mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Special Relationship in the 21st Century
The President Calls Out British Defense Cuts

The UK’s falling military spending has now become the subject of Presidential-Prime Ministerial level talks, The Telegraph reports:

In a blunt warning not to cut the UK defence budget, the US President personally insisted to the Prime Minister that a failure to hit the 2 per cent of GDP spending target would undermine the military alliance.

The American President made the direct appeal during private meetings when the Prime Minister visited Washington last month.

Military leaders fear the Treasury will try to claw back a fresh £1 billion a year from the Ministry of Defence budget to try to fill Britain’s stubborn budget deficit.

The truly alarming thing isn’t that the British, traditionally among the highest defense spenders in Europe, are sliding under the NATO 2% mark; the alarming thing is that they are sliding under the 2% mark and will still be among the highest defense spenders in Europe.

Since the Great Recession, the European countries in NATO have shed an alarming amount of their military might, even by post-war standards.  While the alliance is American-led, it still depends on the European contributions. With Putin in Ukraine and menacing the Baltic states, and the Middle East falling to pieces, Washington does not just need to tend to its own policies—it needs to show leadership in getting Europe back on its feet, defensively, too.

Features Icon
show comments
  • wigwag

    It is long past time to jettison Europe. The Europeans are hell bent on committing suicide.

    Let’s such say adios to Europe and figure out what to do next.

    • Nevis07

      Precisely, they don’t want to help themselves and so we cannot help them either. It’s really very simple – time to move on. The relationship has run it’s course.

    • Pete

      Exactly. The freeloaders in Europe will continue to freeload off America as long as we let them.

    • Dan Greene

      Well, shouldn’t the sequence be “figure out what to do next” and THEN “say adios to Europe.” That way seems a bit more prudent, doesn’t it? And by the way, what do you expect Europe (still the world’s largest economy) to do if we “jettison” them?

      • FriendlyGoat

        Nice to see a little reality pinned onto an odd sound bite above—–“and figure out what to do next”. Can we say good grief?

  • Nevis07

    I’m not entirely sure I want to keep paying taxes to support NATO. Maybe reforming a defensive alliance among partner countries that actually want to contribute their fair share. It’s not just that they just don’t want to spend the money and sacrifice some of their social welfare programs, its that even if they wanted to do that they still hide behind the US in times of conflict. That’s a fundamental problem far worse than simply not allocating resources well enough. For the Europeans, it’s as though defense spending is a luxury item, because they simply assume that the US is there to do their bidding. Meanwhile, all I can see is Euro-liberal elitists criticizing the US’s every move. I’m tired of it. The reality is, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves, the same goes for countries. So I say throw the Europeans to the Russia bears and see if they care after. Besides, the US has finite resources of our own and I’d far rather we focus on building a defensive alliance like NATO in Asia where the future of trade is going to occur and therefore, where the US’s greatest interests lie. We have natural allies in India, Australia, Japan and South Korea – all countries which understand the need (not a luxury need) for defense. Heck if we get Keystone passed and we support the fracking industry with some ultra low financing in times of low prices such as now (and restructure forward pricing to allow them to sell more into future markets), we could kiss our Middle Eastern “allies” goodbye – and since everyone seems to want us out of there too, the Europeans can deal with it on their own if they don’t want to be a Russian puppet. In the words of the Great Nuland: “F*** the EU”

    • Dan Greene

      >>”I’m not entirely sure I want to keep paying taxes to support NATO.”

      Well, when you figure out whether you want to or not, by all means let us know.

      >>”In the words of the Great Nuland: ‘F*** the EU'”

      You are a clueless little creature, aren’t you?

      • Nevis07

        I think I pretty well said that I don’t want to pay to support it anymore, but please provide your insights – unless of course you can provide anything other than criticism??

        And a “clueless little creature” – honestly man, who spends their time trolling like you? All you do is troll comment as far as I can see rather than add anything original and genuine of your own. I guess it’s easy to call people clueless when all you do is follow the lemmings.

        So in the great word of Dan Greene: “You are a clueless little creature, aren’t you?” 😉

        • Dan Greene

          “All you do is troll comment as far as I can see rather than add anything original and genuine of your own.”

          And just how far can you see? Remind me what exactly you mean by “troll.” I see it all the time and it never seems to connote anything very specific except the disdain of the individual employing it.

          So, let me get this straight. You’re displeased with the Europeans because they aren’t doing everything you think they should be doing, so even though our alliance with Europe is the core of our global strategy and will continue to be regardless of the “pivot to Asia,” you think we can afford to part company with them and that the odious and inept Nuland is the last word on the subject? Yes, you are clueless. Everything is not simply about how big defense budgets are.

          And don’t count on South Korea. The idea that they will agree to become part of an alliance with Japan (whom they detest) against China (towards whom they feel generally well disposed) is ludicrous.

          You need to get beyond the infantile notion that alliances should be abandoned just because you are in a fit of pique. And you would also be well advised to re-examine just how long the shale boom is really going to last.

          • Nevis07

            I promise you I am not clueless. As I’ve said reforming an alliance system among willing nation (specifically those closer to Russia) would likely be enough of a deterrent. Not only that, but European countries that have to provide for their own security would likely be more willing not less to fight for their beliefs.

            I agree with you that Europe is central to our strategy at the moment, but I think you are ignoring how quickly that is changing. Defense budgets are not everything as you say – in fact as I said the issue is not to do with budgets but rather with the willingness to defend principals. Did you miss that part or are you “inept”?

            South Korea is an unknown, I agree, but don’t think that they are somehow very much concerned with China’s influence over them. At the very least they are determined to keep their independence. An important factor you might consider.

            Simply said Dan, I’m not in a “fit of pique.” Alliances shouldn’t be abandoned just because of some minor issue. I’m saying this is the beginning stages of a serious long-term problem and to recognize it ahead of time. I’m not the first to point it out. And BTW, the shale boom is only part of the story, as I said Keystone is part of it too. Plus I didn’t suggest that low oil prices didn’t hurt shale because it does – what I said is that with government help it can remain and sustain at realistic prices. So don’t be too quick to write it off:


            Anyway, I’m done talking with someone who simply thinks that name-calling across the internet is somehow impressive. Take care Dan. Enjoy your trolling.

          • Dan Greene

            “European countries that have to provide for their own security would likely be more willing not less to fight for their beliefs.”

            We have drawn down our forces in Europe to a fraction of what they were in 1990. What more do you want to do? Had we–with Nuland in the forefront–not worked to overthrow the elected Ukrainian head of state and create a crisis with the probable intent of driving a wedge between Russia and the EU and permanently sundering Ukraine and Russia, we wouldn’t even be in the middle of a fiasco in Europe necessitating us to talk about defense budgets. What principles are under threat? Russia clearly didn’t create this crisis.

            Yes, South Korea wants autonomy, but it’s our demand for an alliance with Japan et al that will be the immediate threat to their strategic autonomy, i.e., to their ability to maintain positive relationships with us and China.

            Finally, you’re a pretty sensitive guy, aren’t you? You toss out epithets like “Euro-liberal elitists” and “trolls” and you seem to celebrate our “diplomats” using deeply insulting terminology in referring to our allies, but you are terribly offended if anything is directed at you. (And you still haven’t really figured out what you mean by the word “troll,” have you?) At least be consistent.

  • Andrew Allison

    The way to get European defense spending up is to steadily reduce US defense spending on behalf of Europe. As Samuel Johnson famously said, “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

  • S.C. Schwarz

    Putin will challenge NATO soon, probably in Estonia. NATO, of course, has neither the will nor the capability to respond. That’s probably the point at which we should pick up our chips and go home. It will be sad to watch the collapse of Europe, and it will hurt us too, but, as others have said, we can’t help them if they won’t help themselves.

    • Dan Greene

      Why would Putin do that? It makes absolutely no sense.

      • S.C. Schwarz

        Because he wants to reconstitute the Soviet empire.

        • Dan Greene

          Even if that were true–and I don’t think it is–getting into a war with Europe, which is what we are talking about, is no way to accomplish that goal. If Putin really wanted to “rebuild the Soviet empire,” the Baltic countries, NATO members and therefore a collective casus belli, would be the last targets, not the first.

          There isn’t going to be any Russian attempt to invade or destabilize Estonia–certainly not any time soon.

          • S.C. Schwarz

            “getting into a war with Europe”

            That’s a straw man argument as I didn’t suggest that. There are many things we could do to discourage Putin short of an actual war at this point. For example, we could reactivate the plan, which Obama unilaterally scrapped, to base ABMs in Poland and the Czech Republic. We could sell advanced weapon systems to NATO’s eastern European members. We, and the rest of NATO, could sharply increase military spending. If we really want to be aggressive we could actually base troops in Poland.

            The point of invading Ukraine, and what Russia is doing is certainly an invasion, is to demonstrate to eastern Europe that Putin is in charge and that if they think the west will help they are fooling themselves. Point made, wouldn’t you say? The point of de-stabilizing Estonia, or another of the Baltic’s, will be to demonstrate that NATO is hollow too. Do you really think France will rush tanks to Estonia to help? Could France, or Germany, or Italy, even do it if they wanted to?

          • Dan Greene

            >>”That’s a straw man argument as I didn’t suggest that. There are many things we could do to discourage Putin short of an actual war at this point.’

            Well, let’s start with what you imagine Putin is going to do since you assert that he will undertake some sort of aggressive policy towards Estonia. We need to establish that before we start talking about NATO responses. What serious attempt by Russia to overthrow the Estonian government and return Estonia to Russian vassalage–that is what you are claiming isn’t it?–would not result in hostilities? Even some covert attempt to destabilize Estonia–you know, just the way we do things–would probably end up in hostilities, so I don’t think your straw-man charge holds up. But what is it, specifically, that you envision Putin attempting? No discussion is possible without that as a starting point.

            >>”The point of de-stabilizing Estonia, or another of the Baltic’s, will be to demonstrate that NATO is hollow too. Do you really think France will rush tanks to Estonia to help? Could France, or Germany, or Italy, even do it if they wanted to?”

            You know, you say that as though Putin has no conception of risk-reward calculus, which he has shown himself to be very adept at. The risk of trying to “demonstrate that NATO is hollow” is huge and the benefit to be gained is what? In fact, I do think that the US and Europeans would conduct military operations against Russia if it attacked or destabilized any of the Baltics states. I think Putin thinks that too and is not anywhere near foolish enough to try it, even if he were inclined. To bring Russia back from the brink, he needs and wants stability in his relations with the West.

            I view the Ukraine debacle as a Russian reaction to a US-backed overthrow of an admittedly inept but legally elected head of state. Henry Kissinger pointed out the obvious when he observed that it makes no sense for Putin to spend billions on the show-piece Sochi olympics as a Russia-has-arrived celebration only to change course 180 degrees and throw away that investment by launching covert operations in Ukraine. He has merely been trying to salvage Russian strategic goals in the face of an aggressive US-driven attempt to wrench Ukraine away from its relationship with Russia per Zbigs’s “Grand Chessboard” template.

          • S.C. Schwarz

            What I imagine that Putin will do in one of the Baltics, probably Estonia, will be similar to what he did in Ukraine. There will be no WWII style invasion but rather Russia will use the local ethnic Russian population (about 24% of the population of Estonia is ethnic Russian) supported by Russian special forces and heavy weapons as needed, to de-stabilize Estonia and seize territory. As we see from Georgia and Ukraine, the west is eager to find reasons to do nothing. Putin will oblige by using his patented “hybrid” warfare which will make it possible for the west to pretend there is no Article V crisis.

            When will this happen? Obviously we can’t know that but I would expect it will be while Obama is still in office. I’m sure Putin knows how lucky he is to be facing off against an opponent as inept as Obama. He may not be as lucky next time.

  • gabrielsyme

    This is the pot calling the kettle black. Or to be more precise, a massive tar pit calling an beige teapot black. President Malvinas has no ground on which to criticise the British for undermining the alliance. He has been hell-bent on eroding it since day one.

  • Fat_Man

    Having Obama who is doing his damnedest to gut the United States’s military capabilities is almost the definition of chutzpah.

    • Dan Greene

      And how is he “trying his damnedest to gut the United States’ military capabilities?”

  • Dan Greene

    The real problem with Obama’s public chastisement is that it’s not our place to publicly involve ourselves in the domestic political decisions of the UK. It has nothing to do with the assorted nonsense in the comment string about Obama gutting our military capabilities and being hell-bent on eroding our alliance with Europe. There isn’t going to be any Russian intervention in Estonia. It makes no sense for us to “jettison” Europe or NATO. This is all childish twaddle.

    The real reason that the UK is forced to consider cutting defense again is because, unlike us, they do not possess the world’s reserve currency. So fiscal and monetary excess put a pressure on the GBP to which the USD is, at this point, still largely immune. Does anyone think it’s just because we’re so damn virtuous and entrepreneurial that we are able to spend huge amounts on defense and still spend even huger amounts on the entitlements that ensure domestic tranquility?

    Yes, they could cut domestically to maintain defense spending levels, but the British have made significant cuts in domestic spending. Britain’s economic foundation is simply not very strong in the wake of the battering the City took over the last decade and the decline of North Sea oil production. Obama, who is merely reciting talking points he has been given, is oblivious to the reality of the British economy and, given all his other problems, can hardly be expected to spend much time boning up on them.

    This inclination to intervene publicly in the domestic decisions of European countries is an irritation, however. Obama also told the Scots that they should stay in Britain rather than vote for independence. However one feels about Scottish independence, it was not Obama’s place to involve himself in the issue. It’s not Obama in particular though. It’s an arrogant American political class, of which Obama is merely a part, that claims the right to tell the rest of the world how to live their lives and run their affairs. That’s the basic issue. The US is now in the business of causing problems rather than solving them in its increasingly panicky attempt to perpetuate its unipolar global dominance. That’s the salient point here.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service