Many European Union countries have been apprehensive of military spending since losing tens of millions of people on their land in two world wars.
Now, as Russian pressure mounts on the Ukrainian border, they must face a harsh reality: Europe remains heavily reliant on US military force to avert another major battle on her own.
“The EU has almost nothing to add to the table” because of decades of a half-hearted approach to defense and security, according to Piotr Buras, senior policy fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations think tank. “As a result, Russia can simply disregard it.”
With US Vice President Joe Biden leading the charge against Russian President Vladimir Putin on the European continent, some top EU policymakers are well aware of the challenges they face.
“We must make a decision. “Either we invest substantially in our collective power to act, or we accept becoming an object rather than a subject in foreign policy,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week.
WHERE DID WE COME FROM AND HOW DID WE GET HERE?
“War, never again,” reads the visitors book at the Saint-Symphorien military cemetery south of Brussels, where German soldiers and former adversaries are buried beside the first and last fatalities of World War I. Bodies from the 1914-1918 conflict are still being dug up 100 kilometers (60 miles) away in Flanders Fields. Sites dedicated to memorials
After an equally terrible World War II, which killed an estimated 36.5 million Europeans, it was evident that things needed to change dramatically.
Germany and neighboring France, which had sparked both global catastrophes, needed to be knitted together in a tight economic embrace that would make war virtually impossible.
The union that would eventually become the EU began as a commercial group focused on steel, coal, and farming, rather than soldiers and bombs. An attempt to establish a European Defense Community and a possible European army was politically dormant, and it was never ratified by the French in 1954.
Relying on Washington became a political no-brainer after the US was instrumental in winning both world wars and later acquired a nuclear weapons to challenge the Soviet Union.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THAT?
Europeans could feel safe within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was founded in 1949 and has seen tremendous growth in military spending although many of its Western allies have lagged.
The Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, which houses NATO’s military headquarters, is next to the Saint-Symphorien cemetery. Since General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s election in 1952, it has always been led by an American.
A restaurant called “Chez L’Oncle Sam” or “At Uncle Sam,” well known for its burgers and Tex-Mex grills, is located just outside NATO’s headquarters, and that’s how NATO feels to this day.
The EU has become a global economic superpower, but it has never acquired the security and defense capabilities to match.
“The EU is frequently described as an economic behemoth, as well as a political dwarf and a military worm. That is, of course, a cliche. “However, like many cliches, it included a kernel of truth,” Borrell added.
It was brutally obvious during the 1990s Balkan wars. Jacques Poos, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, declared it “Europe’s hour,” but it took US-led NATO soldiers to make the difference.
To make matters worse, as the EU increased in size, decision-making got more cumbersome, with each nation able to threaten veto power on foreign policy and defense issues.
Many in European cities squirmed when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban paid a visit to Putin this week. He aimed for closer ties by increasing natural gas imports.
Attempts to boost European defense budget and unify weapons systems have mainly failed.
On its website, NATO summarizes the situation as follows: “When measured in GDP, the aggregate wealth of the non-US Allies exceeds that of the United States.” Non-US Allies, on the other hand, spend less than half of what the US does on defense.”
Presidents of the United States have been irritated by Europe’s reliance on the US military for more than a half-century.
WEAPONS VS. WELFARE
The disparity has political and historical roots.
The United States was determined to make the twentieth century its own, which necessitated tremendous defense spending. Postwar Western European democracies, on the other hand, developed their welfare states. Spending on hospitals and school desks has always surpassed spending on tanks, and any hint that this may change.
Even 15 years after pledging to spend 2% of GDP on defense, 13 European NATO nations still don’t meet the cut. Major countries, such as Spain with 1.02 percent, Italy with 1.41 percent, and Germany with 1.53 percent, also fell short last year.
Proponents of the EU point out that it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for maintaining continental peace. With its world-leading development aid, economic cooperation, and cultural outreach, it wishes to be a behemoth of soft power rather than hard power.
However, in the midst of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, soft power lacks the required deterrence. President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, who represent Europe’s two nuclear powers, have direct access to Putin, but the EU appears to be largely shut out of the process.
“This scenario can only improve in the long run if Europeans straighten their backs,” observed Alexander Mattelaer of the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations. “Progress at the bargaining table with Moscow can only be made from a position of relative strength.”