The Military Gap between the US and Europe

I’ve heard it suggested that our European allies’ armies army are not in a league with that of US.  I didn’t have any knowledge to dispute or accept that, but New Republic, hardly a right wing rag, seems to concur about this weakness of our social democratic friends across the Atlantic.


Open Wide

Published on The New Republic (

How Libya revealed the huge gap between U.S. and European military might.

Lawrence F. Kaplan April 26, 2011 | 12:00 am

In 1992, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Poos, declared that “ the hour of Europe” had arrived. The minister pronounced this falsehood in relation to the catastrophe in Bosnia, where, he assured, the reach of Luxembourg and that of its European neighbors would soon put an end to the slaughter. The hour of Europe stretched across three sickening years, culminating in the spectacle of Dutch troops cuffed to lampposts and ending only when an American column of 70-ton tanks from the First Armored Division crossed the Danube.
Fast forward to 2011. News of the hour of Europe has been supplied once more, this time in Libya. The Europeans haven’t declared it so; President Obama has. Going a step beyond President Clinton, who pledged to gruesome effect that it wouldn’t be our troops venturing into Kosovo, President Obama—after conducting a de facto plebiscite on the advisability of military action against Libya—vowed, “It is not going to be our planes
maintaining the no-fly zone.” Instead, we would surrender command and control functions to “NATO,” an otherworldly organization that, it was soon revealed, we command and control. Thus, the administration argued itself into a “surgical” campaign of only a few days and a few hundred sorties. This effort, dubbed Operation Odyssey Dawn by the Pentagon, would, at most, “diminish” Libyan capabilities. The charge of dislodging Muammar Qaddafi, or whatever the point of the exercise was meant to be on a given day, would be left to our European allies. Or, as Antony Blinken, Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, put it in The New York Times on Sunday, “We did lead—we cleared the way for the allies.”

There’s just one thing: The allies don’t have spare parts.
But this is a problem for the mechanics. The president, after all, has inaugurated “a new era of international cooperation” and has said it would be best for America “to act multilaterally rather than unilaterally.” This paradigm responds to multiple needs unrelated to national security as such. It testifies to the virtue and good intentions of its architects. It offers assurance that U.S. military power serves not only national interests but also the interests of all humanity. No one has espoused this view more vigorously than Hillary Clinton. According to the Secretary of State, “We know our security, our values, and our interests cannot be protected and advanced by force alone nor, indeed, by Americans [alone].” Alas, and however respectful of the tenets of enlightened liberalism all this may sound, it provides no adequate response to a dilemma that is the stuff of structure and concrete, not ideology: Libya has exposed the true extent of what defense experts refer to as the “capabilities gap” between Europe’s and America’s military forces.
A campaign devised to showcase the benefits of multilateral action has done exactly the reverse.
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3 responses to “The Military Gap between the US and Europe

  1. The Europeans (probably correctly) don’t think it’s worth it to enhance their military given their other needs. However, Sarkozy and Cameron need to recognize that this also means they have to treat their military as a defense force, not an interventionist force. Merkel and Westerwelle’s approach to German participation (and a lesser extent Berlusconi’s) is a bit more realistic.

    Europe’s militaries are also very active in peace keeping operations, and that they can handle alongside defense. There were a lot of critics of Merkel abstaining from the Libya UN Security Council vote, but the Germans may have a better sense of just how far Europeans should go in embracing interventionism. After all, military spending cuts in the EU are far more likely than increases.

    • How do they split bills for intervention? Does Germany get a bigger share of the costs than others?

      • For military interventions each state usually pays its own costs — and they negotiate how much of the load to bear. In general in the EU Germany does pay a larger share of the costs, even in proportion to their larger economy. That comes from their traditional support of EU interests above even national interests. Or, perhaps better, they define building the EU as their primary national interest.

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