European free riding?

Doug and Elliot Oti brought up the subject of European free riding in the comment’s to Doug’s latest post.

Let me pose this hypothetical. After his landslide win in 2004, president Kuichinik, slashes the US military budget to a third of its current size.

Do you think the European countries would feel compelled to raise their own military expenditure? A huge or a modest increase? (Or perhaps they’d cut their militaries?) How would their security policies be affected?

For what reasons would they do whatever you think they’d do?

What should they do, i.e what would – if this were to happen – be in their best interest?

18 thoughts on “European free riding?

  1. (If the U.S. slashed its military budget to a third of what it is now (er, $400B/3), wouldn’t it still be the world’s biggest military spender ?)

    I’d recommend that Europe stay the course and neither increase or decrease its military spending; Not unless the U.S. military reduction removed/reduced a strategic threat to Europe,
    because I don’t see what threat would increase just because the U.S. were to reduce itself.

    BTW, a drastic reduction of the size of the U.S. military is almost inevitable; it’s just a matter of how many years it takes until we get to the point where the U.S. can no longer afford its military.

  2. I’m mostly with Patrick on this one. I’d like to see a better coordinated European force able to undertake more substantial peace-keeping missions, some even against the wills of the peace-kept, but building up a large offensive capability would strike me as a waste of money no matter what US policy was. During the Cold War, there was some truth to the idea that the US was Europe’s defender. Not too much truth, because it seemed pretty obvious at least after ’68 that the Soviet Union had little interest in invading Europe. Churchill had it right back in ’48 – they didn’t want war, they wanted the fruits of war without actually having to go to war for it. But since 1991, the idea that the US is acting as defender of the West is at best doubtful.

    The war on terrorism has a lot more to do with diplomacy and police than with armies. Keeping the military out of affairs of state and law-enforcement used to be an American principle, and I think it’s a good one. Europe does not need to match American investment in weapons, and it already has nukes.

    Kucinich’s idea for a Department of Peace is exactly the kind of “Moonbeam Brown” sort of idea that makes it hard to take him seriously. As much as I might agree in principle, I think in practice it’s silly. He won’t win, and US defense spending will only start to fall when the price becomes unacceptable to someone.

  3. A US decision to drastically disarm would mean an isolationist set of politics put in practice. However, a shrunken US does not mean automatically that Europe would have the opportunity to fill a void. On the contrary, European influence would also be diminished, as the void would only be filled by China, India and Pakistan (both mutually vying for allies in the region) and militant Islamist states, all of whom would have greater drive and cause than anything Europe could ever muster.

    No, Europe’s role is that of a follower, and a freeloader (or free-rider). It is the role that Europe’s been accustomed to, and something that is – since WW2 – natural to Europe.

  4. “BTW, a drastic reduction of the size of the U.S. military is almost inevitable; it’s just a matter of how many years it takes until we get to the point where the U.S. can no longer afford its military.”

    I doubt that. At least not in the next 30 years, minus a severe economic catastrophe. The military is only 3% of gdp. During the Reagan years, it was 8%. We spend more on healthcare.

  5. What about re-phrasing the hypothetical a little more broadly: Absent the US, what security problems would Europe have to attend to?

  6. linden:

    “I doubt that. At least not in the next 30 years, minus a severe economic catastrophe. The military is only 3% of gdp. During the Reagan years, it was 8%. We spend more on healthcare.”

    The US government does not have 100% of the GDP at its discretion. The only relevant figure is whatever percentage of discretionary spending budget-wise is available for diversion towards the military. Or alternatively, what percentage increase in extra budgetary revenue can be accrued by tax hikes.

  7. Markku:

    “However, a shrunken US does not mean automatically that Europe would have the opportunity to fill a void.”

    What “void”? And why must it be filled? Did you yearn for a replacement to fill the “void” left behind by the collapse of the Soviet Union?

  8. Doug:

    “What about re-phrasing the hypothetical a little more broadly: Absent the US, what security problems would Europe have to attend to?”

    None, broadly speaking, aside from maintaining internal security. The militaristic expansion desired by some has nothing to do with defence.

    Maintaining some form of control over Middle Eastern oil supplies may be a reason for EU military expansion should the US suddenly implode, but that has to be weighed against the costs of the inevitable blowbacks.

    Becoming the world’s policeman, Defender of Democracy, and Champion of the Oppressed, are fantasies that should (IMO) be entertained where they belong: in private.

  9. Elliott: History has shown that power abhors a vacuum. In the case of the USSR, the void was filled by an eastward-expanding NATO.

    Sooner or later competing entities will be vying for regional dominance; the question remains do we want to see Iran emerge as a major military power (it certainly has the resources to do so), or the Sunni theocratic states of the Arabian Peninsula, or see Pakistan and India come to nuclear blows, or have China adopt an expansionist policy to divert dissent at home.

    Can Europe handle those issues? Most likely Europe will turn inward, and imagine itself as the arbiter of all that is decent and civilized, and issue moral proclamations that have no effect whatsoever on the antagonists.

    The fantasies that will be entertained will be those of the Europeans, who will imagine that their opinion still matters in the world.

  10. Biff, er, Markku,
    That’s ‘Nature’ that abhors a vacuum, and Power that ‘corrupts absolutely’.

    It would be a shocking success if Europe does turn inward and finds peace for the first time since, what, millennia ?

  11. So, Markku, you seem to be imagining a Europe that is little more than Switzerland writ large. And this is bad because…?

  12. Markku:

    Security and militaristic expansion are two different matters entirely. That the EU must guarantee its own safety, either within the framework of defensive aliances or outside, is logical. However what benefits would expansionism bring to the average EU citizen, other than facilitating penis-comparison matches on Internet between netizens with nothing better to do?

  13. Firstly, I’d put this into the realm of ‘things that ain’t gonna happen’. My good statistical friends at say this.

    Cutting US military expenditure to a third of its current , from $400B to $133B would:
    a. Reduce US expenditure to less than European – $190B in 2002.
    b. Reduce Expenditure/capita to around $350, about 26th, half that of France, and something similar to Luxembourg.

    So, if they did, what would happen? I’d assume they’ld have to axe all of the missile defense, mothball the Stealth programs, and make commanders ask permission from their mums before firing off those expensive tomahawks. They might have to refocus away from the expensive toys, and back towards traditional military expenditure, and bring their army manpower numbers up to something comparible to Europes, which, one might argue is half of their current problem in Iraq. In fact the whole scenario doesn’t seem to have a single downside……

  14. It seems perverse of Markku to claim that NATO is fulfilling a power vacuum in the former Soviet Bloc; NATO lost its reason for being with the USSR’s demise, and is nowadays little more than a wide and ineffective club. Let’s remember that the only thing NATO ever did was to bomb Serbia in the Kosova Campaign.

    If it was a valid military organisation – or indeed a practical tool of American hegemony – the Americans would hardly have declined NATO assistance in Afghanistan.

    In truth it serves as little more than a diplomatic association which allows the EU-members-in-waiting a badge to mark them as ‘modern, civilised, free countries’.

    And the American umbrella is largely a myth anyway. At a strange conference I attended in London in October 2000, NATO’s then SACEUR, Joe Ralston, said that the ABM shield was needed by America as if Paris or London, for example, were threatened with nuclear attacks, Washington would be unlikely to aid them unless America were guaranteed safety.

    In other words, NATO’s mutual defence clause is a diplomatic fiction.

  15. Greg: Your comment is worthwhile responding to (as it doesn’t resort to scatological commentary about penis sizes).

    I made the reference to NATO expansion to illustrate a point. However, I actually support the dissolution of NATO, and the fiction that America and Europe are “allies”, as the trend seems to be that eventually we will be enemies.

    The sad fact remains, though, that for many Eastern Europeans, NATO membership actually does mean something more than just a badge of “modern, civilised, free countries”. And, as someone who lived (as a child) less than 200 km from the border with the Soviet Union, I’m more ready to empathise with Eastern Europeans. Shoud there ever be a threat from Russia, – should a fascist like Zhirinovksy, or a Lukashenko, take power after Putin – the Eastern European states most likely would not get any real and direct support at all from the Franco-German axis, or rest of Europe. After all, it has happened time and time again….

    Yet I still must agree with you. NATO is an anachronism, and should be abolished.

    vaara: Switzerland is a completely parasitic entity within Europe, so your use of that country as a metaphor to the rest of Europe in comparison to the world is quite appropriate.

  16. What I was getting at was to define Europe’s security needs and interests without reference (knee-jerk or otherwise) to the United States. It’s not meant to be a realistic description of what is or is not going to happen, more something like a natural scientist’s thought experiments.

    What if the United States vanished (for the purposes of the experiment, completely and utterly) but the world was otherwise unchanged? What would European governments need to do to keep Europe more or less as it is – prosperous, engaged in global trade, democratic, stable? What are Europe’s security needs, without any reference to the United States?

    With some kind of grip on that question, you can come back to talking about the world in which the US does exist and plays an active role in European affairs.

    Then, ideally, you can also talk about the things that Americans and Europeans can be doing together, because that is what the vast majority of the Washington policy community would like to be talking about.

    Navel-gazing about the transatlantic relationship is a frustrating exercise for the folks over there, because the core of Europe is supposed to be solved as a security issue. Indeed, a great deal of time, money and effort has been expended over the last decade to ensure that the core of Europe that is not a security problem should grow to include most of the continent, not just parts of western Europe.

  17. Interestingly, I’m a citizen of an EU country (Greece) which looks forward to a European military build-up, so it can *decrease* its military spending which is (as a percntage of GDP) *higher* than that of the US:

    (and which in fact is certainly higher when the “black budget funds” are taken into account), not to mention the highest number of armed forces personel per capita:

    I look forward to the day when we can leech off the European defense umbrella, so we can spend *more* in other sectors!
    Having said that, should such an improbable (in a nice utopian kinda way) scenario occur, I would wager that three things would happen:
    1. There would be a slight increase in military spending in the EU.
    2. A pan-European army would materialize in no time (or at least a “Europe of the willing” type army).
    3. Discussions concerning a possible Russian entry to the EU in some form or the other and/or tighter military cooperation between EU and Russia, would begin.

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