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Business

The Military Gap Widens Across the Atlantic

One of the world's largest military air shows is taking place in England this week, but Europe and its defense-stingy governments aren't buying.

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The Airbus military transport plane has been a symbol of the slow-moving European defense industry

The military toys of the future are on display in Farnborough, England, this week, but don’t expect European governments to open their wallets.

Almost a year after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, the United States has rapidly increased the amount of its defense spending. But despite expectations, its European allies have not followed suit.

Of the 15 European Union member states, only England and France have approved marginal increases in their budgets. Election years in France, the Netherlands and Germany have guaranteed that increased defense spending, always a low voter priority, remains at the bottom of the political agenda.

The developments are not good news for a region striving for a harmonious security policy and less reliance on the military might of the United States. In 1999, Europe compiled a list of military weapons and equipment it would need to operate as an effective military power in the future.

Of the 144 requirements, the EU has already filled 110, according to the Center for European Reform.

But the remaining 44 have been held up by the traditional defense spending problems, said Daniel Keohane, a research fellow at the center.

“Not enough is being done,” he told DW-WORLD. “If they want to acquire all those products the’re going to need, they’re going to have to spend more on defense.”

What about the “threats of tomorrow”?

The concern is that Europe could fall drastically behind the United States and other countries in the military technology needed to fight the “threats of tomorrow,” as NATO Secretary General Secretary George Robertson put it.

Many experts believe defense cuts in Germany, one of America’s biggest allies, will open up an insurmountable technology gap. The same is true for other European countries.

A good example is the pilotless aircraft, called unmanned air vehicles that many military observers believe will be vital weapons in the next generation of wars. Two US companies, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics are already producing the aircraft. No European company is.

“That’s one technology considered critical to the future of warfare,” Keohane said. “European industry could develop it, but governments aren’t investing in their own industries.”

Battling for Uncle Sam’s dollars

Defense companies, tired of waiting have moved ahead. In the decade following the end of the Cold War, European companies have been working ever closer together and forming inter-European and transatlantic alliances.

The European Aeronautic Defense and Space company (EADS), in which Germany and France are majority stake holders does business with the British-owned BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace.

BAE, in turn, has set up subsidiaries in America and did $4 billion (4.03 billion euro) in business in the growing American defense market last year, Keohane said. On Tuesday, US defense company Boeing and EADS annouced they would work together on building a ballistic defense missile network in the United States.

The deals have come about because Europe isn’t ready to harness its defense industry for its own purposes. The EU has been loathe to let the defense industry consolidate further or help in streamlining production and lowering prices; steps that would make the industry more competitive with America, said Keohane.

Turning the problem around

To reverse the technology gap, experts like Keohane are recommending that Europe do a bit more sharing. Simple steps like sharing assets among European Union countries and cutting down on duplicate orders of equipment would leave money free to spend on research and development

or new military toys.

The shining example of that type of military cooperation, the 18 billion euro purchase of the Airbus A400m transport aircraft, has been hampered by delays since its inception five years ago. But seven of the eight countries that signed on are ready to go ahead with the historic project, and straggler Germany will most likely pull together the funding it owes.