Defense cuts 'hollowing out' European armies: U.S. envoy

BRUSSELS Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:23pm EDT

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) speaks with U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Ivo Daalder (C) and European Union Secretary-General of the European External Action Service Pierre Vimont before a NATO Defense Ministers meeting with non-NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contributing nations at NATO headquarters in Brussels February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Chip Somodevilla/Pool

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) speaks with U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Ivo Daalder (C) and European Union Secretary-General of the European External Action Service Pierre Vimont before a NATO Defense Ministers meeting with non-NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) contributing nations at NATO headquarters in Brussels February 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Chip Somodevilla/Pool

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Most European allies are "hollowing out" their armies as they slash Defense spending, casting doubt on whether Europe can remain a viable military partner of the United States, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to NATO said on Monday.

Many Western European countries have slashed Defense spending in response to austerity induced by the 2008 financial crisis and the United States now accounts for nearly three-quarters of total NATO Defense spending, Ivo Daalder said.

"Most European allies are hollowing out their militaries, jettisoning capabilities, and failing to spend their existing budgets wisely," he said in a farewell speech, hosted by the thinktank Carnegie Europe.

"As a result, the gap between American and European contributions to the alliance is widening to an unsustainable level," he said. "The trends need to be reversed."

The concern in the United States was that "Europe is not investing enough in Defense to remain a viable military partner", said Daalder, U.S. envoy to NATO since 2009.

"Today, Europe's ability to serve as America's partner of first resort is diminishing," Daalder said, noting that Europe was slashing Defense budgets at the same time that emerging powers in Asia and elsewhere were spending heavily on Defense.

He urged European countries to use savings from withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan over the next few years to invest in new military equipment and to "reinvest in NATO" once the economic situation improved.

"GROWING GAPS"

Apart from the United States, only three of the 28 allies - Britain, Greece and Estonia - met NATO's goal of spending 2 percent of their economic output on Defense, he said.

As former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned two years ago, "the ability and willingness of the United States to fill the growing gaps left by European under-spending on Defense is coming to an end," Daalder said.

However, Daalder also said that, despite the Obama administration's policy of focusing U.S. foreign policy more intensely on Asia, the United States was not abandoning NATO or planning to move away from Europe.

Two years ago, NATO played a critical role in toppling veteran Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The Western alliance imposed a no-fly zone and used air power to try to prevent his forces attacking civilian areas held by rebels.

Daalder said that if Defense spending cuts continued at their current rate, he was not confident that NATO would be able to repeat such an operation in five or 10 years' time.

European air forces took the lead in air strikes on Libya, but Daalder said, even then, they depended heavily on the United States for aerial refueling, precision targeting, surveillance and reconnaissance, revealing gaps in Europe's capabilities.

Western diplomats said last Friday Washington was considering a limited no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which is immersed in civil war, although Daalder said a no-fly zone was not currently on NATO's agenda.

European countries have tried to plug gaps in their defenses and make stretched military budgets go further by working more closely together, but Defense experts say savings so far are small compared to cuts in Defense spending.

In the United States, Defense has also been hit by automatic spending cuts.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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Comments (5)
Speaker2 wrote:
We should do as the Europeans, cut defense in half or more and stop wasting money. Just exactly why does Europeans need big armies? They sure seem to get along pretty good. Maybe with less support from the Europeans, we will get smart and stop starting wars.

Jun 17, 2013 5:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
DominicPaz wrote:
“Just exactly why does Europeans need big armies? They sure seem to get along pretty good.”

MAYBE, just maybe it has something to do with them being allied with the world’s biggest military juggernaut ever. Maybe the fact that the US has been defending NATO countries from foreign aggression has lulled them into a false sense of safety, and if that protection were to disappear, it would only be a matter of time until China or Russia decided to carve out a little vassal state for themselves.

Or maybe you’re right, and we’ve magically arrived at a point in history where foreign conquest is a thing of the past (you’re not though).

Jun 17, 2013 6:28pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
StephanLarose wrote:
The “operation” in Libya turned Libya into a failed state run by terrorists and sent heaps of arms into Al Queda hands. Why repeat such an “operation?” What the world needs is less defense spending by everyone an d investment in education and retrofitting the global economy to be green.

Jun 17, 2013 10:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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