Time to withdraw the US defense commitment to Europe


As European countries continue to deeply cut their defense budgets, capabilities, and military force structure to fund their increasingly expensive and bloated welfare states, more and more of the defense burden is being borne exclusively by the US. Even formerly formidable secondary military partners like France and Britain are now gutting their militaries, and Britain is preparing to cut its armed forces even further.

Therefore, it is overdue to withdraw the US defense commitment to Europe, except that of nuclear deterrence (in other words, against all but the most catastrophic threats). The European Union, collectively, has a larger GDP and a far larger population than the US. European countries are theoretically capable of creating adequate militaries – they just don’t want to.

Unequal burden sharing, i.e. freeriding

The Europeans are essentially freeriding on the backs of American troops. Whereas during the Cold War NATO was a serious alliance of serious members with a serious mission, it is now an alliance of weak European states and Canada which expect the US to defend them. In other words, they expect something for nothing.

During the Cold War and the early 1990s, Europe and Canada accounted for roughly half of NATO defense spending and the US for another half, so the burden of defending Europe was equally shared. But since the Soviet Union’s fall, European countries have foolishly and wrongly concluded that there is no longer any threat to their security and have dramatically cut the budgets, force structure, capabilities, and weapon programs of their militaries.

In 1989, France and Britain were both spending over 4% of GDP and each of them had over 400 combat aircraft (Britain actually had almost 600). Today, that is down to only 271 in France and slightly over 200 in Britain. The UK spends just slightly over 2% of GDP on defense, while France spends just 1.76%.

Indeed, French Wikipedia openly notes the sharp decline of France’s combat aircraft fleet. The French Air Force had over 330 combat jets in 2006, but the “review” (read: propaganda pamphlet trying to justify deep defense cuts) ordered by President Sarkozy in 2008 cut that to 255 (300 for the entire French military, including 45 for the Navy). The most recent “review” ordered by President Hollande has cut that even further and deeply, to just 180 for the Air Force and 225 for the entire French military!

In addition, the French army’s fleet of tansk will be cut to just 200; the fleets of other ground vehicles, and of Army helicopters, will be cut as well. The entire French army will consist of just 7 brigades! Meanwhile, the Navy will lose 5 frigates through retirement without replacement, and it can forget about a 4th amphibious ship or a second aircraft carrier. The Air Force will see its tanker and airlifter fleets cut in addition to the fighter fleet.

And if that were not enough, FAF Chief of Staff Gen. Denis Mercier has recently announced that, due to insufficient funding, only a part of FAF pilots will receive full flight training, while many other pilots will receive only bare-bone basic flight training and will otherwise be unready for combat. That is, when war erupts, they will need many months to become proficient. This is deceptively called “tiered readiness” – an Orwellian newspeak for “at least half of the force being undertrained and unready for combat”.

In 1989, Spain spent 2% of GDP, and Germany over 3% of GDP, on defense. That is now down to less than 1.5% in Germany and less than 1% in Spain! Their combat aircraft fleets, and inventories of other military equipment such as ground combat vehicles and warships, have likewise declined sharply as well.

The Italian military has also cut its fighter and warship fleets and its order for F-35 aircraft. The same stories are being repeated throughout the continent.

European defense spending is not only meagre and shrinking, it’s also wasteful: European countries have many different types of tanks, IFVs, APCs, fighters, and other military platforms, when there’s usually just one or two in the entire US military.

And you know what’s funny about this? That the US, by extending its defense umbrella to Europe, has encouraged this.

Now, what exact shortcomings have these deep European defense cuts caused? Won’t Europe do just fine defending itself even after all offense cuts are implemented?

Answwer: No, Europe will be all but defenseless if they’re implemented. Because already the previous defense cuts have downgraded European military capabilities dramatically.

In 1999, during Operation Allied Force (the NATO bombing of Serbia), the US had to fly not only the vast majority of combat missions, but also all of the aerial refueling and airborne early warning missions. In Afghanistan, the US alone supplied the absolute majority of troops and the vast majority of equipment and funding while several NATO countries, such as Germany, completely banned their troops from participating in any combat.

The 2011 operation against Libya, Operation Odyssey Dawn, was even moreso an example of the joke that European militaries have become. The US once again flew the vast majority of combat and air refueling missions. Britain had cut its air force so badly that it could supply only 12 combat pilots and had to bring in instructors from its pilot schools to fly some missions. European countries also ran short on precision strike munitions – forcing the US, once again, to fill the gap.

Last year’s French mission in Libya, Operation Serval, revealed how badly weakened the French military had been even by the previous, pre-Hollande, defense cuts. France flew all of the combat missions, but could not supply enough ground troops to pacify the country (it sent only a little over 4,000) and lacked enough tanker and airlift aircraft to support its own troops – forcing the US, once again, to fill the gap.

And yet, the Hollande administration plans to cut the French Air Force (and the rest of the French military) even further, including its tanker, airlifter, and especially strike jet fleets – at a time when the FAF is STILL fighting in a country three times the size of France while still having to protect French airspace and provide nuclear deterrence.

But Paris can do so, because, as with other European countries, whatever it does, the US will come to its rescue. The Europeans have no incentive not to gut their militaries – if anything goes wrong, the US will ride to their rescue.

By extending such a guarantee, the US has encouraged security dependence on the US no different from the welfare dependence which European and American welfare states have acknowledged: behaving irresponsibly, knowing that whatever you do, the government will take care of you.

Why are there so many welfare dependents in the US and Europe? Because the US and European welfare states promise to provide for all of their citizens’ needs, from cradle to grave, regardless of their ability to provide for themselves and of their past behavior. You don’t have to be responsible. Whatever happens, the government will take care of you.

Similarly, the US has, for over 20 years, tolerated the continued gutting of European militaries by their own governments, which continues to this day. Europeans’ thinking is simple: “We can afford to cut our militaries deeply because even if we do, the US will come to our rescue. The US will defend us; we don’t have to defend ourselves.”

All that American politicians have in the past been willing to do has been to verbally criticize the Europeans for gutting their militaries. But they haven’t been willing to force the Europeans to face the consequences of their actions. It’s like warning a rules violator or an unruly child that you’re fed up with his behavior without actually imposing any consequences on him.

It’s time for US policymakers to finally force the Europeans to grow up, face military realities, and face the consequences of their actions. Enough is enough. The Europeans have been allowed to freeride on the backs of brave American troops for far too long.

It’s time – actually, it’s long past time – to withdraw America’s defense commitment (except the extended nuclear deterrent) to Europe. The US should continue to provide a nuclear umbrella to Europe, but otherwise, the countries of the Old Continent should be forced to fully provide for their own defense – from ground capabilities to missile defense. All US troops and assets not related to nuclear deterrence should be withdrawn to the US, and all US bases not related to that single mission should be closed (except the Landstuhl military hospital).

As CSIS defense analyst Clark Murdock says, “The Europeans will start providing for their own defense only if they feel the cold from a withdrawing US security blanket.”

As long as the US is willing to play Uncle Sucker, the Europeans will only be too happy to oblige.

7 thoughts on “Time to withdraw the US defense commitment to Europe”

  1. The Europeans would rather fund Muslim terrorists with their taxes, than their own military. Let the Russians conquer them.

  2. Nobody in Europe cares, the US only has a tiny force in Europe of 30,000 troops in Europe, a couple of front line airbases, a naval base in Italy which supports the US Sixth Fleet in the Med and around the Middle East. Whilst of these 30,000 troops many are engaged in logistics in relation to US Forces globally or serve in places such as the US Military Hospital in Germany which treats US Troops who have been severely injured in laces such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The US also has a lot of spy bases and other such facilities, such as the NSA base at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, the CIA Communication hub at Croughton in Northamptonshire, the USAF Intelligence facility at Alconbury in Cambridgeshire and Fylingdales in Yorkshire which is part of the US Ballistic Missile Early Warning Network and has been giving America warning of a potential nuclear missile strike since the 1950′s. The US also uses UK bases overseas and taps cable landing lines at Bude, the UK being a global hub for European and Global internet traffic due to our position of the coast of Europe.

    In terms of Europe, EU countries represent over a quarter of global military spending, have over 1.5 million regular army troops, 10,000 armed vehicles and quite an armada of surface ships and submarines and the 500 million people in the EU are more than capable of defending themselves against a declining Russian population which stands at 143 million at present, but is predicted to decline to around 100 million over the next century. As for Russian military spending it does not even equate to the joint spending of France and the UK.

    The Americans can leave whenever they wish, and most of there bases are for their benefit and not ours, and they are certainly not critical to our defence.

    Jack (United Kingdom)

    1. You are totally wrong.

      Firstly, the real (as opposed to the official) Russian military budget is already larger than the combined military budgets of the UK and France – and the Russian military is far, far stronger than the miniscule, pathetically weak militaries of all EU countries put together and on par with the US militar in most respects.

      The EU’s native population is set to decline even much more than that of Russia, and the latter’s economy is due to overtake France’s in size in several years – but not Britain’s, PROVIDED that the UK a) continues free market policies b) continues to welcome immigrants c) remains a fully fledged member of the EU.

      EU countries’ “militaries” are weak and pathetic, with only the partial exceptions of France and, less so, Britain. France has the continent’s only fully-fledged carrier; Italy and Spain each have one midget “carrier” that would only qualify as an LHA/LHD in the US. Britain has zero aircraft carriers and will not have any until HMS Queen Elizabeth joins the fleet – if that ever happens. The entire French Air Force has a grand total of 226 fighters (due to shrink to 180 under the new Defence White Paper). The RAF has only 160 Typhoons plus a handful of ageing Tornados.

      The utter weakness and uselessness of European “militaries” was fully revealed for the whole world to see a number of times, most recently in Libya in 2011, where, as in Kosovo in 1999 (and in Iraq, 1991 and 2003, and in Afghanistan since 2001) the US contributed the overwhelming majority of the troops and platforms committed and flew the vast majority of strike, AEW, ISR, and aerial refueling missions. And when the tiny precision munition stockpiles of European countries were depleted, the US, once again, had to make up for the gap.

      As for the number of US troops in Europe, it still stands at over 70,000, and these include fighter wings, warships, and Army combat brigades, and will, in the future, include 4 BMD capable warships and ground-based BMD personnel and platforms – at a substantial cost to the US taxpayer.

  3. I would add here that European defence policy is not actually centred upon a self-defence capability but upon an industrial policy. Now this includes my own country when I says that the object is to keep a few defence contractors in business on VASTLY overpriced contracts which deliver weapon systems which are a) late, b) vastly over-budget, and c) bought in far too few quantities (especially spare parts) to be of any use if we really found ourselves in a shooting war.
    As I am sure you know, ZM, my dear British government is committed (along with most of the Western states) to buying the Bankruptcy Fighter. Which we are going to fly off of our two new carriers, one of which we will probably loan/sell to the French, and try to fly them as little as possible for fear of crashes when the single engine develops a fault.

    1. Thanks for all these comments, wien1938. Yes, the UK govt, along with 8 others, is now committed to buying the most overpriced fighter ever. The Rafale would’ve been a much better choice for the RN.

      1. Obviously🙂 But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Nor is the Rafale, since HMS Queen Elizabeth is already at an advanced stage of construction.

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