Has Russia’s War on Ukraine Changed European Defense Budgets?

US troops participating in Combined Resolve exercise, Oct. 25, 2014Russia’s heightened aggressiveness has been on display for most of the year, notably in Crimea and Ukraine. But President Vladimir Putin’s military forces have been more antagonistic elsewhere, especially around Russia’s eastern borders. Hundreds of aviation incidents have been reported, from buzzing US and NATO warships at sea to territorial incursions in Europe, North America and around Japan. Less reported are provocations at sea, but professionals confirm the Russians are no less reticent there than in the air. . . .

But whether a resurgent Russia prompts the West to alter strategic and tactical planning or increase defense spending remains to be seen.

“It changes as you get closer to the Russian border,” observed Jorge Benitez, a NATO and European analyst with the Atlantic Council in Washington. “You have the allies furthest away — France, the UK, Spain, Italy — not really changing their defense budgets yet.”

“The British and French are overextended as it is,” Benitez noted. “The French have currently spent three times in the last year for overseas deployments than they’d budgeted for. Mostly in Africa, where they’ve taken the lead in Mali and the Central African Republic” against Islamic terrorist groups.

“The British have been involved in a multiyear defense consolidation,” Benitez said. The defense budget might be readdressed after the next round of elections, he added, “but that’s in the future, and it’s unlikely to make much of a difference.”

Germany also is overstretched, he said, and suffering from several recent defense scandals.”They’re not buying spare parts and keeping their gear in good maintenance. Less than half of their fighters can fly. They had three planes break down trying to send support to the Kurds in Iraq. Another plane broke down trying to send Ebola aid to West Africa,” Benitez observed.

But, he said, “as you get closer to Russia, states are starting to spend more on defense. Most prominent is Poland, pushing up to about 2 percent of the gross national product on defense.

“Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Benitez added, all are spending more on defense.

Related Experts: Jorge Benitez

Image: US troops participating in Combined Resolve exercise, Oct. 25, 2014 (photo: US Army)