Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Is demilitarised Europe affecting operations in Afghanistan?
U.S. frustration with Europe’s unwillingness or inability to commit resources to Afghanistan, both in terms of men and materiel, appears to have boiled over. Last week U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington that public and political opposition to the military was so great in Europe it was affecting NATO operations in Afghanistan. The alliance desperately needed combat helicopters and cargo planes, but years of successive cutbacks in defence funding by European nations had left it unable to rise to the challenge.
”The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” he said, addressing military officers from many of NATO’s 28 member countries at the defense university.
If Europe were seen to be weak, it could provide a “temptation to miscalculation and aggression” by hostile powers, Gates said in the sharpest criticism yet of its ally. The message was that ”pacifist” Europe had to pull its weight, realise that even if its borders were safe there were threats further afield, and bolster its defences. So far only five out of 28 member nations of NATO had reached an established target of increasing defence spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product. The United States, by contrast, spends 4 percent of its GDP on the military.
But some people are questioning why should Europe go down the U.S. route? Stephen M.Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University writes in his blog on Foreign Policy that a case can be made to stop subsidising Europe’s defence by itself, but not follow America in its grandiose nation-building schemes on the other side of the world. “Europe is peaceful, democratic, and loosely united within the EU, and the danger of serious conflict there is remote. So if the United States is feeling over-extended and looking for a place to cut back, Europe seems like an ideal candidate,” he says.
“Just don’t expect them to start matching America’s bloated defense effort. The EU member states don’t face any any significant military threats, and they aren’t especially interested in our grand schemes for social engineering in various far-flung places. So it’s not clear why they would want a military akin to ours, even if we were no longer protecting them.”
Juan Cole writing in Informed Comment points out that America’s military expenditure hardly seems the model to follow, given that it has spent itself into an increasingly unwieldy national debt. It’s a legacy from the 1980s when Washington overspent on its military, believing the Soviet economy to be twice as big as it was and vastly over-estimating its military, he says. The bloated military budget continues.
”If the US cut those back to the level of the European Union and spent the money on promoting solar energy and making it inexpensive, America would have a chance of remaining a great power in the 21st century. If it goes on rampaging around the world bankrupting itself by invading and occupying other countries, the Chinese will laugh at us all the way to world dominance.”