Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

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.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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. EU warns Turkey as 'Gezi Park' trials begin
  2. EU universities to share students, curricula
  3. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  4. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  5. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  6. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  7. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  8. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us