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EU defense expenditure increases no guarantee for effective defensive force improvement – expert

19:50 | 01.06.2015 | Analytic

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1 June 2015. PenzaNews. The pledge of NATO countries to expand their defense budgets, made in September 2014 during the Newport summit, were highly ambiguous, and it is currently impossible to vouch that such decisions will increase the real strength of the Western armed forces, concludes Olivier de France, analyst with the European Union Institute for Security Studies (ISS), in his article titled “Defence budgets in Europe: Downturn or U-turn?”

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In particular, he points out that the defense expenditure has been shrinking in the Europe over the span of nearly two decades, a trend that had been further exacerbated by the 2008 crisis. However, the acts of terror and armed clashes of the last year caused the European allies to reconsider their positions.

“From Crimea to Aleppo, and from Lampedusa to Paris, the events which unfolded in and outside Europe over the past year have pushed security back to the very top of the EU political agenda. That this would affect how European countries spend their money on defense was much less of a given. At the September 2014 NATO summit in Newport, Wales, European leaders signed a pledge to ‘halt any decline in defense expenditure; aim to increase defense expenditure in real terms as GDP grows, and aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade’,” the expert writes.

From his point of view, there are several potential scenarios, and one of them says that the EU countries may choose to maintain status quo in defense expenditures, contrary to their ambitious statements last autumn.

“Widespread war fatigue amongst Western publics, the end of the Cold War, sluggish economic growth since the 1990s, and more recently the financial crisis continue to make it hard for countries to spend their dwindling resources on defense,” Olivier de France stresses.

If the European leaders do agree that the recent events had been a threat to the strategic interests of the EU, it may cause the defense budgets to grow, but moderately and possibly for a limited time only, he clarifies.

“Such a move amounts to a political statement more than a military investment,” the author thinks.

From his point of view, if the officials at Brussels come to a conclusion that the new challenges threaten the vital security interests of the EU, the Europe may undergo a massive change and assume a fundamentally different doctrine soon after. In this case, the growth of defense expenditures will be followed by reforms of the army forces with more credibility and defensive capability as a result.

However, as he points out, there is still no European consensus on the issue.

As Olivier de France recalls, the Northeastern European countries displayed their readiness to go along the third scenario, and the Western EU states’ citizens prefer the second option, while the reaction of the South-West has been rather passive altogether, some nations continuing to decrease their defense expenditures in spite of the pledge.

In his opinion, a possible explanation behind this trend is that the Northeastern states had the smallest defense spendings and had already decreased their military expenses in the past, while the expenditure in the Western EU were already set at high levels.

“Defense spending in European countries like France or Denmark is painstakingly planned over four to five year periods, and it is the result of domestic and highly political compromises in every European country. The margins for maneuver year on year are therefore limited ab initio,” the author points out, adding that one should not expect Lisbon, Warsaw, Dublin, Vilnius and Stockholm to reach the same conclusions on threats to EU security.

Moreover, he thinks that some of the EU countries, expecially on the South-East, will not be able to follow their Newport summit pledges due to lack of funds caused by the poor state of the European economy.

“It is perhaps telling that in the run-up to the UK general elections [held on May 7, 2015], none of the main parties have set out exactly how they plan to balance fiscal discipline against defense spending requirements. Given that the country’s GDP has been growing over the past few years, abiding by 2% target will require either spending indeed more on defense or resorting to some creative bookkeeping,” the expert stresses.

Moreover, the poor spending policy may cause more harm than good for a state’s security even if money is not an issue, he points out.

“If a state’s procurement is too heavy, its military tools unbalanced, its equipment obsolete and expensive to maintain, or its army too personnel-heavy, money may simply go to waste or indeed create more inefficiencies,” Olivier de France believes.

From his point of view, the military spending level does not fully show the country’s actual ability to repel or prevent a potential threat.

“A given state may have all the trappings of an effective military, without the ability to use them. It may suffer from readiness or usability issues, and this goes not only for the smaller players in European defense. Numbers have surfaced for Germany, France, Italy or the UK which put readiness levels for fighter jets, attack and transport helicopters at below 50% (in one case 15%), and that there are issues with main battle tanks, amphibious vehicles and submarines. They resonate with highly publicized reports of enablers breaking down and troops in Europe training with inadequate equipment,” the ISS analyst writes.

Moreover, he adds that the balance between defense spending and actual military force change differs from one European country to another, since state’s separate budget may include such lines as veteran pensions, delayed expenditures for unforeseen military campaigns, development aid, and so on and so forth.

Concluding the analysis, the author comes to the conclusion that Europe must strive for a common position on defense expenses and achieve a unified understanding of the steps necessary to make the changes bear fruit.

“The fact remains, however, that the summit’s investment pledge has reversed a trend in spending that reached back twenty years,” Olivier de France concludes.

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