Europe risks giving up on defense

European Defense

From James Blitz, Financial Times:  In June last year, Robert Gates, the then US defence secretary, made a speech in Brussels on Europe’s military capabilities. He warned Nato’s European members that they faced “the very real possibility of collective military irrelevance” if they failed to maintain national spending on defence. Mr Gates argued that it would “take leadership from political leaders and policy makers on this continent” to ensure Europe remained a strong military actor.

Fifteen months on, many diplomats and defence experts fear European governments are still nowhere near heeding that warning. Europe’s two big nations, the UK and France, are cutting military spending to cope with the crisis in their public sector budgets. Denmark has abandoned submarines and the Netherlands has ditched its tank forces. Last week’s collapse of the potential tie-up between EADS, the Franco-German aerospace giant, and BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, has added to the gloom – suggesting that European leaders do not want to reverse the continent’s decline as a global security player. . . .

As the US demonstrated in last year’s operation over Libya, it believes Europe needs to do more to take the lead when managing security in its own back yard.

However, the collapse of the BAE-EADS deal suggests to many analysts that three European leaders – Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s François Hollande and Britain’s David Cameron – are nowhere near heeding the lessons. . . .

“My worry is that the British government will come out of this saga feeling they cannot do anything with Europeans and therefore need to go back to deepening ties with the US,” Mr [Camille] Grand [head of French think tank Fondation Pour La Recherche Stratégique] says. “There will certainly be a conclusion in Britain and France that Germany cannot be trusted on defence issues.”  

For many diplomats and experts, the risk is that Europe’s declining defence capability comes at a moment when it faces growing security challenges. In north Africa, and particularly Mali, al-Qaeda is growing in strength and may need to be confronted. The potential for the Syrian civil war to generate a humanitarian crisis across the region cannot be ignored. eastern European leaders would be quick to argue that Russia’s intentions cannot be predicted with complete certainty.

As a result, Europe may only wake up to its declining capability when it faces an external shock where the US refuses to lead. “Historians will see the collapse of the EADS-BAE deal as a huge moment, a landmark in Europe’s decline,” says Dr [John] Louth of RUSI. Mr Grand agrees: “More than ever, the big risk ahead is that Europe simply vanishes from the security map.”  (photo: Cafe Babel)

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