Murphy's Law: The Impossible Dream Of A European Force


August 11, 2010:  Although we tend to think EU (European Union) nations as stinting on defense spending, most spend as much or more on defense as does Japan by percentage of GDP, and some spend a good deal more. Annual EU defense outlays are about 1.63% of GDP, which in dollars is $260.4 billion, second only to US spending.

Annual Defense Spending As A Percentage of GDP

Japan                         0.9%

Austria                       0.9%

Belgium                     1.2%

Britain                       2.3%

Bulgaria                     2.3%

Cyprus                      1.8%

Czech Republic         1.4%

Denmark                   1.4%

Estonia                      1.9%

Finland                      1.3%

France                       2.3%

Germany                   1.3%

Greece                      2.6%

Hungary                    1.2%

Ireland                       0.6%

Italy                            1.7%

Latvia                         1.6%

Lithuania                  1.1%

Luxembourg             0.5%

Malta                        0.5%

Netherlands              1.4%

Poland                       2.0%

Portugal                    1.5%

Romania                    1.2%

Slovakia                     1.5%

Slovenia                     1.5%

Spain                          1.2%

Sweden                      1.2%

Note: Varying figures can be found.

But the EU doesn’t really get the “bang for the buck” that its outlays would suggest. With a combined defense budget about 40 percent that of the US, the EU has only one nuclear carrier, and that a relatively small one, plus a half dozen or so VSTOL or helicopter carriers, to the US’s eleven huge CVNs plus about as many “big deck” amphibious ships capable of handling helicopters and VSTOL aircraft. A primary reason for this is an inability to achieve economies of scale in organization and management, not to mention procurement. Each country has its own military bureaucracy, uniforms, and despite decades of striving for “commonality,” many items of equipment are unique to particular countries. Further confusing matters is that 23 of the 27 EU members are also members of NATO, which adds to the bureaucratic overhead. There is a small EU military staff, the European Defense Agency, but it has a microscopic ($40 million), budget and is little more than a planning cell.

The EU has set up some military commands which show promise,

•           Eurocorps: Some 60,000 troops who can be deployed on relatively short notice

•           Eurofor: a division-sized HQ with personnel from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and troops earmarked by each country for rapid reaction operations.

•           European Air Group and the European Air Transport Command: coordinates pooling of air assets

•           European Gendarmerie Force: A HQ of about 900 personnel, plus 2,300 additional personnel, for rapid intervention in peacekeeping/enforcement missions and humanitarian emergencies

•           European Maritime Force: a paper agency that is supposed to be the start of a common naval force

There are some political leaders, military officers, and pundits in Europe who are calling for greater integration with the idea of cutting overhead and investing the savings in a better common military establishment. At Lisbon on December 1, 2009, EU leaders signed an agreement to expand integration, cooperation, and interoperability.

Some genuine visionaries – or dreamers – look forward to the day when the EU will have a handful of nuclear carriers plus supporting naval force, and more capable ground and air forces. To achieve this, lots of compromises will have to be made, and much more integration achieved. A logical initial measure would be to specialize the armed forces of EU countries. This has already been partially achieved in the maritime area under NATO; the Belgian Navy, for example, has tended to be specialized in mine and inshore operations. 

An early step might be an integrated carrier strike group. Given that most Dutchmen, Belgians, Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes are essentially bilingual in English, it would be easy to form such a group. If the planned new British CVN is completed as currently scheduled (2016), it would be possible for the new HMS Queen Elizabeth to have an airgroup that includes, say, a Dutch EW (Electronic Warfare) detachment and a Danish SAR (Sea-Air Rescue) team, escorted by Norwegian, Dutch, or Danish, destroyers, a Swedish submarine, and some Belgian mine warfare vessels. 

But there will be serious opposition to achieving this objective, crossing all political lines, from traditionalists (“Specialization means abolishing the Umpteenth Hussars, who have fought honorably in every war since 1721”), pacifists (“Spend the money on peace, not war”), to nationalists (“Slobovians will never serve under Gudavian command!”), industrialists (“Our money shouldn’t be spent to help build a carrier in France for Britain!”), and so forth.





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