Monday

24th Sep 2018

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group
  2. Half of EU states at risk of missing recycling target
  3. Commission refers Poland to EU top court over rule of law
  4. Open Society Foundation takes Hungary to court
  5. EU court asked to rule on halting Brexit
  6. EU threatens Switzerland on stock trading
  7. Italy's new basic wage restricted to Italians
  8. UK tycoon offers to create pro-Brexit party

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  2. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  3. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  4. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  5. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  6. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  7. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  8. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us