The nations of Europe, whether considered singly or collectively as the European Union, are not likely to build up their militaries anytime soon. The most obvious reason is they do not have the money. The EU is still struggling with the recession. Unemployment is stuck at 12%, economic growth is sluggish, and the simmering sovereign debt problems afflicting the southern Mediterranean countries, including France, have only been mitigated, not solved.
Yet even in flush times, the high costs of generous social welfare transfers preclude any increase in military spending significant enough to make France, Germany, or England a credible global military power. All their recent participation in military operations, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya and Mali, have taken place with European forces, superb as they are, dependent to some degree on the United States, which has had to provide the transport, intelligence, ordnance, and the bulk of the manpower required to make those operations a success.
But we must remember Napoleon’s dictum that in war, morale is to material as three to one. Quite simply, Europe has sheltered beneath the U.S. military umbrella for nearly seven decades. A U.S.-dominated NATO has provided for Europe’s defense, and America’s ability to project force globally has meant that U.S. taxpayers have financed the modicum of order necessary for Europe’s economies to function globally. For example, the EU imports about 14 percent of its oil from the Middle East, much of it passing through the Straits of Hormuz. Take away the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and keeping the straits open becomes highly problematic for the EU.
More importantly, after World War II the EU nations have made a virtue of their necessary dependence on U.S. military power–which also has freed up the revenues that allow Europe to afford their generous social welfare programs–by means of a “postmodern” foreign policy based on the dubious nostrums of moralizing internationalism. Having presumably been schooled by two world wars to eschew the zero-sum interests of nationalist loyalties, the EU touts “supranational constraints on unilateral policies,” as Oxford University’s Kalypso Nicolaides puts it, in order to create an interstate Kantian community of “autonomous republics committed to relating to each other through the rule of law.” Such a “security community” favors “civilian forms of influence and action”–the much-celebrated “soft power”–over military ones, and will attempt to create “tolerance between states” and to “move beyond the relationships of dominance and exploitation with the rest of the world.” Its guiding principles will be “integration, prevention, mediation, and persuasion.” In short, a means of creating global order that avoids the gruesome messiness of collective violence, and the unforeseen consequences and unavoidable collateral damage that are tragic contingencies of every war.
Such a philosophy conveniently rationalizes the failure to build up the military power necessary for backing up such gratifying idealism whenever the EU countries have had to deal not with each other, but with murderous states like Milosevic’s Serbia or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Like Jimmy Stewart in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance–the idealistic champion of law and reason instead of violence who in the end needs John Wayne and his gun to kill the bad guy–the EU nations, from the Balkans in the nineties to Libya a few years ago, have had to rely on the U.S. to back up its fine phrases with old-fashioned, mind-concentrating violence against ruthless aggressors.
Finally, the collapse of civilizational morale among the European elites and evident in flat birth-rates, self-loathing appeasement of disaffected Muslim immigrants, rejection of religion, and commitment to nothing much beyond maintaining la dolce vita life-style, it is hard to identify the unifying beliefs that would demand a vigorous military, and for which Europeans would be willing to kill and die. After all, that is what militaries do. But the question since Homer has been, for what will one kill and die? I doubt most Europeans are willing to die for the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, or forego social welfare transfers to finance the means to kill bad guys elsewhere.
Given that it is unlikely that Europe will lose the low-cost, for them, protection of the U.S. military any time soon, and given that much of the identity of EU bien pensants is predicated on their conception of themselves as more sophisticated and civilized than crude, trigger-happy American cowboys addled by religious superstition and the work ethic, Europe will see no need to spend the money necessary to make them militarily more influential and self-reliant. To borrow Robert Kagan’s metaphor, Europe will remain content to be global shopkeepers as long as America is willing to be the global sheriff.