Challenges for European Defense Budgets after the Economic Crisis
Patrick Keller, Konrad Adenauer Foundation | September 2011
In his paper for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Patrick Keller assesses European defense budgets in the aftermath of the economic crisis.
Dr. Keller's analysis shows how the current economic climate has led to sharp cuts in European defense spending, resulting in diminished capabilities. A credible defense system now requires greater cooperation and pooling of military resources among European states, but pooling resources, however helpful, cannot hide the fact that Europe simply spends too little on defense. European leaders must do a better job of convincing their public that a robust defense structure is necessary to maintain the international order that Europe depends on and benefits from.
His key conclusions are:
- The EU should produce a regular report on military strategy, development, and procurement that not only reflects a common political approach but also identifies potential avenues for closer cooperation among the member states. Every two years, for example, the EDA in cooperation with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy could present this report. It would require intensive--and regular--debate among all member states about military policy and would enforce consensus. It would also allow for sustained qualitative assessments and a reliable evaluation of progress. The current era of scattered initiatives (Ghent, Weimar, entente frugale) would give way to a more focused and substantial approach demanding and rewarding greater political effort, visibility, and leadership.
- Europe should make better use of best-practice models. Europeans have indeed gained a lot of experience in common security over the last two decades. Those experiences range from first steps in pooling and sharing to jointly fought missions, and they are contained in existing institutions such as the Eurocorps and the European Battle Groups. But there has been too little exchange and discussion of these experiences; if at all analyzed and processed, they vanish in separate bureaucracies. Parliamentarians, EU and national, would be well advised to press for greater transparency and rigor when it comes to learning from the best-practice models buried in these treasure chests. The ideas derived from comparing notes might create the political tailwind that defense issues in Europe are waiting for.
- European leaders need to change the tone of the debate. It has been all about saving money when it should be about security. Most Europeans do not feel threatened at all, and they do not grasp that their freedom, their wealth, and their values depend on a liberal world order that is in constant peril. Europe benefits enormously from the stability of the international system, but it does relatively little to uphold it. International order, though, is never a given; it needs to be created and sometimes defended with force. Leaders and elites in Europe need to communicate this reality to the people. Otherwise, they will not get a democratic mandate for solid defense expenditures. And while pooling, sharing, and cost-cutting exercises can ameliorate the consequences of a lean budget, it is clear by now that security and a responsible role in international affairs come at a price. Europe cannot pool and share its way out of this dilemma. In the end, one needs to buy things--planes, tanks, rifles, computers--and pay the people using them. The sooner Europeans come around to this insight, the more likely they will remain safe, independent, and influential actors in the international arena.
The full report "Challenges for European Defense Budgets after the Economic Crisis" by Patrick Keller, Coordinator Foreign & Security Policy at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, is available for download as a PDF.