European defence in the age of Trump means actually taking responsibilities

Last month, we’ve seen U.S president Donald Trump slam European leaders for their lack of commitment to NATO military spending targets. Trump believes that his European partners are spending too little on defence and says that in the future, they shouldn’t rely on the States to provide for their security. In light of this policy change from America, European nations need to actually step up their game. However, this should not be done through what is known as “the community method”.

Trump’s NATO scolding doesn’t actually reflect his actions

During the 2016 election, Donald Trump repeatedly voiced criticism towards defence spending in Europe. As president, Trump’s administration initially seemed to follow through on this rhetoric : Defence Secretary Mattis gave alliance members one year to ramp up their military budgets to pay their fair share in defence spending.

In 2014, President Barack Obama, in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea, began the European Reassurance Initiative, claiming in a speech in Warsaw, Poland:

“Under this effort, and with the support of Congress, the United States will preposition more equipment in Europe. We will be expanding our exercises and training with allies to increase the readiness of our forces.”

The European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), as part of the National Defence Authorisation (NDAA), was renamed “European Deterrence Initiative (EDI)” in fiscal year 2018. This program is designed to support U.S. military presence in European countries, specifically Central and Eastern Europe. In 2017, the EDI budget increased from $789 million to $3.4 billion to fund an additional Army Armoured Brigade Combat Team (BTC), at approximately 4,000-5,000 troops, 90 Abrams tanks, 90 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and 112 support vehicles.

However, the EDI is not merely an authorisation for the funding of an American military presence, as it also specifically subsidises European fighting forces. For instance, Baltic nations such as Estonia pocket several million dollars to strengthen airbases. Lithuania is receiving funds to modernise training grounds. The focus on the Baltics is the result of being directly on Russia’s border. Additionally, Central European nations and some  Western nations such as Germany profit from U.S. support. Trump’s rants on “giving money to Germany” (in military aid) have been debunked, as direct American aid in subsidies is negligible. However, the U.S. does spend significant amounts on maintaining military bases in countries like Germany, negating the need for similar bases of their own. Funds, as every economist would confirm, are fungible. As long as Germany spends less on military defence because of the U.S. military presence, American tax money is consequently subsidising Germany.

What is curious is that despite Trump’s tough talk on NATO in presidential debates, he has yet to translate his talk into action. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense met the budget requests of the EDI, which raises spending from the 2017 budget of $3.4 billion to $4.7 billion: increasing training to improve the “readiness” of troops ($217 million), improving infrastructure ($338 million) and  furthering “building of partnership capacity” (meaning further subsidisation of allied countries’ military forces) to $267 million, compared to 2017. The U.S. has met the full extent of EDI budget requests three years in a row and rather than making European countries pay, America has instead increased its own military expenditure on the continent.

For European nations to be this dependent on the military spending of the United States is irresponsible. It is important for countries to be independently accountable for the protection of their citizens, which is often considered to be one of the core capabilities and responsibilities of the state. For that reason, focusing efforts on national defence instead of military interventions abroad should be the priority.

However, the idea of uniting all European national forces into one single military ought to raise eyebrows as well.

PESCO? No thanks

The European Union is working towards a military union. After President Trump’s announcement (and it’s still just an announcement for now) to reduce U.S military spending in Europe, Brussels has increasingly made the case for a common defence union.

The so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is a project that furthers structural integration of the military forces of the 25 participating countries. This discludes the UK, Denmark, and the neutral state of Malta, who will not be taking part. Current plans involve upgrades to maritime surveillance, armoured infantry vehicles, and artillery.

This initiative raises questions about the interaction with NATO, for which almost none of the participating states contribute the required two percent. In fact, in post-Brexit Europe, 80 percent of NATO defense spending will come from non-EU allies. We should be mindful of how much military power we concentrate in one single political structure. The European Union should explore its ability to create peace in the world through negotiation before it attempts to establish  a large, pan-European military force that should have all history buffs gasping in dismay.


This article was first published by Values4Europe.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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