November 19, 2004

Why won't Europe pull its weight?

I've been interested in reading books about how Europe is emerging as a superpower that will counterbalance the United States. True, I haven't actually read any books of these sorts, but the interest is there.

One question, though: Is there any scenario in which we could convince Europe to expand its armed forces? The usual paradigm seems to hold that Europe will beef up its military as it begins to rival the United States for world power. But this seems, smells, looks implausible. Stephen Den Beste's musings aside, France and Germany aren't going to go to war with America anytime soon. Also, there's no scenario in which, if France and Germany were attacked, we wouldn't come to the rescue with our outsized military force. We know this. They know this. So why should they even bother building a real military?

Unless, of course, we really focused heavily on military alliances like NATO and included Europe in everything we did. We don't do this now because the European military sucks and they slow us down. That's what happened, sadly, in Kosovo. That's why we (rightly) rejected NATO assistance in operations against Afghanistan—they were too slow, too ineffective. But if we don't force Europe to tag along, it won't see any need to expand its military. At which point we'll continue to play ball on our own, without any help. This leads to a rather uncomfortable downward spiral, where we are operationally alone—and as Iraq has shown us, we really do need that cooperation.

One quick solution I can see is to force every country to pay into a central fund for NATO—at the moment, countries that want to join the U.S. have to pay out-of-pocket, which makes the incentives for cooperation rather low. A central fund would reverse the incentives—rewarding countries that wanted to help out, in the form of cash to modernize their militaries. An upward spiral! Also, cheaper and easier than giving out military aid directly to, say, Poland.

Now, the counter-question is this: Japan has the same incentives to field a Keystone Cops military as Europe does. But they don't—their navy can blockade any country on earth save us, which is not something they'll ever really need to do. So why do they devote more attention to their military? Because they have a "warlike culture"? Or can we appeal to geostrategic principles?
-- Brad Plumer 4:20 PM || ||