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Europe's Paper Militaries
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Are the famously pacifist Scandinavians rediscovering their Viking heritage? They don’t have the longboats out yet, but, worried by Russian aggression, they are taking defense more seriously. The Financial Times reports:

The defence ministers of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden and the foreign minister of Iceland on Friday published a declaration in a Norwegian newspaper that seeks to increase the number of joint exercises, intelligence sharing and processing of cyber material.

Separately, the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said they would explore joint arms procurement as they look to increase the efficiency of their defence spending.

The odds are that Russia is not going to invade Sweden anytime soon. But analysts and the Swedish government increasingly are worried about Moscow making a move on the strategic Swedish island of Gotland if it decides to attack the Baltic states. And Russia has been serially interfering with Swedish airspace (and, if the submarine reports were correct, territorial waters). So it’s not surprising that the Scandinavian countries, as well as the Baltic states, are starting to take defense more seriously.

This move is of a piece with other news breaking this week on the European military scene, where there are signs that the Continent is starting to get serious about the Russian threat. NATO ran drills testing its newly expanded “rapid reaction” force, part of which is supposed to be ready to go into action on 48 hours’ notice (up from 2 weeks). And the Germans announced plans to buy one hundred new Leopard 2 tanks.

But there’s a long way to go. On the German tank deal, Reuters notes that:

Just before the end of the Cold War, in the 1980s, the then West Germany had more than 3,500 tanks. Now, seventy years after World War Two, it has just 225. As a result soldiers have to share tanks and heavy equipment across different units.

As Andrew Michta noted in his most recent essay for TAI, the main problem Europe has when it comes to defense is will, not ways. In finances, population, and prospects for the future, it vastly outstrips Russia. There is no question that, for instance, Germany could acquire and deploy a tank corps with real deterrent capabilities—if it were serious about rebuilding its military.

European opinion seems to be shifting toward a more realistic attitude on defense, as both these governmental moves and recent polls indicate. Whether it will move far enough, fast enough to produce the real world results that could deter Vladmir Putin remains to be seen.

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  • Ellen

    The Scandinavians were warriors long before they became hipsters, but that was long ago (like 1000 years ago for the Vikings, and 400 years ago for King Adolphus Gustavus). Now they are effeminate hipsters with pony tails and earrings. That isn’t going to frighten Vladimir Putin. He views most Europeans the same way he views Obama – with contempt. Deservedly so. Putin’s bigger worry are the muscular views of the Chinese, maybe the Japanese, and the rising Indian military. He doesn’t lose much sleep over Zeropeans, and certainly not the Scandinavians.

  • Angel Martin

    The next American President is almost certain to be stronger than Obama in standing up to Putin

    European military rebuilding may happen but it will take time.

    One of the dangers for the next 19 months is that Putin may see a window of opportunity that closes when Obama leaves office, and closes further when the europeans get their militaries back in some sort of reasonable shape.

    • Kevin

      It also depends on how much Obama gets caught up in securing a Democratic successor – if defense and foreign policy become a major issue and there is no third party challenge from the left he may adopt a somewhat more hawkish posture to help the Democratic nominee in the general election – or maybe not.

      • Corlyss

        So what do you think? Would he help Hillary? Why? What is his motivation to see one of his sworn enemies succeed him as the first woman and take away some of his luster? I’m just playing with the idea. I don’t have any firm thought on it.

    • Corlyss

      Don’t bet the farm on it. Post-Vietnam Dems are obsessed with the notion that U.S. policies are THE principal cause of world unrest and instability, not to mention “hatred” of America and the West.

  • Corlyss

    Europeans have bound themselves up in the silly EU such that they will never agree to a common defense policy or a unanimous military decision that could result in their own dead. Someone will always say “no!”

  • Fat_Man

    They will not develop any will by sitting around and waiting for the US to pull their cookies out of the fire. Dissolving NATO is an absolute precondition to European self defense.

    • Dan Greene

      And how does dissolving NATO help us?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    They still think America will fight their battles for them, until this changes you won’t see any real money being spent on defense.

    • Dan Greene

      You’ve got half of it. They think:

      1. America will provide for their security needs.

      2. Any additional investment they make in defense will incur American demands for it to be used in ways they foresee as uncongenial.

      We want them to spend more money but leave strategic direction to us. No incentive to spend more in that.

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