NATO defense cuts endanger US security
There has been virtually no discussion of defense and foreign policy in the debates leading up to the November Congressional elections even with American troops fighting overseas. Politics is dominated by questions of taxing and deficit spending in a domestic context. Yet, in Europe where efforts are underway to reduce red ink, cuts in military spending by allies could damage U.S. security.
This week's issue of Defense News features a commentary by Damon Wilson and Ian Brzezinski of the Atlantic Council. It is entitled "Trans-Atlantic Austerity: Can NATO Remain Relevant Amid Defense Cuts?" They lay out the decisions being made by allied governments hard pressed by massive deficits and sluggish economies.
Budget cuts have forced some allies to withdraw from multinational programs, including NATO's UAV program and the Joint Strike Fighter. Pressure to withdraw or reduce forces in Afghanistan will increasingly reflect the financial costs of global operations.
All allies are cutting or flat-lining defense spending. Italy reduced its budget by 10 percent. Germany may reduce the Bundeswehr from 250,000 soldiers to 163,000. The U.K. defense review could generate budget cuts of up to 15 percent. Denmark is considering $500 million in savings by 2014 out of an annual budget of just under $4 billion. Central European allies are contemplating cuts of similar magnitude.
They then discuss the strategic consequences of the cuts and the temptation to make up for lower domestic military production by exporting more weapons and equipment to whomever can afford it.
Hard economic times are prompting some European defense firms and governments to close deals that are not in the alliance's best interests. France's efforts, led by President Nicolas Sarkozy, to sell its versatile Mistral-class helicopter carrier to Russia could well be the first case. A Europe facing job losses could seek to open new defense markets, including those in Russia and China.
If Europe is viewed as less able and willing to stand with the U.S. in confronting global challenges - or even undercutting U.S. security by selling potential adversaries defense equipment - skepticism in the American polity toward the trans-Atlantic security relationship will grow.
Even before the economic crisis, the U.S. had been lobbying the European Union to keep its ban on the sale of lethal equipment to China, a limitation France and Italy have been keen to see lifted. The European withdrawal from Asia leaves their governments unconcerned about the balance of power there. To them it is just a market, but to the U.S. and is Asian allies it is a theater of growing danger.
Cuts are also being made in the United States. The Obama administration has canceled or cut back several high-end programs that have nothing to do with the winding down of the Iraq War, including the F-22 air superiority fighter, the C-17 cargo plane, the Army's Future Combat Systems, the Navy's DDG-1000 destroyer, and the missile defense Airborne Laser. Reductions in force levels in a military already overstretched due to downsizing in the 1990s may be next.
The Republican Pledge promises to maintain a "robust military" but also calls for deep cuts in "discretionary" spending, most of which goes to defense and homeland security, and the rest to traditional government functions.
The GOP is not eager to talk about entitlements which make up over half of the total Federal budget and are relentlessly growing without check. Europe presents a picture of how the Welfare State can squeeze even the rich countries who once dominated world affairs to the point where they cannot sustain even a few brigades in combat. That America is on the cusp of the same downward turn should be getting more attention than has been the case so far in this political season.