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On Point

"Royal Air Force may recruit Luftwaffe pilots." It isn't a Joke but European Leadership is.


by Austin Bay

No, the London Times' report isn't a joke employment ad intended to boggle Battle of Britain survivors.

The RAF's talent search, however, exemplifies Europe's general decline in military effectiveness and European NATO members' specific failure to meet modernization commitments. Ultimately, it offers insight into the European Union's chronic case of collective political weakness, illustrating why even the most sanctimonious of Washington-taunting Euro-promoters secretly rely on American leadership.

Facing a pilot shortage, the RAF is scouring the globe for hi-Mach skills. This spring, when New Zealand's irresponsible little government decided to defund its own air force, the RAF immediately approached unemployed Kiwi jet jockeys.

But recruiting from the Luftwaffe was too ironic for the press to ignore. In the six decades since the London Blitz, both history and Hollywood have kept alive the memory of Spitfires and Messerschmidts tangling high above the Thames.

Don't confuse hiring German pilots as indicative of increasing European cooperation. It's poaching indicative of desperation on the part of the RAF and disenchantment on the part of Luftwaffe pilots disgruntled by Germany's aging air fleet and declining training time.

Euro politicos have decided their militaries can shrink and make-do with old equipment. The Soviet threat is kaput, and economic prosperity is what really binds Europe, right?

This political decision, however, abrogates NATO's 1999 "force goals" agreement, forged after the Kosovo War revealed a growing gap between U.S. and European military capabilities. Europeans agreed to improve in five areas: logistics, command and control, survivability of forces and infrastructure, mobility, and "effective engagement" -- a buzzword for precision-guided weapons.

But the goals simply haven't been met. Actually, Britain deserves credit for attempting to meet its commitments. Germany has faltered. France, as usual, has invested more in anti-Washington invective than in modernization.

At last week's NATO defense ministers conference, Secretary General Lord Robertson assayed the failure to pursue military reform. "Elections are rarely won or lost on questions of defense policy," he said. "These are complex and sometimes dry issues.. ... hard to package in a soundbite." While globalization offers "our societies the opportunity to become ... more prosperous, it also makes them more vulnerable," particularly to "states developing weapons of mass destruction."

Robertson warned Europeans, "If crisis comes along, the (military) capability won't be there." If Europe doesn't deliver, the result will be a "trans-Atlantic capability gap and a European credibility gap."

The Eurocorps, the "go it alone" force some Americans perceive as a threat to undermine NATO, looks like another Euro-tout turned to Euro-flop. Lack of funding is one reason, European rivalries another. Greece rejected Turkish participation in a joint European defense force. On June 8, Irish voters rejected EU expansion. Like other Western Europeans, many Irish believe an enlarged EU costs them too much money. More than a few also fear that EU "institutional reforms" would require Ireland to participate in the EU's military force, compromising Irish neutrality.

Frankly, Europe already suffers from other credibility gaps. The euro's decline against the U.S. dollar was the free market's comment on Europe's economic weaknesses. Though Europeans recognize the need for structural and social reform, the will to tackle vested interests and embedded problems is utterly lacking. While crack German pilots may jump to the RAF, ask a Greek engineer about intra-EU labor mobility if he applies for a job in Munich.

American liberals chatter about European "credibility" on environmental issues. That's another hoo-hah. Romania remains the only European nation to ratify the flawed Kyoto treaty. However, hammering Bush about Kyoto shields European leaders from the wrath of their domestic greens. Germany's left-wing government is making extensive use of this bit of guerrilla theater -- the eco-freaks generate great soundbites and satirizing Bush deflects attention from the deterioration of the Luftwaffe.

Robertson understands, as do other European defense specialists, that emerging threats require modernization and preparation. However, among key European leaders, only Tony Blair has publicly acknowledged the merit of the Bush administration's missile defense proposals, new approaches to arms control and new "strategic framework" for collective defense.

But don't tell that to the crowds of protestors greeting President Bush's European tour. Check their posters -- it's all soundbites, adolescent angst and smug duplicity. America is the bogey man, faulted for Middle East conundrums, energy policy, environmental degradation, and -- incredibly -- impoverishing Cuba. Apparently, some European socialists still can't criticize communism.

If the defense of the free world is to remain credible, America has to lead -- it's all too obvious Europe can't.

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