The Other Euro Crisis

Why Europe desperately needs military collaboration

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in July 2012 (Courtesy Reuters)

When the leaders of the European Union’s 28 member states gather in Brussels for one of their regular summits on December 19 and 20, it will be the first time in five years that defense policy is on their agenda. In that interim, Europe’s defense deficit has dramatically worsened -- that is to say, its military capabilities have deteriorated as its military needs have increased. If the continent’s leaders fail to do something to reverse this trend, they will almost surely come to regret it in the years ahead. For too long, Europeans have been in denial about the way forward. They must finally agree to collaborate on defense policy.

In the words of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy, Europe foreign policy faces “increased volatility, complexity and uncertainty” in the years ahead. The Arab Spring and the war in Syria continue to spill over into Europe in the form of refugees and an increased threat of terrorism; meanwhile, Russia continues to insist on asserting control over a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine. At the same time, Europe’s prosperity has never been more dependent on the maintenance of secure trade routes abroad. Keeping sea-lanes open is a particular priority, since 90 percent of European trade is transported by sea. There is no shortage of foreign policy challenges that crucially affect European interests, if not European survival.

Until now, Europe was mostly content to rely on the United States to take the lead in addressing such matters. According to an analysis by the office of the NATO secretary-general, the share of the NATO defense burden falling on the United States has increased from 63 percent in 2001 to 72 percent today. The average defense spending of the United States’ NATO allies was 2.0 percent in 2000 and had slumped to 1.5 percent by 2007. This state of affairs has only worsened with the onset of the economic crisis. In contrast, the United States spends 4.6 percent of its GDP on defense. 

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