When “NATO” (read: the Americans) instituted a no-fly zone to help rebels in Libya, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned against defense cuts by European nations.
NATO accounts for over 70% of international military spending. America accounts for more than half that.
There is value in an international military alliance that is dominated by one superpower. NATO speaks of a common history and, maybe more poignantly, a shared struggle against Soviet communism.
For several reasons, America should no longer subsidize European defense:
- We are not as dominant a force today as we were in the 20th century. More importantly, we have to worry about our own shores (or, rather, chips) against Chinese cyberterrorism. China, unlike the American Senate, knows Europe to be irrelevant.
- The Marshall Plan was the beginning of American reconstruction of Europe. If not for American pressure, the French and British would have exacted brutal reparations on Germany. We knew that intercontinental trade would be critical to redevelopment, and luckily had the wherewithal to implement it. With the Marshall Plan, America entered an era-long agreement to run trade deficits to rebuild the Old World.
- Today, Europe is not as primeval with anachronistic monarchies and egoistic governments. European nations are rich, and have some of the most robust (if inefficient) welfare states in the world.
- We spend almost 5% of our GDP on defense, while much of Europe spends less than 1%. Also, 5% of our GDP actually adds up to something significant. Theirs? Not so much.
- Americans of the 20th century remember a shared struggle against communism. Even Bill Clinton, our first baby boomer president, worked on increasing NATO spending and forged a stronger alliance (and single-handedly saved Kosovo with it). My generation doesn’t remember that struggle. Actually, what we remember is a European disdain for America and its way of life, a heavy-handed criticism of our military, and a holier-than-thou attitude towards our culture. Quite simply, unlike my Dad’s generation, we just don’t care about Europe, anymore.
- Sec. Gates was prescient enough to note this. As he told the Germans (who have the most pathetic military budget) this younger generation of Americans will find it harder to justify the placement of Patriot missiles in Europe while at the same time slashing social welfare stateside.
- Oh, and, while we cut our welfare spending – French kids protest an earlier retirement and the idea of working more than 35 hours a week.
Ultimately, with the evaporation of communism, the resurgence of a somewhat robust Europe, and a struggling economy, the Sequester represents a perfect opportunity to move from an old era of international dominance and foreign entanglements to a more American isolationism.
We’re leaving Iraq. We’re leaving Afghanistan. It’s time to leave the Old World and focus on more pressing threats from the East. The Middle East will become quite a bit less important as, by 2020, America will be a net exporter of oil. Europe will find the resources to fund its own defense, maybe at the cost of an enshrined work week of 35 hours, but surely to the benefit of a single-mother in Harlem who has to decide between rent and heat.
I have nothing against Europe. But I also have nothing for it.
Addendum: I should note that there are some European countries like Netherlands and Denmark that really do pull their weight.