A pair of stories out of Germany today illustrates the persistent gap between the lofty, ambitious rhetoric and small, faltering actions on government and defense in Europe today. The Telegraph reports:
German soldiers taking part in a four-week Nato exercise in Norway earlier this year had to leave after just 12 days because they had gone over their overtime limits, it has emerged.
Troops have complained to a parliamentary watchdog that they are being forced to spend entire days doing nothing under the new rules.
“It can’t be that we can’t fulfil our Nato obligations because of overtime,” Hans-Peter Bertels, the German parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.[..]
Under the latest reforms, in force since January, the military working week has been reduced to 41 hours and troops can no longer be paid for working overtime.
The German military has been beset by embarrassing and widespread equipment problems in recent years. It also has a teeny-tiny ISIS problem, with over two dozen former soldiers having joined the jihadist group and more suspected of sympathizing. And now, despite loud pledges of reform in the face of a renewed Russian threat, comes this bit of tragi-comic news.
It sounds like the Germans have some work to do to get their defense affairs in order, no? And yet the government at the same time chose to release a grandiose white paper calling for the accelerated formation of a pan-EU army:
Initially scheduled to emerge shortly before the June 23 referendum vote but now probably delayed to July, the draft paper seen by the Financial Times outlines steps to gradually co-ordinate Europe’s patchwork of national militaries and embark on permanent co-operation under common structures.
At the European level, the paper calls for “the use of all possibilities” available under EU treaties to establish deep co-operation between willing member states, create a joint civil-military headquarters for EU operations, a council of defence ministers, and better co-ordinate the production and sharing of military equipment.
We applaud the ambition to do more—the German initiative specifically mentions the need for the Europeans to be better partners for the U.S.—and don’t mean to suggest the Germans are alone in the defense follies. On the contrary, it is because of the determination of certain German politicians to right the ship there that we have the details in the first report. (Other places take an even more, ah, European attitude; the Dutch Army, for instance, is unionized.)
But as we wrote in the context of the last of the many frequent calls for an EU army:
A serious response to the Russians would be an acknowledgement of how much “the locusts have eaten”—Europe’s share of NATO spending has declined precipitously since the end of the Cold War, and it’s gotten much worse since the Great Recession—and a commitment to making real increases in expenditure and capacity.
Then, Europe could credibly discuss from where and how its forces will be marshaled.
That still holds today. Start with the basics—like scrapping overtime rules that won’t let troops train.