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US Tells Europe to Play Catch-Up

America has warned Europe to build up its military capability in order to avert US unilateralism. But who is going to pay for it?


Still lagging behind - German soldiers in Macedonia

During the attacks on Afghanistan, the US drew on an array of sophisticated satellites and high-tech precision weapons. Germany, on the other hand, had to rely on the Dutch Air Force to transport some 250 troops to the region - and they were late.

Referring to the European military dilemma at a security conference in Munich over the weekend, NATO secretary George Robertson warned European nations to build up their military capabilities to avert US unilateralism.

Without more cooperation, "the gap between American forces on the one hand and European and Canadian forces on the other will be unbridgeable", he said, adding that Washington would have to decide whether to act alone or not at all.

But the US already acts of its own accord - take the US-"led" war against terror.

The current calls for an improvement in Europe’s military are not just a sign of impatience. According to Charles Heyman of Jane’s World Armies, the US is not just fed up of the situation – "they have washed their hands of it" - and have left their European counterparts behind long ago.

Money is the key

As the US presses forward on the defence front, the division between the two continents is becoming more and more evident.

President George W. Bush has called for a 14 per cent increase that would raise the Pentagon’s budget to 438 billion euro ($379 billion) in fiscal 2003 . Germany, however, is planning to add around 766 million euro ($666 million ) to its 23.6 billion euro defence budget each year – until 2006.

According to a statement from the German Defence Ministry, the reform and reconstruction process of the Bundeswehr - Defence minister Rudolf Scharping’s core aim - is to be "conducted in controlled steps", and is a project which "demands energy and endurance. It will take years."

But German, and European military forces need the money now if they want to avoid being completely left behind by the US.

"There are three things needed to fight a war: money, money - and money," Heyman said in an interview with DW-WORLD. "What Europe needs to improve its military capabilities, is a quick rise in defence spending, by 2 per cent – soon."

The money would help Europe bridge its technological gap with the United States, something many at the conference saw as the biggest hindrance to equal US-European military cooperation.

But getting that money from the national treasuries is impossible without electorate support. That's why the Bush administration waited for a war before increasing the US defence budget. European military officials still don't have that option.

"In absence of an identifiable threat in the minds of European electorates, a rise in defence spending is a greater problem in Europe," said Heyman.

So, it seems, is assembling a European military force. Though the EU has long dreamed of a assembling a multinational "rapid reaction force," member states have been unable to hammer out details.

Such a force would be essential in increasing Europe's military effectiveness, said Heyman.

"A common force would reflect Europe’s political power," Heyman says. Templates of a sort already exist – like Eurocorps and NATO. "But in order to bring US and European forces closer together, Europe needs a stronger military presence."

A minor and major role

What that means for the future of NATO remains to be seen.

With America's military dominance in the war against terror, commentators have argued that NATO is becoming increasingly marginalised. However, according to Robertson, "NATO is not only a part of the campaign against terrorism – it is an essential part."

But he also said that NATO must evolve to safeguard its relevance. That evolution will benefit, not suffer, under a modernized European military that can carry a fair share of the security burden.

Evolution, not revolution

Speaking at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on Sunday, Bavarian premier and conservative chancellorship candidate, Edmund Stoiber called for a major hike in European defence spending to keep up with the United States.

"We need modern forces that can be mobilised quickly with the technically best equipment and who can operate with our (NATO) partners where new dangers and risks demand".

Stoiber, referring to the US decision for an increase in the defence budget by $48 billion, said "this would be unthinkable in Europe. But we Europeans must not just rely on America. We must do more for our own security and for global peace".

Such increases, he said, were the only way for Germany to gain the resources it needs to assume international leadership.

But as international leadership is still far away, a more active Europe would be a step to closing the gap between European and US military.

So where does the future of European defence lie?

"Look at the last 5 years," Heyman says. "And project them forward to the next 5."

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