If there is one positive to come out of Russia’s terrible attack on Ukraine, it is Europe’s recognition that it should do more than play-act when it comes to defense. Yet despite plenty of promising rhetoric from political leaders across the continent, the European public shows little interest in ending their cheap ride on the U.S. And the Biden administration seems determined to increase the burden on American taxpayers and military personnel.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s dramatic announcement – called a Zeitenwende, or “watershed moment” – that his government would up military outlays was supposed to represent a continental shift toward defense maturity and seriousness. However, since then Berlin has shown less than full enthusiasm in fulfilling its commitment.
The Wall Street Journal worried: “Hitting the 2% goal would mean annual defense spending of some €75 billion in the next fiscal year, but Mr. Scholz’s government has submitted a budget accounting for only €50 billion, roughly the same amount as before the ‘turning point.’ The plan seems to be to top up annual spending by including one-quarter of the special procurement budget.” Yet the latter will run out naturally, could be cut if the political winds change, and might leave the Bundeswehr short on manpower and maintenance funding.
The Scholz government also has resisted provisioning Kyiv with heavy weapons. Even more significant, plans to station German troops in Lithuania, which would demonstrate a willingness to defend the latter, have gone by the wayside. Reported the Financial Times: “Germany has proposed basing most of the 3,500 extra troops it plans to contribute to NATO forces on its own soil rather than in Lithuania, significantly softening its initial backing for more foreign forces to be stationed in the Baltics to deter any potential Russian aggression.”
The Will To Defend Europe
A new assessment from the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies noted a “sluggish start,” “complicated internal dynamics,” poor communication, complex party politics, “fragile” public support, and institutional barriers to the government’s plans. The political arrangement reached might prove only temporary: “The final compromise reflected most CDU/CSU demands but left open whether the 2% target will in fact outlast the current government. The respective law states that the 2% is to be attained ‘on a multi-year average of a maximum of five years.’ Once the special fund is exhausted, the means to ensure that the Bundeswehr meets NATO capability goals will have to come from the regular budget. The next government would thus have to substantially raise the regular defense budget, which could conflict with the debt brake and competing policy priorities.”
Whether to Follow Through With Aid and Support
Perhaps even more striking is how the United Kingdom, which joined the U.S. at the hawkish edge of NATO’s response to Moscow’s invasion, is failing to live up to its promises. Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to the Ukraine crisis by playing Winston Churchill reincarnated in an attempt to bluster his way through multiple scandals. His efforts ultimately failed, and he resigned last week, but before he did, at the recent NATO summit he promised that the UK would raise military outlays to 2.5 percent of GDP. Yet, reported BBC, “the government is going to break the promise on defense spending that it made in its manifesto in 2019,” to raise annual outlays .5 percent above inflation.
Indeed, even as he promised to do more, Johnson “refused to increase defense spending this year, as ministers and the head of the army plead for more money to deal with the Russian threat.” This rejection came after the government was warned by defense secretary Ben Wallace “that the armed forces were surviving on a ‘diet of smoke and mirrors’.” Although Johnson’s successor is likely to continue London’s hardline against Moscow, he or she will have to focus on domestic concerns to stabilize Conservative Party rule. Promises of increased military outlays might not survive the next election.
The continuing reluctance of European governments to take defense seriously reflects on an even bigger problem: public support for doing so remains anemic. Last month the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) released a study on public attitudes toward the war in Ukraine, which found that a plurality of Europeans essentially favored peace over justice, and ending the war sooner rather than later.
Buried within the analysis of this split was a disturbing look at public attitudes toward military outlays. When asked whether their government should spend more on defense because of Ukraine, the overall response in the ten countries polled was 38 percent-to-32 percent against. Only in Poland did a bare majority say yes.
Pluralities backed more military outlays in Sweden, Germany, and Finland. But pluralities were against in France, Romania, the United Kingdom, and Portugal. Majorities were against in Spain and Italy. These numbers were recorded two months after the invasion, while the conflict still dominated the news and Europeans, in particular, were still in shock over Russia’s aggression.
This persistent reliance on America should come as no surprise. A 2020 Pew Research Center poll found little enthusiasm among Europeans to assist one another. The overall median result was 50-to-38 percent against. Of the 13 European nations polled, majorities in only three – Lithuania, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom – favored fighting for fellow NATO members. That number hit 40 percent in only three other nations – France, Poland, and Spain. Only 34 percent in Germany did so. In every case more people believed that America would defend them. Of course.
Of course, the Europeans are entitled to put as many or as few people in uniform and tanks on the ground as they wish. Despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has shown no similar interest in any other state, including the Baltics, the conquest of which would gain little while ensuring enduring hostility. However in taking this perspective, the Europeans should not expect continued coddling, subsidizing, and protecting from the U.S. Surely nearly eight decades after the end of World War II Washington should end the continent’s cheap ride on Americans.
How Much Aid and Protection Can the U.S. Provide?
Uncle Sam is functionally bankrupt as the national debt as a percentage of GDP surges, nearing the record set at the conclusion of World War II. The numbers only get worse as Baby Boomers retire, the population ages, and entitlement outlays burgeon. At the same time, the armed forces are finding recruiting to be an increasing problem. This is “arguably the most challenging recruiting year” since the draft ended a half century ago. U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville complained that he had to cut 12,000 soldiers this year instead of adding 70,000 as he wished.
Nevertheless, at the alliance summit, Washington proved that NATO continues to stand for North America and The Others. Extravagant promises were made—to expand the rapid reaction force to 300,000, a wildly unrealistic number, given European behavior. And the U.S., which had already added to its troop levels in Europe after February 24, when Russia launched its “special military operation,” announced plans to send even more.
According to the Pentagon, it was “dispersing forces already in Europe to bolster NATO’s Eastern Flank, to include the deployment of attack aviation from Germany to Lithuania; an airborne infantry battalion from Italy to Latvia; elements of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Germany dispersed to Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary; Patriot batteries from Germany to Slovakia and Poland; and F-15s from the UK to Poland.”
Anything else? Of course! Explained the Defense Department:
“Since February 2022, DoD deployed or extended over 20,000 additional forces to Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis, adding additional air, land, maritime, cyber, and space capabilities, bringing our current total to more than 100,000 service members across Europe. This included extending a Carrier Strike Group, deploying additional fighter squadrons and lift/tanker aircraft, and deploying an Amphibious Readiness Group and Marine Expeditionary Force. DoD added a Corps Headquarters, Division Headquarters, Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) battalion, and multiple enablers to the existing Corps Forward Command Post, Division Headquarters, and three BCTs already stationed in or deployed to Europe.”
That’s only the people. There’s also a lot of money. Explained the Biden administration: “All of these combat-credible forces and enablers are supported by significant investments in the long-term U.S. presence in Europe. In Fiscal Year 2022, DoD continues to execute $3.8 billion in European Deterrence Initiative funding (with another $4.2 billion requested in FY23) for rotational forces, exercises, infrastructure (construction of storage facilities, airfield upgrades, and training complexes) and prepositioned equipment. Our robust exercise program also complements our forces that are forward-stationed or rotating through the theater, and serves to increase our presence while building interoperability with NATO allies.”
Who is defending Europe? America, as always!
A succession of presidents, secretaries of defense, and secretaries of state have asked, pleaded, insisted, whined, begged, and abased themselves in pressing the Europeans to do at least as much for themselves as the U.S. did. But continental governments took America’s measure, recognized that its foreign policy elite was determined to run the world irrespective of the cost to the American people, and would continue protecting Europe even if the Europeans disarmed completely. If so, Biden and company would express their disappointment … and then send more troops to cover the European shortfall! So the U.S. continues to provide defense welfare to its populous, prosperous “allies.”
Instead of adding forces to Europe, Washington should be bringing American personnel home. Europe needs to decide if it believes Russia poses an existential threat and if so, take effective action accordingly. The only way that will happen is if Uncle Sam does less. Starting now.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.
A 1945 Contributing Editor, Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, specializing in foreign policy and civil liberties. He worked as special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and editor of the political magazine Inquiry. He writes regularly for leading publications such as Fortune magazine, National Interest, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Times. Bandow speaks frequently at academic conferences, on college campuses, and to business groups. Bandow has been a regular commentator on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. He holds a JD from Stanford University.
July 12, 2022 at 12:30 pm
Europe is rich and prosperous, unfortunately, uncle sam binds its myriad states tightly to its apron strings (except for entities like austria) AND SO, europe has its head filled with the sacharin medicine called political correctness concocted by washington.
Result? Europe gets involved in reckless and endless military adventures like ukraine, libya, syria, mali, yemen, iraq and afghanistan.
Thus giving birth to the existence of right-wing blocs of politicians that control the corridors of european power, worship US-led wars, support religious fanatics and welcome waves of migrants and demonize rivals that don’t give a hoot to US-authored political correctness.
July 12, 2022 at 4:29 pm
pagar: Please explain how you think “political correctness concocted by Washington” caused Europe to “get involved in a reckless and endless military adventure” in Ukraine. You think they would be uninvolved by pretending the Russian attack wasn’t happening?
July 12, 2022 at 1:14 pm
Europe is not rich. For decades they’ve been mass importing people from their poor African and Middle Eastern nation neighbors to offset their catering birth rates to continue their rapidly imploding socialist economic model. European people who are taxed to death who have little prospects of home ownership or upward mobility hang their hat on managed Healthcare poor dental care and nice travel options they can ill afford to participate in. Ask the while their nation steals from their defense to pay for their cradle to the grave govt programs …. while relying on bad actors for food and energy. Yeah…Europe is rich.
July 12, 2022 at 1:59 pm
Ghost Tomahawk: Have you ever actually visited a European country and talked with some people who live there? If one looks at facts and figures such as GDP per capita, yes they are rich, definitely rich enough to handle Russia if they decided to ramp up defense spending.
July 12, 2022 at 10:41 pm
Why can’t I talk like that?
July 14, 2022 at 3:30 am
Yes, Western Europeans are generally richer than Americans. We have a social and health system much more efficient than that of the United States despite the criticisms. Life expectancy greater than you, criminality much lower, far fewer overdoses than you, cost of health and dental care affordable by all, generally better lifestyle. And for LOWER spending in the US per capita on health. You are more than 50 years behind in matter with a gigantic waste.
July 12, 2022 at 2:52 pm
It’s well past the due date for Europe and in particular Germany to start assuming the responsibility and full cost of military defense, not only for Europe, but the western world which has fed and nurtured them like spoiled children since the end of WWII.
July 12, 2022 at 3:23 pm
America is putting out the money & arms (primarily), Europe is suffering an inflation shock, energy shortage and real concern for the future.
(Are Europeans having second thoughts about how wise Washington is?)
Americans are suffering at the gas pump and more.
(Energy prices ripple through our economy.)
How much stress can we put on our system?
(What are we willing to risk?)
De-escalation & Peace is better for America.
But Ukraine’s answer to losing the twin cities is a million man army… a cold wind blows.
July 13, 2022 at 4:48 pm
Oh, Alex is back and he is now named Jim.
July 12, 2022 at 4:44 pm
Bunch of Neville Chamberlains
July 12, 2022 at 5:10 pm
I guess you want a general European War — NATO vs Russia
Tell me you don’t want nuclear war… because we’re a heart beat away, once we’re in a general European war.
July 12, 2022 at 7:02 pm
Jim: Do you think big and powerful countries with nukes can do whatever they please in their neighborhoods? Can China invade Mongolia? Can France invade Belgium? Can the US invade Canada? All to avoid a potential nuclear war? Then the whole world would be up for grabs, and far from avoiding war, we’d guarantee it.
July 12, 2022 at 8:44 pm
Of course not, but you’re a fool or worse, a nihilist (given to self harm), to ignore the potential of nuclear war when what happens to Ukraine is not a vital national security interest to the American People.
As opposed to the elite foreign policy clique now running the show (they have such a great track record) — and those people aren’t the American People.
Globalists running the show, what could go wrong.
I won’t bow down to their stupid policy.
July 13, 2022 at 4:49 pm
You know when somebody blabbers about “globalists” he either has no idea what he is talking about, or he believes in conspiracy theories, or is just following some talk show host.
CPT K USA
July 12, 2022 at 11:13 pm
Yes Joe. They “can” operatively. We in fact “do” routinely invade other countries and install pro-American puppet regimes. Have you been asleep the past 30 years?
from Russia with love
July 13, 2022 at 6:33 am
“Do you think big and powerful countries with nuclear weapons can do whatever they please with their neighbors?”
you yourself know the answer. of course yes! The United States can invade Iraq and Afghanistan, France and Germany can invade Libya, the French foreign legion constantly fought in Africa and only this year began to withdraw from there, the NATO coalition (that is, all European countries) can invade Serbia … all this is already happened. what are you asking?!? can the US invade Canada? of course the US can invade Canada and will do so if there are grounds for doing so.
July 13, 2022 at 8:46 am
from Russia with love: Yes, “If there are grounds for doing so,” which were generally well recognized, including in UN Security Council resolutions, in the cases you listed. Yes, the US can invade Canada if Canada conquers Greenland, or hosts terrorists that destroy a skyscraper in New York, or starts mass killings and deportations of the Quebecois, and so on. Then too, after the action we would expect the US to leave and no international border to change, unless Canada itself is dissolving. In the case of Ukraine, the Russian invaders have been straining to provide such grounds, but are they honest? For the answer, just look at Putin’s demands prior to the invasion.
July 14, 2022 at 12:50 am
Germany in Libya ? Is à Joke ? French and BRITISH for the majority of operations. Choppers Tigre in the the Mistral class, very good job 🙂 Participation of Berlin ? ZERO
July 13, 2022 at 10:37 am
This is easy! If the US decided to pull in its forces and say we’ll protect the homeland, the rest of you are on your own, that means that all the countries with nothing more than defensive military power would have to pony up to create a force that could actually project power.
And what would that mean? All that ‘free’ stuff suffers because now, the countries have to spend money to create a military force that can actually sustain a war. Aircraft carrier groups and offensive air forces ain’t cheap, not to mention the additional infantry and all that ground support equipment.
July 13, 2022 at 11:36 am
It has been almost three-quarters of a century since the end of WWII, and three decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the USSR. I have long felt that there should be a plan in place and being worked for the responsible and gradual disengagement of US forces from Europe. It cannot and should not happen overnight, but a reasonable plan could have been developed to make this happen over a reasonable time frame. Unfortunately, now is not the moment to do this. We are now facing further delays. I hope it will not have to be a full century before US forces can finally even start pulling out.
July 14, 2022 at 12:53 am
I point out to you that you have divided your military manpower in Europe by 4 in 30 years, and that you had only left a brigade of paratroopers as a combat force and withdrew all the M1 tanks when Crimea was annexed by Moscow. American bases in Europe are mainly used for logistics and your ability to deploy power to Asia. For information, I am French. And I feel like I know more about EUCOM than the Americans on this forum.
July 13, 2022 at 12:57 pm
I read this Zero Hedge article, July 13, 2022
Democrats Demand $650 Billion In IMF Aid For Ukraine War Relief – In The Form Of SDRs
This is pure corruption and money laundering by the elite.
I understand many “Peace through Strength” Republicans got sucked into the Globalist Ukraine project.
Wake up, you got suckered… now they want 650 billion in graft… Globalists want to use U.S. taxpayer dollars, just like they have used the U.S. Military as “muscle” for their megalomaniac schemes.
Then once America is exhausted economically & militarily by reckless, Globalist agenda items… the Globalists will take America into receivership.
We are a Republic, not an Empire.
The whole Ukraine project is a betrayal of our founding by those who want an empire.
They will be held accountability.
July 13, 2022 at 4:51 pm
Zero Hedge is a known outlet for Russian propaganda. Even Steve Bannon chided them for being so stupid as to publish Russian propaganda.
July 13, 2022 at 8:18 pm
Bloomberg, too. Sorry, it’s a fact.
Democrats haven’t figured out Americans are getting tired of Ukraine sponging off us.
After the mid-terms, maybe they will catch a clue, dump Biden, and realize backing Ukraine was a political dead loser.
Americans don’t like losers. But hopefully before it comes to all that, there can be a Peace deal.
July 14, 2022 at 10:06 am
87% of French people have a good opinion of the military, but since the war in Ukraine, they have increasingly doubted France’s status as a great military power.
As a result, despite their expectations about their purchasing power, 78% (+21 points since 2019) of French people think that France’s military spending should be increased.
The war in Ukraine went through this… but it also had other consequences:
Russia is more than ever perceived as the greatest threat to European security: 80% of French people see it as the number one threat to the continent, a multiplication by more than 2 in three years.
Three-quarters of French people are also calling for a strengthening of economic sanctions on Russia and military aid to Ukraine… but above all, one in two French people (50%) now say they are in favor of military intervention by the NATO forces in Ukraine, even though they were overwhelmingly against it last March.
Source : http://www.odoxa.fr/sondage/14-juillet-la-guerre-en-ukraine-change-tout/
July 13, 2022 at 4:07 pm
As a Dutchie I can add some transatlantic perspective. I was born close to the borders of Belgium and Germany and (y)our American cemetery (https://www.abmc.gov/Netherlands). This part of Europe is rich. Richer than most of the US is.
I believe Europe should adopt a (more) independent security strategy. It should pay for its own security serving its own security interests. It should not be dependent on the US.
But there are some practicalities to consider, though they should be seen as excuses:
Unlike the US however Europe is not one country. The EU and Nato lack any effective governance. All decisions have to be made unanimously. Side interests therefore always dominate decision make. Ask yourself: How would 50 independent US states perform if the federal level was lacking.
2. National interests
In addition: Turkey (not EU) France, Germany, the UK (not EU), Poland, Italy are not willing to give up their military. As their military still serve major economic interests in both the Middle East and Africa. Or, in the case of Germany, are still identified with a national trauma.
Add to that a long history of distrust between these European powers, that only fairly recently was overcome by the founding of A European cooperation that led to the present day EU.
3. Loss of Atlantic orientation
Thirdly the US should realize that if Europe would adopt a more independent strategy it would not serve American and Atllantic interests as much as it security policies do now. Continental interest would dominate then, as the UK has isolated itself. Let us not forget many Central and Eastern European countries see more economic opportunities in cooperating with Russia and China (New Silk Route initiative) and becoming less dependent on the Atlantic trade routes.
4. China, not Russia, is the real issue
Russia is the biggest country, but it has not got the economy, nor the geography, nor demographics to be a sustainable super power. Its economy depends on natural resources and is not bigger than of The Netherlands. Hardly an economy that can bear the cost of a modern army. In fact, Germany alone should be able to put up an army that able to withstand Russia. But Germany building such an army would see other (Eastern) countries seek alliances with Russia.
So China is the real competition. And as explained a European Alliance (without UK, USA) would adopt a more continental orientation and therefore be much more inclined to seek cooperation with Russia and China, putting even more pressure on the Pacific flank.
5. Don’t walk away just before harvest
Europe is at a turning point. Germany only recently discovered its Ost Politik toward Russia was delusional. The new government has committed 100 billion euros to rebuild its army. (Offering interesting political and economic opportunities for the US to get some returns on its investments).
The EU still is the biggest consumption market. Leaving it now means opening it up for Asian Tech companies.
Charles B. Van Duzer
July 13, 2022 at 8:21 pm
Ever since the Marshall Plan Europe has regarded American as its’ personal piggy bank.
July 13, 2022 at 10:20 pm
Yes, Europe is rich and can afford more for its defense. For decades America has been footing the bill for European security as so-called ‘leading nations’ of Europe, like Germany, slashed their defense budgets and lavishly spent on ‘social’ programs.
Only Trump, in recent memory, actually rubbed Europe’s nose in its own hypocrisy. Here was the US spending a fortune on defending Germany from Putin’s Russia, while Germany was making natural gas deals with Russia which would put Germany and much of Europe at the mercy of Putin.
It was crazy. But still the Europeans did it. If Europe was one country, it would rival the US in its economy and military power. The EU desperately wants a political union, but such a union would make it more like the EUSSR–bloated, protectionist, inefficient, and unsustainable in the long term. The EU and Europe certainly would not have the capability of facing down Putin–the EU is one big fat-cat committee of former European politicians bought off by EU mandarins pursuing the dream of a ‘unified’ Europe.
Reality bites, and for a long while, Europe has stuck its head in the sand–hoping that Angela Merkel’s Ostopolitik would soothe the Russian bear. But as usual, appeasement only awoke the tyrant’s greed, and Putin was encouraged by European weakness to attempt to re-form the Soviet Empire–one bite at a time.
July 14, 2022 at 1:12 am
It seems to me that the American commentators are denying the huge advantages that their relatively modest presence (80,000 men in normal times, 100,000 today) in Europe gives them concerning their foreign policy and trade? Why do you think that apart from France, almost all the major air forces of our continent buy F-35s despite their pharaonic maintenance costs and their deplorable performance? That Poland buy hundreds of M1 tanks? That Javelin missiles are in demand? Europe pays the ”pizzo” to the United States and lends it almost allegiance in its political options, even dubious. I remind you the third of the losses of NATO in Afghanistant have European, in Iraq ditto (and when France in 2003 told you that it was a big mistake, remember the insults that YOU launched against us). Does the United States want to be the First World Power? Must assume.
July 14, 2022 at 11:30 am
I’d like to see Europe independent, healthy, and strong with good relations with all nations.
The Empire builders want a dependent and weak Europe.
(There are people who suggest this failed Ukraine project had a duel purpose: weaken Russia and weaken Europe.)
America is a Republic; the danger of Empire (among many) is that an Empire treats its own citizens as SUBJECTS, no different from foreigners and if citizens object to the Empire’s plans, they are to be defeated just like foreign nation-states.
The above scenario will kill the American Republic and the Sovereign — the American People.
And leave a grotesque Empire in its place.
The true Neocons, per Leo Strauss, it’s originator, believe it is necessary to be in a PERMANENT state of war, for the health of the state, and to achieve that status, willing to LIE to the People.
This is extremely dangerous.
1984 (Ukraine) “We are always at war”
July 15, 2022 at 1:31 am
The concern is that nature (politics) abhors a vacuum. If a nation disengages, another, and necessarily with the same ideal, will want to take its place. The great European nations thought that history was ”finished” and that international relations could be regulated by trade. We have let the United States take charge of our collective security after millennia of bloody confrontations which have exhausted us during the two world wars. Many ”small” states like Belgium or Denmark would rather have a distant protector who does not interfere in their internal affairs than see a neighboring ”superpower” like France, the United Kingdom or Germany to have supremacy on the continent at the risk of being drawn into conflicts again. The period of peace since 1945 in Europe is unparalleled in our history, and we do not know how to maintain it after having forgotten for generations that ”to have peace, we must prepare for war”. Ultima Ratio Regum…
July 14, 2022 at 4:57 pm
Western European countries are rich, while those that border and joined NATO in 2004 are poor, but have large amounts of armored equipment. Poland or Greece has more tanks than Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain combined. And these eastern countries have the will to fight, because they already know the dangers of the occupation of their countries by Russia.
It is the NORDEFCO countries and Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic States that have the potential to build a dam on Russian troops with the help of the US. Polish troops in the years 1610-1612 already occupied Moscow.
GAEL M REED
July 14, 2022 at 10:25 pm
Because the U.S. is dumb enough to do all the work on its own while other nations ignore us.