Future of Europe’s 10 Nation Army – defence: can the EU actually protect itself against Russia? Driving Forces. (Part 3 of a 3 part series)
Telegraph.co.uk September 2018.
It’s not what you spend, but where
Military budgets remain a serious issue in Europe. Under intense pressure from President Trump to increase defence budgets, more countries are now meeting Nato’s target of spending two per cent of GDP – a target the UK has hit for many years.
But Nato members cast doubt on Mr Trump’s claims they had committed to “substantially” more spending at this summer’s summit. And Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is still lagging behind. Angela Merkel’s government pledged to raise its defence budget by 80 per cent earlier this year, but still only committed to increase military spending to 1.5 per cent of GDP by 2024. Mrs Merkel has said Germany will reach two per cent in “future years” but given no firm date.
Prof Menon says just throwing money at the problem isn’t enough.
“The UK is spending enough. The question is, is it spending on the right stuff?” he says. “I get very little sense of a coordinated strategy around Europe. Does it make sense for us to be bringing in these two aircraft carriers at the moment? It all seems to be decided on a bit of an ad hoc basis, when the government decides it needs to help the defence industry.”
Germany’s funding gap remains serious, according to Ms Major of the German SWR. “When Germany takes over the VJTF [Nato’s rapid response task force] in 2019 it will have to gather equipment from the whole Bundeswehr to be able to equip it,” he says. But there is little in the way of a public outcry over the issue in Germany. “The German population still doesn’t feel threatened, at least not from classical military threats,” Dr Major says. “That’s a key difference from Poland or the Baltic states, or even France, which feels threatened by terrorism.”
In the face of the spending gap, Europe’s militaries have little choice but to cooperate, she says.
“The Germans and the Dutch aren’t cooperating because they want to. It’s because they have to. The smaller states aren’t being forced by Germany to join the framework nations concept. They want to because they get something out of it.”
Nato or nothing
But she says there is “no replacement for Nato” at the moment. “If you’re talking about an old-style conventional war, Europe cannot defend itself without the US,” she says.
“Currently, you can’t replace the US nuclear deterrent. France has made it clear that you cannot share nuclear decision-making, and Paris does not believe in extended deterrence like a European shield. And Britain is highly unlikely to do any differently.”
Europe may have a task on its hands to defend its borders alone; it can only hope that it never comes to that.
“The US disengagement with Europe didn’t start with Trump. Clinton was looking towards Asia, Obama was talking about nation-building at home. Under Trump it has become more dramatic, but the US has been moving towards other parts of the world for a long time.”
All of which leaves little answer to the nightmare scenario of a Russian attack on Nato’s eastern flank and a US refusal to commit troops. Back at King’s College, Prof Menon is sanguine.
“The US has already failed if Russia invades because the US is there as a deterrent,” he says. “I think Europe would have a chance. I remain convinced Russian forces are a lot weaker than they claim. The Nordic forces are pretty strong. Europe might be able to defend itself without America.”