In the wake of his announcement that the United States will be reducing its defense expenditures and force structure over the next five years, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went to Europe to plead with the NATO countries not to shrink their militaries any further. According to press reports, over the next few years Germany may reduce the size of its military by 40 percent, Great Britain by 20 percent and France by 10 percent. Coming on top of years of budget and force structure reductions, these cuts would essentially leave Europe unable to defend itself. This must be extremely frustrating to Secretary Gates who has been pleading with U.S. allies to maintain a minimum level of defense spending and to reform their force structures to make them more relevant to current and future challenges. Europe has answered Secretary Gates’ prayers. The answer apparently is no.
Since the end of the Cold War, Europe has struggled to maintain a credible, usable military capability. Most members of the NATO alliance never spent as much as did the United States, much less what was required to maintain a capable, modern force. Our European allies pursued policies that made the situation worse. Chief among these was the maintenance of national procurement authorities that prevented Europe as a whole from getting the most for its scarce defense dollars. The European Union created a single procurement agency to address this problem. There have been a number of European collaborative procurement programs such as the A400 transport and Eurofighter. But overall there has been way too much duplication of programs, organizations and activities.
The new U.S. National Security Strategy and the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review both make a point of the need for the U.S. to revitalize its alliance relationships and work more with allies. They also call for greater effort to build the capacity of partner countries. This will be more difficult if our major allies are cutting force structure and reducing funding for R&D and procurement. The consequences of the path our allies are on, if not corrected, is the continual erosion of their self-defense capabilities.
It is more important than ever for the U.S. and its major allies to coordinate military decisions and, in particular, their plans for future procurements. The U.S. needs to develop a plan for helping major allies such as the NATO countries, South Korea, Japan, the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Israel to maintain the essential elements of a modern military. The U.S. needs to create a strategy that will provide key allies with essential advanced military capabilities in such areas as integrated air and missile defense, ISR, precision strike, antisubmarine warfare, theater logistics and cyber defense. The sale of missile defense systems such as Patriot and THAAD to Gulf allies is an example of what can be done. But it is only a start.
Find Archived Articles: