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Thursday, May 15, 2003

Our Opinion

Defending Europe

“What is clear,” Greek foreign minister George Papandreou said earlier this month at a news conference following a European Union foreign ministers’ meeting on Rhodes, “is that we are in urgent need of a European strategic concept.” To which we can only add, to say the least. Mr. Papandreou also pointed out that any “substantive discussion” between the United States and the EU was meaningless unless Europeans first “agree [on] what our own priorities are as a Union.” Most assuredly.

In our last issue, we called upon Europeans to quickly and soberly get about the business of creating “a more coherent and independent…defense policy” (see Eagles and Ostriches, May 1). We are now delighted to report that Greece, which initially wavered on the notion of an independent European defense force — and indeed refused to participate in the recent meeting of Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg to discuss plans for such a force — has now signed on. As Mr. Papandreou put it, the EU cannot hope to have any influence with the United States unless it finally determines its own priorities — which is to say, its own role in the world — as an increasingly powerful transnational entity.

This will obviously necessitate a protracted, difficult, and, without a doubt, often rancorous process. (Not too long ago, European monetary union seemed equally implausible. Now that the euro is about to test unprecedented levels of strength against the dollar, those debates seem like ancient history.) Again, as we wrote a couple of weeks ago, defense is a complex issue and multinational defense even more so. As for “….creating a viable transnational rapid-deployment force that could convincingly reflect, let alone compete with, US capabilities…[it] seems so impossible a notion at the moment as to be downright discouraging.” One has to start somewhere, however. In the spirit of helping things along, there are two broad points we’d like to make that might help to concentrate minds and clarify matters.

First of all, some figures for defense spending: According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, total US spending for military research and development in 2001 (before President Bush’s increases, in other words) was a little over $39 billion, while spending for procurement was roughly $60 billion, for a total of almost $100 billion. By comparison, total EU spending for R&D for the same year was just over $9 billion, while actual procurement costs were $27.5 billion, for a total of about $36.5 billion. It doesn’t take much to see why Europe is now bullied around so consistently by the US. The shocking figure in the data above is not so much the little-over-a-third of US expenditures that the EU spends on its military, but the less-than-a-quarter of US military R&D spent by Europe.

The EU will never establish a credible defense and strategic presence in relation to the United States as long as these pitiable levels of spending are not significantly increased. Not at all coincidentally, back in December 2002, shortly before Greece assumed the EU’s presidency, the country’s defense minister, Yannos Papantoniou, told the parliamentary assembly of the Western European Union that one of the goals of the Greek presidency would in fact be to push for increased defense spending. Mr. Papantoniou told his European colleagues that total defense spending within the Union does not exceed 1 percent of combined GDP, which, when compared to US spending of 3 percent of GDP, goes a long way to explain why (and how) Europe has abdicated its obligations as the only viable democratic alternative to the US’s global plans. (We should add here that Greece spends 5 percent of GDP on defense, which is outrageous. The cause, of course, is the decades-long arms race with Turkey, another reason why both Greece and Turkey need to resolve longstanding issues and get down to much saner, and more European, levels of defense spending.)

The second issue is intimately connected with the first. Recently, the Center for Global Development, in collaboration with Foreign Policy magazine, issued its first annual “Commitment to Development Index,” created with assistance from the Brookings Institution, the Institute for International Economics, and the Migration Policy Institute, as well as the financial support of the Rockefeller Foundation. The data are striking. Of the 21 rich nations analyzed, the one that ranked at almost the very bottom (Number 20 out of 21 countries) in terms of assistance to the developing world was — who else? — the global hegemon. Yes, the US received a score of 2.6 out of a possible 9 for its commitment to poor countries. (Only Japan scored lower.)

Among other things, the US is the least generous country in the world in terms of foreign aid, giving only 0.12 percent of GDP, while Denmark and the Netherlands give more than six times as much. The US also came in dead last in its environmental record (depletion of global resources combined with commitment to eco-technologies and global environmental cooperation). In fact, of the top 10 nations committed to the developing world, seven are members of the European Union (with New Zealand, Switzerland, and Norway). Even Greece came in seven places ahead of the US. In fact, Greece came in Number 1 in the category for international peacekeeping (because of its contribution to the forces in Bosnia and Kosovo), scoring a perfect 9.

What’s our point? Simply that the world knows that the only thing the US cares about is the US. The world also knows that the European Union is committed to another vision of “the international community,” one in which the latter does not merely play the supporting role of posse (or goon squad) for the US’s starring turn as global sheriff. In the event, the US will never take Europe seriously until Europe starts taking itself seriously; unfortunately, in the real world of real power, that entails a viable and convincing military posture. We know that Europeans hate paying for guns. They are wise to feel that way. Unless they start doing so on their own terms, however, they will inevitably have to pay for the endless, and infinitely costlier, mayhem the entire planet will suffer for allowing the US to rearm unilaterally — and then using those arms. One last fact: Currently, the military budget of the United States is almost twice that of the other 18 NATO member-states combined. That is not only a disequilibrium screaming for rebalance but, plainly, a formula for disaster.

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