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Despite Ukraine, Europeans Won’t Protect Themselves From Putin

Ukrainian Tanks


Europe is at risk from Russia, we are told. But no one in Europe seems to care.

Even the countries supposedly in Vladimir Putin’s gun sites aren’t much concerned. No one is bolstering their military. And the European people oppose taking any military risks to help their neighbors.

Even if Russia threatens the continent, the Europeans don’t plan on defending themselves. Instead, virtually everyone expects America to save them, if necessary. Washington is being played for a sucker as usual.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently announced that the U.S. will contribute aircraft, weapons, and personnel to the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.” That’s not all. Separately, the Obama administration plans to pre-position tanks and other equipment for a combat brigade in Eastern Europe.

Carter explained that Washington was acting “because the United States is deeply committed to the defense of Europe, as we have for decades.” America is more committed to Europe than are Europeans. “We are moving forward together, with new capabilities,” he said. What does he mean by “we”?

The Europeans scrimp on the military while funding their generous welfare state. They promise Washington whatever it desires—and then go back to doing what they do best, depend on America.

NATO always stood for North America and the Others. During the Cold War the allied states shamelessly took a very cheap ride on the U.S. But by the 1960s Europe had recovered and should have spent amounts commensurate with the Soviet threat.

The problem has gotten worse in recent years. The U.S. accounts for three-quarters of NATO outlays even though Europe has a larger GDP than America. Because of European cutbacks, overall outlays are down 1.5 percent this year.

Of 28 members only the U.S., Britain, and Greece typically broke the officially recommended level of two percent of GDP. Estonia has become a member of that exclusive club. After frenetically demanding that the U.S. do more, Poland only hit that mark this year. But several members have been cutting outlays.

Of the five largest European defense budgets, only France’s will increase. Those of Canada, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy will continue to decline. None of these countries will hit the recommended two percent of GDP level in 2015.

Cooperation is poor even among those most at risk. Add Poland to the three Baltic and five Nordic states and the group enjoys a GDP about a third larger than that of Russia. However, their military outlays are only about 40 percent of Moscow’s. Moreover, complains Edward Lucas of the Center for European Policy Analysis, they “are divided” and suffer from “strategic incoherence.”

Never mind the events of the last year. “It is much more business as usual,” said British defense analyst Ian Kearns. As of 2013 the Europeans devoted just 3.6 percent of their governments’ budgets to the military, compared to a fifth of U.S. government spending. America’s per capita military outlays are five times that of the alliance’s Cold War members and eight times that of those states which joined later.

The issue is more than just money.

“Make no mistake: we will defend our allies,” declared Carter. But will the Europeans defend anyone, even themselves? A new poll suggests not.

The Pew Foundation recently surveyed eight leading NATO countries: If Russia got into a conflict with another member of NATO, should your country use military force in the victim’s defense? A majority of French, Germans, and Italians said no. Only pluralities said yes in Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. (Yet Poland is insisting that everyone else defend it!) Only in America, naturally, and Canada did a majority say yes.

Yet why should the Europeans take action as long as they believe they can count on Washington to save them? According to Pew, two-thirds of Europeans were convinced the Americans would come rushing over to do what they would not do for themselves.

It’s time to change that. The Cold War is over. Moscow is an unpleasant actor, not a global threat.

Europe has a much larger GDP and population than Russia and even with its current anemic level of military outlays devotes more to defense. The U.S. government is essentially bankrupt, with far greater unfunded liabilities than the Europeans, despite Greece’s travails.

Instead of pouring more resources into NATO, Washington should disengage militarily, turning leadership of the alliance and responsibility for defending the continent over to Europe. Americans shouldn’t protect their rich cousins even if the latter were devoted to protecting each other. That the Europeans expect the U.S. to do their job is yet another reason for Americans to say no more.

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