Europe's Armed Forces in Civil Security

By Clarke, John L. | Connections : The Quarterly Journal, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Europe's Armed Forces in Civil Security


Clarke, John L., Connections : The Quarterly Journal


Introduction

Two decades after the end of the Cold War, does Europe need armies? What should soldiers do, besides fighting and preparing to fight? What tasks are (and are not) appropriate for soldiers to carry out in a domestic context? Is territorial defense still a valid mission for European armed forces? And are there better-and cheaper-solutions?

These questions have become increasingly difficult to answer in the current strategic and budgetary environment. Armies are expensive, and the threat environment for most European countries has evolved significantly over the past two decades. As a consequence, taxpayers may look askance at defense expenditures, wondering why it is still necessary to pay so much for a capability that no longer seems necessary and might even be redundant. Those defense expenditures also represent tempting targets for politicians anxious to cut budgets in times of austerity.

This study is intended to help examine these issues, with a view towards trying to provide answers to the questions of what armies (and, by extension, navies and air forces) can do, should do, must do-and, equally important, should not do-particularly in a domestic context. With the tremendous pressures on governments to save money, these questions are likely to become even more salient in the near future.

For armies are convenient targets, and relatively easy to cut. In most European countries, defense expenditures are discretionary, unlike entitlement programs. Their constituencies-though often powerful, particularly in the defense industry-are small, and military forces, particularly contemporary professionalized forces, lack significant popular support. Absent a sense of external threat, militaries are often unappreciated. These professional armies, as is the case in most European countries, are generally small and have little lobbying power and few friends in high places. They are vulnerable. But they are also available, for what often seems to be whatever task comes up.

Thus, "Let the army do it" is a phrase often heard in many countries when a task- such as the recovery from an earthquake-exceeds the abilities of local and regional, and often even national, authorities. Military forces are often seen, justifiably or not, as sitting in their bases, waiting for something to do. And since engaging the military in a civil security task is often viewed as free of both cost and risk, the temptation on the part of political leaders to "let the army do it" is great indeed. And it must be said that, for many tasks, it is appropriate to "let the army do it" - but not for all tasks at all times.

This trend toward having military forces perform ever more and varied functions distinct from their traditional tasks associated with territorial defense is present in every state with an army. Indeed, some countries, such as China and Egypt, have armies that are vertically and horizontally integrated into the economy, often running major business enterprises. But armies are often asked to perform more mundane tasks, such as trash collection and firefighting, often to the detriment of their readiness to carry out their primary function. For while there are benefits to the engagement of military forces in civil support tasks, there are also opportunity costs. Soldiers engaged in these tasks cannot often be rapidly redeployed. They cannot be in two places at one time, and often would require a significant amount of time to extricate themselves from a particularly challenging civil support task in order to carry out another one. Moreover, soldiers, particularly contemporary professional soldiers, are expensive, particularly when compared to conscript soldiers.

Military forces have traditionally played broad-indeed, quite expansive-roles in support of European governments, particularly when viewed from the U.S. perspective, which is characterized by legal and cultural restraints on the domestic deployment of military personnel. …

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