Military Imbalance Between USA and Europe (NATO)

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 22 March 2002

The end of the cold war with the break up of Soviet Union a decade back and launching of war on terror by US in October last year, have heightened the gap between the interests and capabilities of USA and its allies in Europe. In a way it is natural and logical provided the European Union accepts a second rate status and adjusts to it. The US in its strategic review has already indicated its focus having shifted from Europe to Asia both in terms of economic and military interaction. Hence NATO as an organization having lost its raison d’etre –– namely defence against communism (Soviet Union) –– has to undergo some radical changes and become more ‘Europeanised’ vis-à-vis USA –– rather than vent feelings like, “we refuse to be treated like ‘satellite’ states.”

Military Imbalances

The imbalance begins with military power. The United States is getting stronger, relative to Europe. It's like a marriage that has gotten out of sync –– with one partner feeling left behind as the other becomes more successful. The point can be demonstrated by comparing the US special forces in Afghanistan with the British SAS. Man for man, the British are every bit the equal of their American counterparts. But the SAS simply cannot operate as a force-multiplier the way American special forces can. They cannot call in Predator unmanned aircraft because the British have none. They cannot add their on-the-ground knowledge to information provided by satellite and tactical signals intelligence because the British lack these. They cannot create targeting solutions with airborne-targeting systems because those too are absent from the British inventory. And the British are the very best of the allies in terms of modern capabilities.

Lack of Modernisation

A country as rich as Germany is still unable to deliver more than a third of the troops it promised for peacekeeping in Kabul, on schedule, because it must rent Russian or Ukrainian transport planes on the commercial market. One country, which NATO officials refused to identify, discussed moving troops to Kabul by railroad. The European troop transport plane, the A-400 M, a variant of the European-owned Airbus, is stuck in a financing dispute in Germany and may take 8 to 10 years to be delivered.

This marginalisation due to lack of modernisation has come about mainly due to the reluctance of European nations to spend adequately on defence and having rested on American oars for half a century. In current prices, the defence budgets of the European NATO nations have declined from an aggregate of $184 billion in 1995 to approximately $159 billion in 2001. Compared to this the US budget is $379 billion with a projected increase of $120 billion over the next five years. That figure exceeds the total military budgets of the world's next 14 biggest defence spenders put together. Some European countries –– notably Britain and France –– have worked to modernize their armies and make them more mobile. Germany too, is finally engaged in reform, even as 10,000 German troops help keep the peace in the Balkans and Afghanistan. The real problem is that only 1.5% of Germany's GDP goes to the military, half the proportion allotted by the United States. Europe spends less than half of US budget on the military but on average only about $7,000 per soldier –– compared with $28,000 per American soldier i.e. one-fourth –– on research and development. 

Asian Predominance

This state of affairs can only marginally improve and Europe has to come to terms with the 21st Century being that of Asia. Even in its role of an ally, the fact is, the mercurial Europeans aren't even America's key diplomatic allies anymore. Since Sept 11, that role has been usurped by Russia's President, Vladimir Putin. No doubt, Europeans have been fighting terrorism for decades. The British coped with IRA bombs exploding in the centre of London; the French lived with bombs in the Metro and assassins in the streets; the Italians lived with Red Brigades that blew up train stations; the Spaniards continue to face regular bombings by Basque terrorists. But living with terrorism is quite different from fighting it in this era of galloping technology. There are millions of Muslims living in France, Britain, Germany and other European countries. As America’s war on terror continues unabated, this Muslim presence may become menacing for them. Thus Europe has no option but to support the US in its pursuits. 

The Way Ahead?

Taking all factors into account, IDC find the following politco-military scenario/role for Europe in the coming decade:

1.   America and Europe work together on intelligence operations and police work even if it means that the Americans fight and the Europeans clean up and keep the peace. This will be the most economical option.

2.   Europeans develop an effective working relationship with Russia with a common security system for the European continent and an allied role with USA. This will mean transforming NATO altogether.

3.   Build a multinational Allied Rapid Reaction Force of a few divisions with the command structure, communications and strategic lift capabilities required of an Expeditionary Force. This force should be equipped with precision-guided weapons like cruise missiles and smart bombs. A Rand Corporation study suggests this could be achieved by spending some $25 to $56 billion more in the next decade.

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