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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

12 October 2005

The military balance

The Financial Times writes, “Two of Nato's most respected retired generals will issue today a stinging indictment of European military capabilities.” From the report: “Failure to meaningfully improve Europe's collective defence capabilities in the coming years would have profoundly negative impacts on the ability of European countries to protect their interests, the viability of Nato as an alliance, and the ability of European countries to partner in any meaningful way with the US” (1).

This is a serious critique; and a worrisome prescription. A healthy skepticism about world affairs would be welcome in Europe, which seems to be caught in a cocoon of peace. But the requisite investment in military spending can come about only one way: as a result of geopolitical rivalry with the United States.

The European Union has made no secret that it would like to offer an alternative to American leadership. But a military buildup cannot be the result of cheap talk from Europe’s leaders. It comes from a mindset which looks at the world and sees spheres of influence, which perceives the extension of American power as hostile. Until this is felt in Brussels, there will be no large buildup. And when it is felt, then the world will be in for big trouble.

This doesn’t mean that Europe should do nothing. A potent N. Africa strategy is what Europe needs more urgently (2). As immigrants travel, so will other goods, many of which Europe would prefer not show up at its shore. As a security threat, this is Europe’s number one priority. The number two priority should be an effective civilian-military force. To complement American hard power, this could be indispensable. It could also be deployed effectively and independently in regions where natural disasters have occurred (think Tsunami or the S. Asia earthquake of a few days ago) or as peacekeepers where others (America) is unwilling to commit troops.

In other words, a huge investment in military spending is neither necessary nor likely. What is more important is a clearer definition of what Europe wants to do with its military—but when the answer to that question leads to increased military spending, that will be bad news for everyone.

(1) Peter Spiegel, “European military capabilities criticised,” Financial Times, 12 Oct 05
(2) Mark Mulligan and Raphael Minder, “Spain and Morocco call for joint action over tide of immigrants,” Financial Times, 12 Oct 05


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