NATO: vital US-European link

ELECTION years in the United States are tantamount to open season for politicians attacking our NATO allies on defense spending: The speeches of 1986 are sure to ring with the rhetoric of ``Europe Bashing.'' However, when European and US defense expenditures are compared, it becomes obvious that US nuclear and personnel costs, and national security requirements are the reasons for the disparity, not negligence by our allies. The US will spend over $300 billion on armed forces totaling 2.1 million active-duty members. About one-half the Pentagon's expenditures are for nuclear forces and manpower. Our main NATO allies of Great Britain, West Germany, and France each will spend about $22 billion for defense over the same period for armed forces averaging about 430,000. Britain, West Germany, and France field a combined military that has more men in the Army, over one-half the uniformed personnel and almost half the combat aircr aft as the US for less than one-fourth the costs.

A major reason for this is $75 billion in yearly nuclear expenses for the US. Total combined annual costs for nuclear-armed British, French, and West German units are under $5 billion; overall defense spending for the three states is still about $9 billion less than US nuclear forces expenditures alone. While there is no doubt that European allies benefit from the US nuclear triad, it is by no means for their protection only. If the US were to withdraw from NATO, reductions would not be instituted in ou r nuclear forces. An increase would be in order to compensate for the loss of allied conventional and nuclear units. US nuclear arsenal and its associated expenses preceded and will endure NATO.

US personnel policies cost the Pentagon about another $75 billion annually. In overall defense expenditures, each active duty member of the US military costs almost $150,000; for the French, about $80,000; almost $60,000 for the West Germans; and $50,000 for the British. With nuclear costs removed, Washington spends almost $112,500 per member; over $75,000 for Paris; almost $60,000 for Bonn; and over $45,000 by London. Although European allies spend substantially less per soldier, it cannot be arg ued that they lack in quality. US units fare poorly against allied contingents in war games and related competition held by NATO. The reason for European soldiers of comparable quality for a lower cost: Both West Germany and France, along with other NATO allies, conscript recruits, while the US utilizes the far more-expensive and less-effective volunteer service. This is why US leaders such as Sens. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia and Ernest Hollings (D) of South Carolina, and the NATO commander, Gen. Bernard Roger s, call for a return to the draft.

Another reason European states spend less is that they do not have the security requirements of the US. Being a maritime nation, it is imperative that the US have a powerful navy. But West Germany has no need for extensive naval forces and therefore does not spend much on the Deutsche Marine. The same holds true for other NATO states; their national security requirements many times do not necessitate a sizable Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. For example, it makes little sense for a Europe an country to spend billions on developing and deploying a long-range bomber such as the B-1 when its adversaries are nearby.

However, for land and air forces, where the brunt of battle will fall in NATO Europe, allied contributions provide 90 percent of the armored divisions and about 80 percent of the combat-ready tanks and warplanes. While the US has four to five times the population of Germany or France, its Army is less than three times as large as either one's. Even small NATO members such as Belgium field larger armies and air forces per capita than the US. NATO as a whole has more men under arms per capita than t he US. It is these combat-ready units that deter a Warsaw Pact attack and will absorb the bulk of casualties if war breaks out.

The US spent 6.6 percent of its gross national product on defense in fiscal year 1984. Britain spent 5.4 percent; France, 4.2; and West Germany, 3.4. In nonnuclear defense spending, the US expended 4.95 percent of its GNP; Britain, over 5.1 percent; France almost 4 percent; and over 3.3 percent for West Germany. When the difference in personnel costs is factored in, and national security requirements considered, it is clear that our European allies are spending their share on defense and outperfor ming the US in many cases.

There is little to gain in attacking our NATO allies for not bearing their share of the defense burden. Not only is the argument flawed, it could also be fatal. If political pressure in the US forced the withdrawal of US forces from Europe, one would have to question which way our NATO allies would turn. An abdication by one of the two global superpowers of their responsibilities on the Euro-Asian land mass would present two choices to these European states: Increase defense spending at great costs to t he domestic economy or seek accommodation with the USSR. In the future, Western alliance nations will have to draw and retain soldiers from a dwindling manpower base and support these forces despite a gloomy economic outlook. Thus neutrality may be the lesser of two evils presented.

US defense costs could be mitigated if leaders would make the tough decisions to return to the draft and reduce nuclear programs rather than attacking our NATO allies. Recent and future outcries against perceived European defense negligence draw closer the day the Warsaw Pact might conclude the US commitment to NATO is not total and attack. For this reason, US leaders must refrain from assaults on NATO that improve their domestic campaigns but impair foreign commitments. If US leaders are willing to ris k nuclear war to defend NATO, then surely our European allies are worthy of measures to strengthen the alliance and deter the Warsaw Pact.

Jonathan Paul Yates is a legislative assistant to a congressman.

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