At the end of this month, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general, will release new figures on defense spending by the 28 Alliance members.
They will almost certainly show a decline for most countries. The global financial crisis, followed by the euro crisis, has put immense pressure on finance ministries to cut budgets, including, in most places, defense budgets.
It is interesting to note that Greece, of all European countries, has maintained a fairly high level of spending. Given the shape of the Greek economy, that creates problems of its own which I discuss in my latest Letter from Europe.
Mr. Rasmussen has repeatedly asked Alliance members to invest in defense to deal with new threats, such as cyber and energy security. He also fears that the technological gap between Europe and the United States will widen so much that ‘interoperability,’ the ability to operate together on missions, will be endangered.
The United States spends 31 percent of its defense budget on investment. The Europeans spend 22 percent, according to Claude-France Arnould, the chief executive of the E.U.’s European Defence Agency, which was established over a decade ago to promote defense cooperation.
There are few signs that Europeans are willing to invest more. Indeed, defense spending among E.U. member states was at a record low, Ms. Arnould said during a security conference in Berlin last November.
Both NATO and the E.U. believe there is one way to try bridge this gap: through smart defense or “pooling and sharing.”
In practice, it would mean NATO and E.U. members, the majority of whom belong to each other’s organization, cooperating much more on defense, instead of — for example — duplicating expensive equipment.
Ms. Arnould has warned E.U. countries not to use pooling and sharing as an excuse to invest even less. “Pooling and sharing offers a way to acquire together what is out of reach individually and get more efficiency in the deployment of these capabilities,” she said. “We see that Europe risks losing significant industrial capability between now and 2020.”
Yet, for all the cajoling by NATO, the E.U. and Pentagon officials, little has changed.
European governments still believe that defense policy and defense spending are intrinsic elements of national sovereignty.
And while governments will agree to participate in small collaborative projects, such as the European Defense Agency’s helicopter training program, they shy away from anything big enough to really improve Europe’s military technology sector or its security.
What a foolhardy attitude to have, say analysts, considering that the Obama administration’s security agenda is focusing increasingly on Asia. Surely, analysts add, this should be the time for Europe to take on more responsibility for its own security.