The new Falklands War is fortunately just a battle of strongly worded statements thus far. But even as a mere military exercise, it is still quite an eye-opener. As a number of former British commanders have pointed out, while it may be improbable, it is by no means an impossible scenario that if the Argentinians were to occupy the Falkand Islands’ RAF airbase on Mount Pleasant, Britain would not be able to defend it.
Britain has scrapped or sold off its aircraft carriers in recent years due to defense cuts, just as it has gotten rid of its Harrier jets, capable of vertical takeoff from smaller decks. Although Britain has had an agreement with the French since last year on the possible use of their naval ships, it is doubtful that France would want to have any direct part in a possible Argentine-British conflict over the Falklands.
Cuts within NATO
“Sharing” of military technology, to use one of NATO’s favorite terms, would simply not take place. Despite the fact that this has to do with an extreme and theoretical case, it demonstrates how cuts in NATO members’ defense budgets are in fact changing and limiting the military capabilities of the alliance. It also illustrates the political limits of such sharing. And “sharing,” together with the transnational “pooling” of military means and forces, is supposed to be the basic means of dealing with increasingly limited defense spending for most member states, according to NATO.
Even the United States will be cutting back — perhaps as much as $1 trillion in the next 10 years. The huge disparity, in which America accounts for 75 percent of NATO expenditures, will not be changed. To clarify: The combined defense spending of all European NATO members in 2010 came to $275 billion, 12 percent less than in 2008. The proposed Pentagon budget for 2013, the first year of the “cuts,” calls for $525 billion, and after adding in projected expenditures for naval operations — mainly directed at Afghanistan — it comes to $613 billion.
If anything is changing here, of course, it is the attitude of the United States towards its role in guaranteeing European security. The new U.S. military strategy has shifted its primary interest to Asia and the Pacific, in addition to the Middle East. This isn’t surprising since the shift in focus began some time ago. As far back as 2004, the Bush administration spoke of reducing the American military contingent in Europe down to two out of four army brigades.
Now, of course, those earlier plans are becoming reality, and for the Americans it is an irreversible process that will only accelerate in the future. According to the new U.S. strategy, most European countries are presently security sources rather than recipients.
Premature American Withdrawal?
In other words, it is time for the relatively wealthy countries of Europe, joined together in NATO and the European Union, to fend for themselves. But the economic crisis and debt-burdened state coffers will certainly push European governments to further cuts. Although the aforementioned “sharing and pooling” is offered as a solution, the example of Czech efforts within the framework of the Visegrad Four Agreement — which are running aground due to the fact that Slovakia and Hungary basically don’t have anything more to share, and Poland traditionally sticks to its own interests — shows that the practice is lagging. We can add to this the fact that in economically suffering European states, nationalist sentiment and self-interest only stand to grow stronger. Thus it is possible that America’s supposition of Europe’s inherent ability to stand alone in defending its internal and international security is still premature.