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19th Jan 2019

Military spending: EU dwarf shrinks as US gets bigger

  • With the centre of global confrontation shifting from post-Cold-War Europe to the Pacific Ocean and the Middle East, the US is leaving EU countries to their own devices (Photo: Air Combat Command)

The US is spending more on its military than EU countries, China and Russia put together. Meanwhile, as US President Barack Obama pulls troops out of Europe, the financial crisis is seeing EU capabilities erode.

America spent $711 billion (€548bn) at current prices on its armed forces last year, according to figures published on Tuesday (17 April) by Swedish NGO the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

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The fast-growing US number compares to $496 billion spent by the EU27 ($281bn), China ($143bn) and Russia ($72bn) combined.

Obama declared last year that he is pulling resources from Cold-War-era bases in Germany to put them in places such as Australia instead in what he dubbed "America's Pacific [Ocean] century."

At the same time, the financial crisis is seeing EU countries' power diminish. Looking at expenditure in comparable prices in 2008 and 2011, the EU27 were spending $289 billion a year before the crisis, but the figure is $281 billion today.

Russia is rarely discussed as a military threat by EU politicians. But over the same period, its spending went from $57 billion to $64 billion.

With Chinese expenditure soaring from just $17 billion in 2008 to $129 billion in 2011, it is easy to see why Obama is looking to the other side of the world.

Meanwhile, the Sipri report is likely to make painful reading for countries such as France and Poland, which want EU member states to pool resources, but which are being blocked by the UK. "Everybody knows that sooner or later Nato will be finished because the US will pull out and create some kind of new structure," a Polish diplomat told EUobserver, referring to the 53-year-old trans-Atlantic alliance.

Zooming in on individual EU countries, the financial crisis has had a different impact in different places.

In the hardest crisis-hit country, Greece, military spending went from $10.1 billion in 2008 to $7.5 billion today. But Athens is still among the top EU spenders in terms of ratio to GDP (2.3%) due its perceived threat from fellow Nato member and EU candidate country Turkey.

Spending remained more-or-less constant in the other two EU-and-International-Monetary-Fund-bail-out states: Ireland and Portugal. But it plumetted in potential bail-outees Italy and Spain.

In the Union's top three military powers - France, Germany and the UK - Berlin and London have shaved off a few hundred million dollars. But Paris cut $2.5 billion.

In the Middle East - where talk of war between Iran and nuclear-armed Israel or between Shia Muslim Iran and its Sunni Muslim enemies is getting louder - it is also easy to see why there is suspicion that Iran wants a nuclear bomb.

Iran and its ally Syria are estimated to be spending just $8-billion-or-so a year.

Israel spent $16.4 billion in 2011 on conventional arms alone (it dooes not admit to having nuclear weapons). The Western-armed and Sunni-controlled axis - which includes Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen - spent $81 billion.

US senators warn Ashton on risk of Iran war

US senators have warned EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton that Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme risks igniting a military confrontation.

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