The United States has troubles. This was the subtext of President Barack Obama’s speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point last week. The latest trouble is the raw ambition of Russian President Vladimir Putin to dominate as much of the former Soviet Union as he can.
This trouble is, of course, in Europe’s neighborhood; but the United States is managing the crisis. Nevertheless, while America is powerful, it needs help. It is unlikely to get it from Europe.
The United States has long supported the European Union’s stated aim to integrate the continent into a single entity. The idea has been that a more united Europe will be a more powerful Europe, and thereby become a greater help in maintaining the United States as an “indispensable nation” — a phrase President Obama borrowed from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in his speech on foreign policy at West Point.
The problem with the plan is that the EU is not becoming more united. Nor will it be much military help to the United States in the near future. The countries of the EU have cut combined defense expenditure from 200 billion euros ($270 billion) to 170 billion euros ($232 billion) since 2008. Britain, one of the two (with France) biggest military powers and the closest ally to the U.S., has shed eight percent off its military budget since 2010.
The austerity measures are reversible if EU economies grow strongly again. Military chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic are asking that spending be increased now, with the invasion of Ukraine in mind. But many countries, including France and Britain, have just seen nationalist parties come out on top in the European Parliament elections. These are not keen on bearing the world’s burdens. What’s more, they are usually fans of Putin rather than Obama.