America should let Europe build its own military

America should let Europe build its own military
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At a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa MayTheresa Mary MayNo 'post-Brexit doom' indeed: Watch Britain boldly move forward Labour's loss should tell Democrats not to tack too far to the left Is Corbyn handing Brexit to Boris Johnson? MORE, President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE once again brought up European defense spending. He said, “The Prime Minister and I agree that our NATO Allies must increase their defense spending. We’ve both been working very hard toward that end. … We expect a growing number of nations to meet the minimum 2 percent of GDP requirement.”

Handwringing by officials in Washington has been a long-standing part of America’s relationship with its NATO-Europe military allies — and rightly so. An alliance is only as good as its members, and America’s wealthy European allies have a dismal record of military spending and readiness.

Washington should continue to encourage Europe to meet its defense spending obligations under NATO, but America should also not stand in the way of a unified European military. The United States should welcome European allies that are reasonably strong, autonomous, and capable of both defending themselves and assisting America abroad. Currently, most European powers’ militaries are little more than glorified peacekeeping forces used on occasion for distributing international aid. This is unacceptable and a liability.


American forces and logistical support are deployed in multiple wars across the world in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Worries about another conflict with Iran abound, and it is still unclear where rising tensions with China and an unclear future with North Korea could lead. European powers, like any self-respecting countries, are responsible for defending themselves and for taking themselves seriously. If they do not, they cannot expect to be treated as equals by their friends or enemies.

Take the example of Libya. America let its NATO allies lead the bombing campaign against Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, only to eventually have to bail out the Europeans when they couldn’t handle it. In what should have been an easy task for first-rate powers versus a third-rate dictator, European states ran out of ammunition and faced shortages of personnel, money, parts and weapons systems. Italy did not have the funding necessary to use its aircraft carrier for long, and France’s carrier had to leave for repairs. America had to provide additional bombs, intelligence, and reconnaissance. Imagine an alliance that can’t fight waging war against a nation with an air force or navy.

As if that weren’t enough, it should be noted that Germany — the world’s fourth largest economy — has an army with guns that cannot shoot straight when too hot, and its soldiers don’t have enough vests, winter clothing or secure radios. Nearly 30 percent of its jet fighters don’t work, and it has few-to-zero functioning submarines, tanks, or heavy transport planes.

With the United States rightly concerned with challenges at home and arguably in Asia, if another Crimea-style crisis happens, NATO should be able to rely on Germany to rush forces to the Baltics or Poland. How can most European allies claim to be ready to face external threats or credibly lend America meaningful support when their own militaries are in such poor shape? This is a bad deal for Americans, our service members, and taxpayers.

Washington is justified in its continued pressure on Europe to meet its military spending obligations under NATO. But if America really does want a Europe that is able to significantly contribute to its own defense and the defense of the United States, then Washington should get out of the way of European defense initiatives. The European Union claims it wants to develop a military of its own, or at least more effectively pull together its members’ armed forces and defense industries. America should let them. Given how hard it is to get the Europeans to take defense seriously, Washington should not pour cold water over every such proposal.


For instance, in May, the United States sent a stern letter warning against European defense integration plans that restrict the involvement of American defense contractors. Washington worries that an EU military would weaken NATO by duplicating abilities. But given the already weakened state of European NATO, Washington ought to encourage any attempt to fix its allies’ defenses. As Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen argued, “[we] are doing what our American friends have been demanding we do for years.”

American officials in Washington should agree with her. After all, recently Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDemocratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment MORE was asked about Germany’s small increase in defense spending to about 1.35 percent of GDP — still short of NATO’s agreed-to target of 2 percent. Pompeo said, “Most importantly, the President is not satisfied with it. ... We do need them to step up. They’re an important, big economy inside of the EU, and we need them fully engaged and devoting adequate resources to the protection of Europe.”

Why not encourage both greater European defense spending and integration efforts? America’s allies may be militarily weak right now, but they have the wherewithal to develop and field modern military power—they just choose to cheap ride on the United States. Together, NATO-Europe can pull together a capable force for self-defense and assistance abroad. That would be beneficial both for Europe and for the United States. NATO is an alliance in which everyone should pull their own weight through real burden-sharing — and America should demand its rich allies step up.

John Dale Grover is a fellow with Defense Priorities and an assistant managing editor at The National Interest. His articles have appeared in Stars and Stripes, Real Clear Defense, Defense One, Fox News, and The American Conservative.