Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

Opinion

Should Europeans spend more on defence?

  • If Germany spends around two percent of its GDP on defence, it would become the fourth-largest military power in the world. (Photo: Public Affairs Office)

That European allies should spend more on defense instead of relying on America’s military might is the standard refrain of most US administrations, regardless of political party.

Last week in Brussels, the new secretary of defense James Mattis warned that the US might “moderate” its commitment to Nato unless Europeans get on track towards meeting the target of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defence, a theme echoed by vice-president Mike Pence at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • James Mattis warned that the US might “moderate” its commitment to Nato unless Europeans move towards 2 percent GDP spending target for defence. (Photo: Jim Mattis)

It is not an unreasonable request. Only four of Nato’s European members (Greece, UK, Estonia, and Poland) currently meet the 2-percent target. The response of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to Mattis was that Europeans are somehow making up for that deficit through their humanitarian and development assistance budgets, which is an amusing thought.

Yet, there is also a dark side to a hypothetical beefing-up of Europe’s militaries. America’s dominance of Nato, and Europe’s apparent free-riding, has brought one significant benefit. Namely, there has been a taming of the regional rivalries that had long existed between European countries and had periodically devastated the continent. If land warfare between Europe’s democracies has become unthinkable, this is to say that it is unthinkable primarily in the literal, practical sense. There is no capacity to fight any such war: not enough men in uniforms, tanks, guns, or airplanes.

A Europe that takes care of its own security without “free riding” on the United States would likely see traditional rivalries return. For instance, by bringing its defence spending a bit above two percent of GDP, Germany would outspend Russia and become the fourth-largest military power in the world.

There are some good reasons to believe that this would be a good thing. Yet, it is far from obvious as to whether Germany’s neighbours and partners in Europe would be thrilled by this prospect. Think about the tensions already existing in the EU.

New alliances

Some have blamed Germany, rightly or wrongly, for imposing austerity on economies in the Eurozone’s Mediterranean periphery. Central European countries such as Hungary or Slovakia, in turn, soured to Berlin's leadership following chancellor Angela Merkel’s “welcome” extended to Syrian asylum seekers in September 2015.

These disputes might have been heated, but they were still largely amicable. But what would the stand-off over Greek debt or the EU’s asylum policies look like if Germany were not just an economic powerhouse but also wielded real military might? How would it shape the country’s relations with the Czech Republic, which expelled two and a half million ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland after World War II? And what about with Poland?

Nobody is suggesting that a Germany that spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense would become a threat to its neighbours. But a more powerful Germany would almost certainly make other European countries – some of which dislike the country's real or imagined domination of the EU – more nervous. It could induce them to form new alliances, including with illiberal and revisionist regimes, most prominently Russia.

Europe holds an almost limitless list of contested territories, expulsions of ethnic groups, and other historic grievances. But nearly all have been dormant for decades. That period coincides with America’s dominant position within Nato and its investment into Europe’s multilateral political infrastructure, which has grown into the form of today’s EU.

Need to be careful

None of this is to suggest that Europeans should expect America to keep them safe in perpetuity. With the growing threat from Russia and in light of both US public opinion and the direction taken by the current presidential administration, it is simply no longer an option. Yet if Europeans are to spend more on defense, they need be careful to do it in a way that does not resuscitate the continent’s old demons.

That leaves European democracies with only one option: to pursue defense and security policies jointly, at the European level. For that, the EU needs to be reformed and strengthened to create a lean federal polity, which is dedicated to providing a small number of Europe-wide public goods, including defense, and integration with Nato.

If Donald Trump’s administration is serious about inducing its European partners to “pay their share,” it should do everything in its power to support the European project, instead of cozying up to those who seek to destroy it.

Otherwise, any attempt to make Europeans pay more for defense runs the risk of plunging the continent into conflict – conflict that was the destructive rule, not the exception, for centuries before the era of Pax Americana.

Dalibor Rohac is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

EU defence plan is 'no game-changer'

Package agreed by EU leaders brings nothing new but "hints at promising developments" in future, say former EU foreign policy and Nato chief Javier Solana and EU expert Steven Blockmans.

US urges Europe to spend more on Nato

US threatened to reduce its involvement in Nato if Europeans did not spend more. It also criticised Russia, amid confusion on Trump's foreign policy.

Schulz opposes '2 percent' Nato goal

The centre-left candidate for the most powerful position in Europe said, if elected, the German government would not pursue the goal of having a “highly armed army in the middle of Europe”.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement