The U.S. is turning away from Europe and toward the Pacific region. For the old continent, this means a weakening because the constraints of austerity rule out high military expenditures.
Respect, respect, what an enormous sum! U.S. President Barack Obama wants to save $487 billion in military expenditures over the next 10 years. That means fewer soldiers, fewer weapons, worse pay and a partial withdrawal from Europe. If one is permitted to believe the campaign speeches of the Republicans, the superpower USA is about to depart from the world stage. Or perhaps not?
In reality, the American defense expenditures are not supposed to shrink at all. If no further cuts are decided upon, they will even rise — just less sharply than planned until now. The force levels of the army and marines will be reduced somewhat; some new acquisitions will be delayed or cut, but the U.S. will in the future spend even more money on its military than the next ten or fifteen largest nations together.
With the Obama strategy, the U.S. will depart from a relic of the Cold War: Since the 1950s it was their declared goal to be able to wage two larger wars at one time. But realistically it had not been that for a long time. For the war in Iraq, George Bush needed to massively pull troops out of Afghanistan. Had he refrained from doing that, Afghanistan would perhaps be a more stable country today. If the U.S. now comes to a more realistic estimation of the cost of war, that can only be good.
Even the planned withdrawal of two brigades from Europe initially appears relatively harmless. Probably only 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. soldiers will actually be relocated; well over 60,000 remain. And yet it is part of this Obama plan that should set off shrill alarm bells for us, because with this, the U.S government is reinforcing its strategic reorientation toward the Pacific arena. They want to concentrate their military resources there, to stand up to the rapidly arming superpower China. In other words: Europe should in the future be largely responsible for its own security.
The problem: We can’t. That was the case up to now and the ability diminishes further. Because in contrast to Obama’s austerity plan, the defense budgets in Europe were drastically slashed. According to NATO statistics, European member states have cut their military expenditures by a total of almost $40 billion between 2008 and 2010 — on average over 12 percent. And that was still before the Euro crisis showed up with its new, drastic savings constraints! The German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin speaks of a “defense economic imperative.” In plain terms: Austerity will enjoy absolute preference in the next 20 years.
The Libyan war shows that the future has already begun. On July 6, 2011, the war was by no means decided, Italy ordered its aircraft carriers back from the deployment. The reason: Lack of money. In other ways as well, this war revealed how little Europe can carry out by itself. The Europeans are lacking airplanes and reconnaissance resources, but also munitions. According to the analysis of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 90 percent of the military actions would not have been possible without Washington’s help. But such help, Obama’s plan makes clear, might be granted more seldom in the future.
Europe can, it is one possibility, bow out of world politics. If the Europeans give up the capability of military missions, its diplomats also lose influence. That’s what will come if European countries continue to save for themselves and look jealously at their national powers and industrial political advantages. It ranks among the sad consequences of the Euro crisis that it additionally promotes national egotism. Spare us, if Europe should someday be seriously threatened!
Spending more is not realistic; the only possibility is a radical pan-European, labor-divided solution. Each country would have to specialize; all acquisitions would be jointly decided. Most of the EU countries meanwhile have professional armies. From them, one could create a joint professional European army that would be cheaper and better than what Europe has offered until now. But this way requires the readiness to abandon centuries-long guarded national sovereignty. As long as the public in Europe ignores the cuts with shoulder shrugging, no country will be willing to do this.
In the U.S., there is little saving, but much discussion. It is the opposite with us. We will yet feel how high the price for this ignorance is.