Collectively, EU member states spent $281 billion on defence last year. On the face of it, that’s a heck of a lot of money; particularly when you consider it’s almost twice the EU’s annual budget (and witness how bitterly governments have been squabbling over that right now). Nevertheless, European defence budgets are dwarfed by that of the United States, which spent over $711 billion on its military in 2011. This is, understandably, the cause of some friction within the NATO alliance.
Last year, outgoing US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates gave a speech in Brussels warning that the Cold War generation of US politicians was retiring, and their successors might be less misty-eyed about the importance of NATO. Speaking “bluntly”, he argued that “if you told the American taxpayer [that the US bears] 75% of the financial burden in NATO, it would raise eyebrows.”
Of course, not everybody agrees that Europeans should be spending more on defence. In the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s, there are those that would argue money would be better spent on education, infrastructure, research and innovation. An even more serious problem, though, is that Europe gets nowhere near the amount of “bang for its buck” as the US. Whilst European defence budgets amount to about 40% of total US spending, its effective deployment capabilities in terms of boots on the ground works out to just 25% of what the US can manage.
According to a recent report (PDF) from the Spanish think-tank FRIDE:
Collectively Europeans can barely deploy and sustain 100,000 soldiers for external operations; in contrast the US has a deployable capacity of around 400,000 troops (plus vast numbers of so-called ‘strategic assets’ and other technologies that Europeans lack, such as long-range transport planes and ships, air tankers, precision-guided-munitions etc.).
This has caused some of our commenters to argue that a single European army might help reduce inefficiency and cut costs. PJ, for example, left a comment saying that:
If [European governments are] really interested in the defence of Europe, I agree that logically an EU defence force should be established. That is a defence force and not an offence force.
At a recent Security & Defence Agenda event, we spoke to Ioan Mircea Pașcu, a Social Democrat MEP and former Romanian Minister of Defense, and asked him how he would respond to PJ’s suggestion:
What about those who think that European defence spending is already too high? Peter, for example, left a comment saying that:
By freeing up the defence budget the EU can easily dedicate 8 to 9% GDP to research and education.
What do YOU think? Does it make sense to have seperate armies, navies and air-forces in the EU, some of them with only a few thousands soldiers and a handful of aircraft and ships? Should we have a single European military? Or is defence an important part of national sovereignty, regardless of so-called inefficiencies? And are Europeans spending too much or too little on defence? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.