Europe will never do its defense homework | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.05.2015
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Europe will never do its defense homework

On the 60th anniversary of West Germany joining NATO, all the signs are that the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance is dying. Germany, writes John C. Hulsman, should stop using history as an excuse and step up to the plate.

I say this as someone who has been a NATO man first and last my entire career. But I am not anymore, as I am first and foremost an analyst, and not a cheerleader for happy outcomes that never come to pass. I am tired of dragging myself through the same, very old, very tired argument limply put forward by NATO's European apologists as to why the continent never spends any money to bolster the most successful alliance in the history of the world.

In the enraging and wholly vacuous phrase so beloved by European decision-makers and analysts, I simply don't believe - using the last 20 years of data as my guide - that the continent will ever do its homework and move away from free-riding off the American military, for the compelling reason that Europe simply does not want to.

So for the last time, let's shred the paper-thin argument of Europe's NATO cheerleaders. After the Cold War ended, the excuse put forward for why defense spending on the continent was being cut is that there was no longer a clear and present danger compelling such spending; with the demise of the USSR it simply was not possible to rouse European publics to defend themselves against a foe that did not exist. Europe would learn to do more with less, to work together to create economies of scale, thereby making up for the peace dividend in terms of defense spending.

At least spend wisely

But of course this is just another rather lame excuse to change the subject. To make it into a logic problem (logic being something entirely lacking in this apologia), if we find ourselves in a joint business project, and I spend $100 and you spend $5 badly, it does help at the margins if you learn to spend the $5 more efficiently. But it does not remotely begin to make up for the fact that in the name of basic fairness I continue to vastly and disproportionately fund our joint efforts, while you fiddle at the margins.

Dr. John C. Hulsman

Dr. John C. Hulsman

If the specifics of the apologists' argument don't work, neither does the broader strategic context. Now that Russia is on the march in its 'Near Abroad,' it is irrefutable that there is a genuine - as opposed to a theoretical - military threat on Europe's borders. As such, by the logic first put forward for the peace dividend, defense spending on the continent should now quickly accelerate. And yet, for all the talk of new rapid reaction forces ad nauseum, there is simply no sign that this is happening.

Rather the reverse. Last year, and only after incessant prodding by both the US and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, NATO's members committed themselves (again) to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense; frankly, this is meager in policy terms, but at least it stops the fiscal bleeding on defense issues.

Germany lags behind

What do the actual facts (as opposed to apologies) tell us? German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, the most important laggard, amazingly said earlier in 2014 that increasing Berlin's defense spending to a paltry 1.3 percent could create misunderstandings with Russia. In 2013, just four of NATO's members (Britain, France, the US, and Greece) even came close to meeting the 2 percent commitment, and only five have met another equally important pledge to spend 20 percent of their budgets on modern equipment. America spends $76,000 (68,000 euros) per soldier per year, while in EU states it is down to $18,000, this largely accounted for by pay and pensions. In the past two years alone, Europe has slashed defense spending by $70 billion in total.

There is a predictable cost to such obvious fecklessness. In October 2014 Germany's military inspectors noted that only a fraction of Germany's helicopters, submarines and tanks are presently fit to be deployed. The problem is a lack of spare parts. Frankly, this simply does not pass the laugh test.

I do not want to hear about Germany's unique history as a reason it should be given a free pass on defense spending (as one of my Master's Degrees is in Modern European history I am well aware of it). I do not want to have this argument again; ever. It is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who is forced to hear it.

Let us face facts. Europe will never spend more than a pittance on defense - as has been the case for the first portion of my lifetime - over the second portion of my lifetime. That is a choice, but please, please, no more pathetic excuses as to why this is the case. The reason for it is simple; Europe likes the present unjust situation, wherein it free rides off the hard-pressed American taxpayer. That is the continent's choice. But now America must make a choice in turn. Let me say this, knowing my countrymen: The US has little interest in helping those who would not first help themselves.

Dr. John C. Hulsman is the President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a successful global political risk consulting firm. An eminent foreign policy expert, Dr. Hulsman is the senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the city of London.

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