Leadership: The High Cost of Peace in Europe

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December 18, 2007: Germany has increased annual defense spending by 3.7 percent, to about $40 billion. Germany is shifting a lot of defense money into transport aircraft (helicopters and fixed wing). That's because its peacekeeping efforts are being hampered by a shortage of such equipment. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is telling the Germans that a U.S. helicopter unit, that has been supporting German operations, has to be withdrawn so that the troops and equipment of that unit can get some rest and recuperation. There are no other American helicopter units to replace the departing one. To cover this, the Germans or, rather, NATO, is hiring commercial helicopters, and pilots, to do the job. These are supposed to arrive in a month or so. This sort of arrangement will not always be possible. NATO troops in Afghanistan have facilities to support hired helicopters, and can assign them to the less dangerous missions. But future peacekeeping missions may be too dangerous for commercial helicopter firms to handle, or too expensive (higher "risk and danger" fees can be very costly.)

The basic problem with European defense spending isn't so much that it's a lot lower (on a per capita basis) than the United States, but that most of it is spent on what amounts to a make-work program. Many of the European soldiers are not really fit for action. They are uniformed civil servants. One reason many are not ready for combat, or even peacekeeping, operations, is that they don't have the equipment, or the training. And that's because up-to-date gear, and training, are expensive. A disproportionate amount of money is spent on payroll. That keeps the unemployment rate down more effectively than buying needed equipment, or paying for the fuel and spare parts needed to support training.

All this would not be an issue if Europeans did not get involved in military operations. When they do that, the deficiencies become very obvious. It happened in the 1990s, when peacekeepers were needed in the Balkans, and after that, when forces were needed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Same problem with putting together European peacekeeping forces for Darfur and Chad.

Britain is the only real exception, with armed forces capable of going into action. But even that is under attack, as British politicians try to emulate other European nations, and saving money by creating hollow forces that are there, but cannot really do much.

And then there's the United States, which the Europeans know they can call on if they ever need some real military muscle. So confident are the Europeans, that they heap abuse and scorn on the U.S. and the American military, knowing that the Americans will still show up if Europe ever faces a threat.

With the end of the Cold War, Europe is, for the first time ever, at peace. Truly at peace. There is no military threat. There are the Islamic terrorists, but that lot doesn't have an army. They are a public safety, not a military threat. It's a unique situation in European history, and European generals and politicians are still trying to get their heads wrapped around it. There are potential military threats, but nothing in the immediate future that requires a large force. There's peacekeeping, and that's what the Europeans are trying to organize for. That, however, costs a lot of money, and you can't support the traditional type forces, and the new peacekeeper ones, as well. But the idea of disposing of ancient military traditions and organizations is, well, hard to accept.

 


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