Streetwise Professor

May 28, 2017

Calling Out the Free Riding Euroweenies

Filed under: Economics,History,Military,Russia — The Professor @ 4:26 pm

Trump’s continued insistence that Europe pony up to pay for its own defense–by living up to its commitment to spend 2 pct of GDP on the military–sent the Euros into a tizzy during the recent Nato and G-7 meetings. Ironically, given that the UK is leaving Europe, the FT has been particularly obnoxious in its defense of the decided lack of Euro defense spending. Two opeds from last week are perfect cases in point.

In this one, Ivo Daalder, former US permanent representative to Nato, and diehard foreign policy establishmentarian, opines that defense expenditures are not the measure of a defense alliance. Instead, “[t]he heart of the alliance lies in the commitment of each member to defend the others.”

That this is retarded is self-evident. What, pray tell, is the commitment to defend worth if those making the “commitment” do not have the means to live up to it?

It is worth exactly nothing. If, for instance, the Russians invaded the Baltics or Poland: what could the Europeans do? They could no doubt issue stirring statements expressing solidarity with their eastern brethren. But as for actually doing something–fat chance.

Belgium has committed to defend other Nato members. Belgium has zero main battle tanks. The Netherlands has committed to defend other Nato members. The Netherlands has 18 MBTs. Germany has committed to defend other Nato members. Germany–an economic colossus–has a grand total of 250 MBTs.

Furthermore, not only do these nations have little actual combat power, they have virtually no strategic mobility. God only knows how the 18 Dutch MBTs would actually make it to Nato’s eastern marches.

When the Europeans intervened in Libya, they depended almost exclusively on the US for reconnaissance, intelligence, and aerial refueling.

In brief, non-US Nato countries have little combat power, and no ability to sustain what little power they have outside of their own countries.

Meaning that the hallowed commitment is worth exactly squat.

The second oped, by a Princeton poli sci prof, claims that Europe pays its fair share because measuring contributions to security by looking at military expenditure alone “rests on an outdated notion of global power.”

Pray tell, Professor Moravcsik, how is that “civilian power” is working out in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, etc.? Besides, I thought that the reason that Putin was such a grave threat is precisely that he clings to “outdated notions of global power”, for which the Europeans have no answer.

Moravcsik and others who make the same argument also present a false choice: “civilian power” and military power are not mutually exclusive. In fact they are highly complementary. As the Al Capone line goes, you can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone. That’s especially true when those you are dealing with do not embrace the same post-modern conceits as you.

This last point is of particular importance. “Civilian power” may work in a world where there are only sheep: it is not a feasible strategy when there are wolves, too. Moreover, playing the sheep strategy makes it quite advantageous for others to adopt the wolf strategy. If you declare force to be an “outmoded measure of global power,” and disarm yourself accordingly, as sure as night follows day, a nation or nations will find such “outmoded” notions work quite fine, thank you. Indeed, by disarming you make it quite affordable for economic basket cases that could not compete otherwise (e.g., Russia) to obtain a relative advantage in conventional military power–and a relative advantage is all that they need.  By disdaining “outmoded measures of global power” you make it eminently affordable for less edified nations to achieve an advantage.

Today Angela Merkel said that Europe can no longer rely on the US. That’s projection, Angie baby: the US has not been able to rely on Germany for decades. Well, we can rely on them for pretentious preening, carping, and ankle biting. But for actual contributions to mutual defense, not so much.

Trump is right to continue to pound of the Euros about this. If it hurts their tender little feelings, oh well. Free riders need to be called out.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Right on. Trump calling out Europeans to their faces was definitely fun.

    Comment by Krzys — May 28, 2017 @ 9:32 pm

  2. I hope President Trump really sticks to his words. Why should USA be responsible for European defense.

    Comment by Peter — May 28, 2017 @ 11:46 pm

  3. “given that the UK is leaving Europe”………


    the UK is leaving the EU….not Europe.

    Comment by david morris — May 29, 2017 @ 1:31 am

  4. “It is worth exactly nothing. If, for instance, the Russians invaded the Baltics or Poland: what could the Europeans do? They could no doubt issue stirring statements expressing solidarity with their eastern brethren. But as for actually doing something–fat chance.”

    Well, now after Trump giving a green light for Putin’s wet dreams about rebuilding the empire you can replace the word “If” with “When”… Instead, on Most of Europe investing far too little in its defence, you are right… Defending against Russia, it means going nuclear… A multinational nuclear race promises a “shining” future fo all of Us (incl. the US) no matter on what continent you happen to live…

    Comment by Dixi — May 29, 2017 @ 1:37 am

  5. The purpose of NATO was said to be “keeping the Yanks in, the Russians out, and the Germans down”. It worked. In its day. It scarcely seems worth bothering with now. I’d happily see Britain leave: damned if I want to go to war over some dust-up in Eastern Europe. The last time we got involved in one it ruined us.

    Comment by dearieme — May 29, 2017 @ 4:12 am

  6. dearieme – Peace for our time?

    Comment by Dixi — May 29, 2017 @ 5:31 am

  7. Dixi: yes, for us that would be fine.

    Comment by dearieme — May 29, 2017 @ 6:34 am

  8. The only way to alter this dynamic is to cut defense spending. Absent that, no one will seriously believe the Americans won’t ride to the rescue. Stop spending the money to station troops or engage and suddenly Germany et al will take the issue seriously. However, even without this step, it’s impressive to see the concern that threatening to pull the enormous implicit subsidies has awoken. Trump does seem to appreciate leverage – and Merkel doesn’t seem to have much of it on this issue.

    Interestingly, this is an area where Trump is clearly on the ‘right side of history’ to use the previous President’s favorite phrase.

    Comment by FTR — May 29, 2017 @ 10:07 am

  9. -Dearime- Just like in old times..”a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing…” until bombs started to drop over London… 🙂

    Comment by Dixi — May 30, 2017 @ 12:39 am

  10. “Stop spending the money to station troops or engage and suddenly Germany et al will take the issue seriously.”

    Meanwhile Russia will be in the Baltic countries, Poland…by the Elbe again… Just like a doctor in a joke who prescribed a new medicine again and again until the patient died. “What a pity, and I could have prescribed so many more medicines…”

    “Trump is clearly on the ‘right side of history’” Before judging this, let us live through it first. I mean if I and my conscript sons will survive through it all, of course…

    Comment by Dixi — May 30, 2017 @ 12:54 am

  11. @Dixi–Trump did not give a green light. As he does in almost all things, he created a tremendous amount of uncertainty. Do you think the Russians have a clue as to what he would do if they put a toe–or an armored division–into Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania? No. No one does. It could range from shrugging his shoulders to pushing the button.

    Russian confusion post-inauguration is palpable.

    As I wrote early and often–Trump is a gamma trade. He is mercurial and unpredictable. In the present instance, the incredible uncertainty over what he might do could lead to the rather good outcome that the Russians are deterred and the Euros frightened into actually contributing to their own defense.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 30, 2017 @ 3:00 am

  12. @david morris. Don’t be a twat. “Europe” is precisely the formulation that the Europeans use, ad nauseum. Every time there is some sort of tumult in the EU, the stock response from Merkel, the drunken Luxemburger, etc., is “more Europe.” They don’t say “more EU.” It is that (snarky) sense that I used “Europe” to take a swipe at the FT, which is becoming more unreadable by the day.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 30, 2017 @ 3:05 am

  13. Prof

    Germany’s pisspoor contribution to defense is actually even worse than it seems: they include maintenance of their autobahns as part of their defense spend.

    If I were Putin I would probably include Germany’s maintenance of its autobahns as part of Russia’s defense spend.

    Comment by Green As Grass — May 30, 2017 @ 3:25 am

  14. To be fair to david morris, I don’t think he was being a twat. One of the nasty tricks the pro-EU politicians and commentators in both the UK and EU have played for years is conflating Europe the continent with Europe the political entity. It allowed Euroskeptics to be branded as anti-Europe, and they were accused of being Little Englanders who didn’t like foreigners, foreign cultures, food, etc. But a lot of Euroskeptics and Leave voters are very fond of Europe, its cultures, and people – it’s simply the EU, the political entity, they don’t like. And they reasonably ask why we need all these parliaments, rules, and politicians to enjoy European cultures. So the distinction between the “EU” and “Europe” has always been an important one in the UK, for as long as I remember.

    Comment by Tim Newman — May 30, 2017 @ 12:32 pm

  15. dixi, bombs didn’t drop over London until we’d signed up for a bloody stupid promise to Poland, in alliance with a France that was a shadow of the France of 1914.

    Comment by dearieme — May 30, 2017 @ 5:12 pm

  16. @dixi —

    That all doesn’t sound like America’s problem. Is it America’s responsibility to ensure Poland isn’t overrun? If so, does it provide any benefit? Clearly no to both.

    Isolationism is thrown around as an insult. Us isolationists really ask though what exactly 50 years of intervensionist policies have brought?

    Comment by FTR — May 30, 2017 @ 8:07 pm

  17. @dearime-

    “dixi, bombs didn’t drop over London until we’d signed up for a bloody stupid promise to Poland, in alliance with a France that was a shadow of the France of 1914.”

    So Hitler after having eaten “enough” would have stopped by the Channel. Dream on…


    “Us isolationists really ask though what exactly 50 years of intervensionist policies have brought?”

    NATO=intervensionist policies?

    In any case, NATO nuclear weapons sharing and the US alliances in general have prevented a general arms race and, in the end, going nuclear in Europe, Middle East and Far East. In other words, the postwar US involvement has prevented a worldwide multinational arms race to the bottom … which, with nukes included, is usually called WWIII.

    Comment by Dixi — May 31, 2017 @ 3:46 am

  18. To be kind to the Germans, they have somewhat conflicting feelings about the idea of military power. But if the rest of Europe has forgiven them and is asking them to step up, then I think it is time that they forgave themselves and did so (or stopped using history as an excuse not to pay their share – depending on how cynical you are).

    It is true that some of the richest countries in the world (some of them much richer than the US on a per-capita basis) really ought to be able to defend themselves without needing to beg for help…

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — May 31, 2017 @ 4:01 am

  19. +++ what exactly 50 years of intervensionist policies have brought?+++

    Well, the status of the supreme world boss. You know, the one who is the ultimate judge of what is right and what is wrong and would punish those who break the established world order.

    Now too many people want just to give this status away. To Russians and Chinese, no less, who have never cleansed themselves up out of Marxism and have never adopted the ideas of capitalism and democracy as their own. Incomprehensible to me. The only motive I can see is that these people also fancy some form of socialism and dictatorship.

    Comment by LL — May 31, 2017 @ 5:57 am

  20. “So Hitler after having eaten “enough” would have stopped by the Channel. Dream on…” There’s no way of being certain, but after all that’s what he did anyway. If he hadn’t wanted to, at least we’d have had an army, and a bigger Air Force and Navy, to persuade him not to try to cross the Channel. Perhaps he’d have turned on Russia even sooner than he did. The great flaw of the British government was failing to realise the condition of France. With hindsight it’s easy to say that they should have done so when France didn’t throw the German army out of the Rhineland. But then hindsight is easy.

    Comment by dearieme — May 31, 2017 @ 8:13 am

  21. The only pushback I would have is that when Western Europe arms itself it tends to fight with itself. Maybe they have gotten over that. The other danger is that they like to use surrogates instead of their own citizens to fight their wars.

    To those that think Hitler would have stopped and just had a stalemate with Great Britain you are fooling yourself. Hitler couldn’t figure out how to get landing craft across the Channel. If he could have, he would never had attacked Russia and in the near term been content to divide Eastern Europe up with Stalin. They attempted to bomb Great Britain into submission, but the British had cracked their code and always knew when they were coming. They also had developed radar.

    Going further, it can be argued that the Soviets actually won Europe in WW2. It took 3 years for the west to initiate a front that was meaningful to the Russians. North Africa and Italy were just diversions in their opinion. The British generals, and Churchill were deathly afraid of trying to get a force to cross the channel and attack France. The fact that both the British and Germans couldn’t figure out how to cross the channel and land makes D-Day even that much more spectacular.

    Yet, I agree with Trump. Europe needs to start helping shoulder the burden.

    Comment by Jeffrey — June 2, 2017 @ 4:50 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress