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France takes notice, the Yanks aren’t coming

by Doug Bandow

Europe is slowly disarming. Yet the continent no longer can rely on America to fill the gap. That realization has given France pause. Other European states also may start taking their security responsibilities more seriously.

The Europeans have been cutting military spending for years. EU leaders still might talk about creating a continental foreign policy and military, but European peoples exhibit little interest in paying the resulting bill.

Earlier this year NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared that “There is a lower limit on how little we can spend on defense.” But what is it?

Europe may be moving toward eventual disarmament, but a slight sign of hope is flickering in France. Although modern French presidents don’t look much like reincarnations of Emperor Napoleon, they are not shrinking violets internationally, recently fighting wars in Libya and Mali. However, in both cases Paris required assistance, primarily from America.

Europe’s rising enthusiasm for war is ironic. Observed Philip Stephens in the Financial Times: “Europeans have caught the interventionist bug just as the U.S. has shaken it off.”

However, France’s financial difficulties created pressure for additional cuts in military outlays. The Hollande government recently released its defense review, known as the Livre Blanc (White Book). Although the government reduced its rapid deployment forces, it “opted to keep France’s air, ground and sea capabilities, while freezing defense budgets over six years,” noted the Economist.

Outlays will shrink in real terms and as a percentage of GDP, but “Dark talk of the loss of 50,000 jobs proved unfounded. Planned yearly cuts will be smaller than under … Nicolas Sarkozy. France will maintain its capability for expeditionary warfare, and boost special forces.”

Although opposition legislators complained that the proposed force was inadequate for France to act alone, a budget increase was inconceivable in today’s economic climate. Still, Paris apparently realized that if it is going to continue to be a “global nation,” it no longer could expect as much help from across the Atlantic.

As the French White Paper delicately put it, Americans will “prove more selective in their overseas engagements.” This led what the Economist termed “the recognition that France may have to step up militarily in the Mediterranean and Africa.”

That requires not just sufficient forces but the right forces. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called some of his nation’s deficiencies “incomprehensible,” requiring Paris to spend more on aerial refueling and intelligence, for instance.

Explained Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research: “Planning to operate in a world where the Americans will be in only a supporting role changes everything. It is essential that we get the right kit to do it.”

It long has been obvious that Washington’s promise to protect prosperous and populous allies created a disincentive for them to do more for their own defense. During the Cold War the Europeans routinely violated their promises to hike military expenditures, even in the face of the numerically superior Red Army.

Japan kept military (“self-defense”) outlays below 1 percent of GDP. Since the mid-1990s South Korea has skimped on its armed forces budgets while providing the North with $10 billion worth of assistance as part of the Sunshine Policy — even as North Korea threatened to turn Seoul into a “lake of fire.”

American officials were reluctant to intervene in Libya and have even less enthusiasm about joining the Syrian civil war. As the U.S. further reduces capabilities, even Paris realizes that Washington might say no to its next war proposal.

U.S. policymakers should learn from this experience. Instead of bashing the Europeans, insisting that they spend more when they see no compelling reason to do so, Washington should simply shed the burden of Europe’s defense. Inform America’s long-time friends and allies that the cheap ride is over. Then the Europeans can decide how much to spend to defend what and bear the consequences.

Whether the issue is Kosovo, Libya, Georgia or Syria, absent a compelling interest for America, military action should be up to Brussels, or Paris, London, and Berlin. There’s still value in security cooperation. And Washington obviously could help the Europeans become militarily self-sufficient. But the time for a U.S.-dominated alliance is over.

Economists long have said that incentives matter. France’s behavior proves that they do. When Paris believed that it could rely on Uncle Sucker, the former did one thing. When France realized that the Yanks really might not be coming, it did something different. Washington should send the same message to the rest of its defense dependents.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of “Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire” (Xulon).

  • The Sahel

    This is actually a very interesting article, because I haven’t read this information anywhere else BUT it seems to be a logical reaction to years of reliance on the US, which can no longer intervene as the world’s police. I, for one, am glad the US won’t be intervening as much in countries much closer to Europe.

    • FF

      It isn’t that we can’t intervene, it is that we are choosing not to. And every troop or tank we have and had in Europe was at the invitation of those government’s, so don’t make it seem like we where at where we weren’t wanted.

  • 思德

    I’m an American. I wish we would stop spending so much money defending countries who are more than capable of spending the coin to defend themselves and their interests. Europe is all grown up, and the USSR is not a problem anymore. Let the EU take care of the EU. The new front where real power is needed is the Pacific, where China is busy antagonizing all of its neighbors. We need to stop wasting our time and energy in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

    • Christopher-trier

      Or, more likely, national militaries can be bolstered and, when necessary, work under joint-leadership as has been the case before. Your condescension is noted and not warranted, especially considering the not significant amount of help that the UK, Italy, Portugal, , Spain, the Netherlands, and Denmark among others have provided the US. You might also want to consider that the US insisted on demilitarising Germany and then demanding that it re-militarises when it suited US interests.

      • FF

        You are completely mis-informed. Germany disarmed following the fall of the Third Reich. During the cold war, we had troops in Germany to counter the USSR, and to support our ally. Who do you think we are to just tell a country to arm and disarm? And what us interests are you talking about? And as for those countries you noted, the only aid those countries have ever given us was Iraq and Afghanistan. which was very appreciated, but don’t make it seem as if they are always bailing us out. They were returning the favor for the help we have done to them. I think it is in YOUR best interest to read up on history and don’t let your anti- Americanism blind you from the facts. We aren’t all a bunch of ugly Americans as you Europeans so love to paint us.

      • Christopher-trier

        No, I fear that if anyone is misinformed it is you. If anyone is blinded, it is you. The US demanded that Germany renounce war after the fortunate fall of the Third Reich. The Federal Republic of Germany complied, and then in the 1950s the US encouraged Germany to expand its military capabilities — much like the US pushed Japan to expand its military capabilities after insisting that it renounce the right of collective self defence.

        Spain and France, by the way, supported the US in its war of independence. Portugal allowed the allies to use the Azores as a re-fuelling station during the Second World War and did numerous other things to aid the allies while remaining officially neutral, a policy which allowed the Portuguese colony at Macau to be the last free port in a Japanese-dominated sea. Read up on the facts before lecturing others for not falling for American mythology. Not all Americans are ugly, but the attitude of the country is hideous.

      • FF

        American mythology? Sorry to break it to you, be we aren’t some brainwashed authoritarian state fed rhetoric like north Korea. The US did ask both Japan and Germany to renounce the sovereign right of war after WW2, which is why large amounts of US troops where and still are stationed there. Again, you seem to hold a bias opinion, you really need to put any animosity towards America aside and see the fact that Japan and Germany are two soverign states who have the rights to change their defesne how ever they like. You make it seem as if the US is some puppet master who if it wants something done, they are supposed to do it. Also, I highly doubt whatever country you live in is so perfect that you suddenly are granted the divine right to just start criticizing a country you probably haven’t even been to. If any attitude her is hideous, it is yours my misguided friend.