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  • The View From Here

    14 November 2014


    In the last few years, European countries seem to be leaning towards “NO” as their military defence budgets grow smaller and smaller.

    Since 2002, there has been a gentleman’s agreement that European states would maintain a national defense budget with a floor of 2% or more of their gross national product (GNP). Only Britain, certain Baltic states bordering Russia, and Poland currently meet this percentage for defence spending. France’s military spending has fallen over the past 5 years from 2.4 of its GNP to 1.9%, with a law ordering that there be no increases until 2019. Germany’s spends only 1.3% of its GNP on defence. Despite the United States making deep cuts in its defence budget, it currently spends 3.6% of its GNP on defense. The U.S. is responsible for 22% of NATO’s annual budget and also provides the bulk of NATO’s personnel and firepower. Why is defence spending important? Without these defence budgets, NATO is unable to serve the world in the way it has done for many decades. This is at the time a new Cold War with Russia appears to be opening.

    NATO has been one of the most important political-military alliances to-date. It was founded after World War II by North American and Western European states to prevent the expansion of the Soviet Union further into Europe. NATO has helped set the security for war-torn Europe to become what it is today, whole and free. From its recent low-key appearances, NATO has lost its energy, its show of strength.

    This lack of energy, lack of appetite for NATO to step forward with relish in recent confrontations is strongly influenced by the same lack of interest by European governments and by the European Union. Back in 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated, “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the US Congress to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

    During recent months, the Russian Federation has invaded another sovereign state and claimed part of its territory. It is still poised to enter the Ukraine despite a recent ceasefire agreement. In response, Europe and NATO have only managed the small gesture of applying economic sanctions against it. Economic sanctions take many years to produce any significant financial bite. Also, history shows that such sanctions cannot move a population to influence a government to change its tactics if that government is autocratic in its governance. During NATO’s most recent summit meeting in Wales, U.K. in September 2014, NATO members were unable to agree to any stronger demonstrations of condemnation against Russia than economic sanctions. Germany, with a strong dependency on Russian oil and gas, has been unmovable from its preference of using diplomacy. This would include further threats to Russia of more economic sanctions if Russia doesn’t extradite itself from the affairs of the Ukraine. One of the least-discussed issues during the September Summit was that most of NATO’s 28 members currently fail to devote 2% of their GNPs to defence spending.

    There continues to be a need for a strong and reliable political-military alliance in the world. In the past several weeks, incursions by Russian military aircraft are back at levels not seen since the height of the Cold War. By November 2014, NATO planes have carried out more than a hundred interceptions of Russian aircraft (most in the past several weeks) which is three times more than in 2013. Multiple Russian aircraft have flown down the UK coast to Portugal, over both the Baltic and the Black Seas. Norway has been singled out for aggressive activity while Russian aircraft has been spotted as far away as the Canadian and the Californian coastlines. States, especially in Europe, need to wake-up to their own military responsibility. Global security including NATO security should not be left to only a few states including the United States but should be undertaken by all concerned states. While it may be unreasonable to expect states to raise their defence spending this year or next, it is certainly achievable within the next 3-5 years.

    The End

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