France's Afghanistan pull-out signals war fatigue driving European defense cuts
Disillusionment with warfare, coupled with economic troubles, has given European defense cuts strong momentum. But defense experts worry they are being made too haphazardly.
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“Cooperation is a difficult topic because it means giving up areas of sovereignty – you have to resign on some of your capabilities, to trust the partner,” says Justyna Gotkowska of the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw. “This trust isn’t there yet. It is starting but it will be difficult,” she says.Skip to next paragraph
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Witney calls on heads of governments to initiate the pooling and sharing of their military resources. “'We'll buy your submarines if you buy our tanks,” he says, describing an example of a way European countries could complement each other. "If one nation makes tanks better and cheaper, another can close its tank factory.”
A review of each member state's defense and security strengths and weaknesses would be a good starting point, experts say.
But despite a commitment on paper to a common defense and security strategy, European countries are “still in a phase where countries cling to their defense abilities,” Mr. Riecke of the German Council on Foreign Relations says.
“There is a certain amount of political will to cooperate that is not yet translated into action. But as the financial pressure is in, that could change,” he says.
US to Europe: Step it up
While conflicts within Europe are unlikely, there is always the potential for upheaval caused by events outside the region – a possibility that is especially worrying to a less militarized Europe as the United States’ reorients itself away from Europe and toward Southeast Asia.
Earlier this year the Obama administration announced the withdrawal of two heavy armor brigades from Germany, which will reduce the number of US Army troops there from 42,000 today to 37,000 by 2015. It will also leave the United States with only two Army bases on the continent: one in Germany and one in Italy. The US Army had 277,000 soldiers in Europe in 1962, at the height of the cold war.
The 2011 NATO intervention in Libya underscored Europeans’ dependence on the US. Although Europeans took command of a NATO mission for the first time, the US provided most of the logistics, equipment, and intelligence, and the US now foots 75 percent of the NATO bill.
"The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the US Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” Mr. Gates said.
“Indeed, if current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders...may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost," he concluded.