Academic journal article Parameters

The European Debt Crisis and American Security Policy

Academic journal article Parameters

The European Debt Crisis and American Security Policy

Article excerpt

The European Union (EU) is building the institutional capability to play a larger role in global security affairs and there is an acknowledged need for it to develop improved power projection capabilities if it is going to engage in the full range of crisis management tasks. European militaries, however, are for the most part still in the process of transforming themselves from static defense forces into deployable units that are useful for the sort of crisis management missions in which the EU envisages itself playing a larger (and more independent) role in the future. In doing so, Europeans will encounter distinct costs that have only been partially dealt with to date.

We should not discount the progress that has been made in pooling assets as a way to manage the costs of European ambitions, but there are near-term and long-term trends that will significantly impact European spending on defense and foreign affairs. In the near term, there is the on-going sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone that has obvious implications for spending across the board. Yet, even if this is solved in a relatively painless manner, there is a more consequential long-term demographic trend in Europe that will impact spending for security and defense for many years to come.

The consequences of Europe's fiscal difficulties for the United States' economy are self-evident, but there are security consequences to consider as well. Although it is easy to dismiss European militaries for their relatively small contributions to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and US-led military operations, those militaries compose the vast majority of the assistance the United States has received in global military operations since the end of the Cold War. A rapid decline in the ability of European states to fund their militaries would mean that the United States would be faced with conducting future operations without significant contributions from the militaries with which it has developed 60 years of standardization and coordination through the NATO alliance. Even more of the burden of global security operations would be shifted onto the United States while it is attempting to cut defense spending and modernize aging weapons systems and platforms.

European miltary contributions to NATO and US-led operations are modest, but they do add up. In Afghanistan, for example, the member states of the European Union contribute approximately 35,000 of the 130,000 forces in the country. (1) European partners supply close to 90 percent of all non-US forces in the country with most of the remainder supplied by Australia and non-EU allies such as Turkey. In other words, European militaries supply a number of boots on the ground roughly equal to forces in the surge implemented by the United States in 2010. If European defense budgets continue to collapse and those states are no longer capable of their current level of contributions to ongoing operations, the United States armed forces will be stretched further than they currently are and lose a degree of strategic flexibility in terms of a surge capacity that has been employed with limited success in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ability of European states to manage the effects of the dual storm of the financial crisis and the long-term demographic shift on their military capabilities will be determined by two factors. First, their ability to shift funds within existing defense budgets away from personnel and toward operations and procurement. Second, their ability to manage the process of base closures across Europe as a whole and rationalize their defense infrastructure on a European rather than a purely national basis. This is a process that is far more likely to occur within the context of the European Union and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) rather than in a NATO context because of the higher public popularity of the CFSP in Europe compared to public enthusiasm for the tranatlantic alliance. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.