks and APCs have to be fueled and maintained, as a result of which operations and maintenance (O&M) budgets continue to rise each year, squeezing out money for force modernization.

The troops to man those tanks have to be paid, which also diverts money from modernization. Until the last decade, most European countries relied on low-paid conscript forces, so military pay was not a major problem. However, because conscription was so unpopular, it proved difficult to maintain absent the Soviet threat. Terms of service were reduced from two years, to eighteen months, to just one year--hardly enough time to master the intricacies of modern military hardware, let alone become tactically proficient with it. To improve professionalism, France, Germany and other countries are now shifting to volunteer forces, but volunteers need to be paid real wages with associated benefits, so even at reduced numbers, the cost of personnel will continue to rise.

The combination of rising personnel and O&M costs and flat military budgets means that modernization is continually delayed or stretched out, which in turn requires aging equipment to be maintained in service, which drives up O&M, which requires more delays in modernization. The term for this situation is "death spiral."

They're just dependents of the largesse of the American government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 16, 2007 6:55 AM

Think of their criticisms of US policy to that of a teenager's 'Rage Against My Allowance'.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2007 9:13 AM

End euro-welfare and bring home the troops!

Posted by: Keith at November 16, 2007 10:15 AM

I always liked the idea of disinterring our fallen soldiers in Europe and returning them to U.S. soil during the sabotage years of 2002-2003. As apt a message as could ever be made -- damn the practicality of it!

Posted by: Palmcroft at November 16, 2007 2:43 PM

Germany, France, Italy--all have hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery pieces of very limited utility in an age of low-intensity expeditionary warfare.

You will eat your words when Putin decides to invade us!

Posted by: ic at November 16, 2007 5:04 PM

I've always liked the fact that the world and America have benefitted from the taxes I paid the US Gov't to keep the military strong (except during Jimmuh's and Billary's years) but hate the fact that Europe's military/business/elites will sell their technology to the Chicoms and Ruskies to "level" the playing field, since they'll never ever fight a war outside their own border. The Gulf Wars and Afghanistan were training exercises for the Euro's once the Americans leveled the enemies.

Posted by: KRS at November 16, 2007 7:35 PM

Thus military Spencerianism redefines sovereignity.

We need only free our minds from obsolete categories and the form of the world government begins to take shape.

We see small numbers of pretend soldiers in hairnets, dependent on the world government to maintain enough law and order to sustain the global economy. As the article points out, such forces are not sufficient to allow independent operations. Perhaps they may make some contribution to the power of the world government? Surely these pretend armed forces sustain only pretend sovereignity.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 16, 2007 9:34 PM

Lou, soldiers in hairnets? I hope you are referring to distaff-soldiers and not men. I have such disdain for the moral superiority pacifists claim for themselves. I wish they could be put to the test and publicly be made to choose between supporting war or surrendering their immediate family and home to murdering brigands.

Posted by: erp at November 17, 2007 9:38 AM