Race to the bottom

Race to the bottom

Race to the bottom

Written by Tomas Valasek, 24 August 2011

by Tomas Valasek

For decades, European countries cut defence budgets with little worry. The United States kept enough troops on the continent to deter all potential enemies, almost irrespective of how small European militaries became. But the US contingent has been steadily shrinking, and the pace of this downsizing now seems certain to accelerate because of the economic crisis. The Europeans should be worried – yet they will probably respond by hastening their own defence cuts.

The July 31st agreement under which US Congress increased the ceiling for national debt cuts defence spending by $350 billion over the next ten years, White House calculations say. However, the deal also calls for a joint committee of six Democrats and six Republicans to find ways to decrease the deficit by another $1.5 trillion. The lion’s share of those reductions is certain to come in the form of expenditure cuts (as opposed to tax increases). And these further cuts – even if spread across government departments – will include significant reductions in the Pentagon budget, beyond the $350 billion that it is already scheduled to lose. Military spending now consumes more than 20 per cent of the total federal budget (for comparison, in the UK the figure is 6 per cent). Assuming that the joint committee makes roughly proportional cuts among government departments, the Pentagon will lose another $250 billion; this would put total reductions in military spending at $600 billion over ten years.

There is also the possibility that members of the committee will fail to agree, which would be even worse for the US military. Under the borrowing agreement, such a failure would lead to an automatic imposition of a $1.2 trillion cut in government spending, half of which would come straight from the Pentagon’s budget (for accounting reasons, the final amount would be slightly less than half: $534 billion). Including the $350 billion in cuts agreed last week, total loss to US defence spending over the next ten years could thus reach nearly $900 billion. The Republicans have been traditionally supportive of defence spending so in theory they have strong reasons to work with the Democrats on averting such draconian cuts to the military. But Democrats want further deficit reduction to include tax increases, which the Republicans oppose. And the ‘new’ Republican party is considerably less pro-defence than it used to be in the days of John McCain and Bob Dole; its top priority now is deficit reduction. If Democrats insist on tax raises, there is a chance that Republican members of the joint committee would rather choose an impasse, even if this led to deep defence cuts.

Whether the final amount is $600 billion or close to $900 billion, reductions of such magnitudewill have considerable impact on contractors and allies around the globe. One mitigating factor is that the cuts will be calculated on the basis of future projected spending (which was scheduled to rise) rather than current spending. Also, after 13 straight years of increases, the defence budget has reached a monumental $530 billion in fiscal year 2011 (not including another $160 billion allocated specifically for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). However, much of this amount is committed to manpower and benefits. Military healthcare alone consumes around $50 billion a year, and Congress is unlikely to agree to reduce it before the 2012 elections. The brunt of the newly ordered cuts will therefore fall on relatively few budget categories. Research is likely to suffer (because it can be cut with little immediately visible impact) and so is procurement (because some new weapons have incurred controversial cost overruns).

Importantly for America’s allies, many of the cuts will lead to closure of overseas bases. These have no political constituency in the United States, and thus no defenders in Congress, which will have to approve cuts. Europe is certain to suffer disproportionately in any future base closures. The continent is not high on the Defense Department’s list of priorities and it is seen as relatively free from danger. The allies have capable militaries, which, the Pentagon believes, should be able to assure security of Europe’s periphery (in places such as Libya) with little US help.

Even before the latest cuts, in April 2011, the Obama administration ordered the withdrawal of one of the four remaining US brigade combat teams (BCTs) from Europe. This was a less dramatic reduction than the one that George Bush’s government initially ordered in 2004 – then, the Pentagon decided to cut half the BCTs but subsequently put the decision on hold because they were needed in Afghanistan. In reducing the cut to just on BCT in 2011, the Pentagon cited the need to assure allies (mainly in Central Europe) that Washington remains committed to their defence. But it now seems very probable that the Defense Department, under pressure to save money, will withdraw the second BCT after all.

Many US military facilities in Western Europe are in danger. Their number has gradually dwindled as the US reduced forces from the Cold War average of 311,000 to fewer than 80,000 today. Many more will now be closed. The US military sees the smaller bases in particular as a source of relatively easy savings. While installations such as the large US military hospital in Landshut, Germany are likely to fare well, the 700-strong US Air Force base in Lajes, Portugal, will probably go. Non-essential facilities such as the George C Marshall Center in Germany (a school for military officers, mainly from Eastern Europe and Asia) are also vulnerable.

These departures are certain to be unpopular with local governments around Europe, some of which will suffer a double or triple setback. In addition to expected US base closures, NATO and national governments have also been cutting budgets and forces. Portugal, which will probably lose Lajes, had recently seen NATO decide to close its ‘Joint Force Command’ near Lisbon. Germany plans to close many of its own bases to save money; it now stands to lose some of the US ones as well. The closures will cause tensions among local and national governments but the impact on transatlantic relations will be limited – because virtually all allied capitals are reducing forces, none will be in a position to complain. But the US and European militaries will lose some of the existing opportunities to train together. And the loss of schools such as the George C Marshall Center would deprive the allies of the ability to win the hearts and minds of young officers in dangerous parts of the world such as South Caucasus and Central Asia. 

With cuts to US defence budget looming, the US will also forgo its ability to pressurise the Europeans against reductions in their own spending. Apparently at the first meeting between Leon Panetta, the new Pentagon chief, and Liam Fox, the UK defence secretary, the two swapped lessons on how to cut budgets with least political pain. A year ago the US defence secretary would have sought to restrain the UK from cutting in the first place.

There is a real danger that cuts on one end of the Atlantic will encourage more cuts on the other end, thus degrading NATO’s credibility. While some of the bases that the United States is thinking of closing may well be redundant, NATO defence guarantees will lose their meaning unless the allies maintain a certain minimum number of forces and military installations. In theory, the Europeans should be responding to US force cuts by studying whether NATO is close to reaching this threshold, and whether they need to augment their forces to replace the departing US ones. But the opposite is likely to happen: without US pressure, many European governments will feel freer than ever to reduce military spending and forces. This may yet turn out to be the most significant and corrosive legacy of current US budgets cuts for allied security.

Tomas Valasek is director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform.


Added on 24 Aug 2011 at 14:10 by K Bledowski

A thoughtful analysis. In the end, the true game-changer from the U.S. military cuts will be not the fewer dollars and cents spent, but the ability to project power and defend U.S. interests. Should this ability erode, then Anne's comment (above) makes all the sense.

Added on 24 Aug 2011 at 12:28 by Anonymous

Dear Tomas Valasek

To solve the problems of EU about the foreign policy and defence, I think you should first discover or solve the following problems regarding the EU;
1. honesty
2. stop playing a game between eachother and between the other countries,
3. potential bad/or wrong communities, societies, countries in EU
4. working with priniciples,
5. stop thinking that all the good and/or wright things are in EU only,
6. stop pusshing some good and/or wright ideas (due to EU) to toher countries where these are creating some other conflicts in other ares in bad and/or wrong way because of there are god and/wright things in other countries where you dont know yet,
7. other

There are lots of notices I can offer, but I dont want to support some potential bad and/or wrong parts of the UE directly or indirectly.

I suggest you to solve these problems first. It will be helpful to solve other foreign policy and defence issues.

For better understanding you can take a look at to the book "Ülkeler Birliği (Countries Union) given in the Facebook: Refet Ramiz

Assist.Prof.Dr.Refet RAMİZ

Added on 24 Aug 2011 at 08:49 by Anne

For me, NATO lost my respect in the bombing of Libya. The setting up of a "no fly Zone"? What was that all about? The UK was taught a very valuable lessen in 1939, one that sadly this present Government has forgotton all about. I predict that there will be more wars-violent wars in the fairly near future, by Countries that have increased their forces while over-confident Governments have reduced theirs.

The EU should talk to Hamas

The EU should talk to Hamas

The EU should talk to Hamas

Written by Charles Grant, Clara Marina O'Donnell, 11 July 2007

by Charles Grant and Clara O’Donnell

The conspicuous role of Hamas in the recent release of Alan Johnston was not only good news for the BBC correspondent. Hamas showed that it cares about how it is perceived abroad, that it wants to be considered a credible actor, and that it hopes to end its international isolation. This means that the EU and other outsiders have potential leverage over the organisation that rules Gaza. Several European governments believe that the Union should rethink its current policy of refusing to engage with Hamas. They argue, with much justice, that the attempt to weaken Hamas by isolating it has failed; and that this policy seems to have strengthened support for Hamas among Palestinians, while Fatah, its great rival, has suffered from being seen as the West’s favoured friend.

It is time for the EU to consider talking directly to Hamas. Currently, the position of the EU – alongside the other members of the quartet, the UN, the US and Russia – is that it will not talk unless three conditions are met: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and acceptance of existing peace accords. And there remain many good arguments against the EU engaging with this Islamic group, such as its ambition for Islamic rule, its refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist, its links to violence and terror, and its numerous rocket attacks on Israelis. Although it won the last Palestinian elections, Hamas used force to seize power in Gaza in June 2007. That episode damaged its international credibility and its legitimacy as a winner of democratic elections, and it also limited the chances of getting Hamas and Fatah to work together constructively. Without a single government accepted as legitimate by most Palestinians, Israel has no partner to make peace with.

However, the EU should take note of some conciliatory moves from Hamas since it won the elections in January 2006. Hamas respected a unilateral ceasefire for six months. And when it became part of the government of national unity that was brokered by Saudi diplomacy at Mecca, Hamas tacitly accepted the Palestinian Authority’s existing international agreements. Furthermore, while Hamas has still not officially recognised Israel, its leader in Damascus, Khaled Meshaal, has said that the state of Israel is a "reality" and that “there will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact”. At the moment Hamas is clearly not the kind of credible international actor that could be a serious partner for Israel; the argument is over the best way to turn it into such actor. And it is clear that the current policy is not working.

The EU should recognise that the policy of boycotting of Hamas but showering favours on Fatah in the West Bank has been at best ineffectual, and at worst it has contributed to radicalising Hamas and provoking Fatah’s overthrow in Gaza. The grim gap that now separates the two parts of Palestine is imposing unacceptable humanitarian costs – the Gaza economy is already in a dire state, largely because Israel closes most of the border crossings most of the time. So long as the EU continues to reject the outcome of legitimately-conducted elections, it exposes itself to accusations of double standards and reduces its credibility in the eyes of the many in the Arab world.

The EU should seek to entice the moderate elements in Hamas with the prospect of recognition and financial assistance, in exchange for good behaviour and a constructive attitude towards talks with Fatah. That could facilitate the return of a single government for all the Palestinian territories, which is a precondition for the revival of the peace process. The EU should not abandon the concept of conditionality, but of the three conditions the one it should worry about is the renunciation of violence. Were Hamas to return to suicide bombs or rocket attacks on Israel, the EU should have nothing to do with it.

Of course, there can be no peace in the region without the support of Israel and the US, both of which are strongly opposed to the recognition of Hamas. The EU must think very carefully about how it sells a new policy on Hamas to Israel and the United States. The ultimate goal in the Middle East is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and if EU engagement with Hamas leads to a breakdown in the Union’s relations with Israel and the US, it will have achieved little. But the EU has a very strong argument to make. In the long term, it is in Israel’s interests that the moderate elements within Hamas – the strongest political entity in Palestine – be strengthened. Talks between the EU and Hamas could and should focus on that objective. The very process of talks with Hamas could have a transformational effect on the organisation, as was the case with the talks between the British government and the Irish Republican Army. Evidently, the talks might not produce that positive outcome. But neither the US nor Israel can claim that the status quo is doing much to enhance the security of Israelis.

The US, in its current pre-election phase, will be very reluctant to contemplate talking to Hamas. But in the Bush administration – which does not have to worry about winning votes in the next presidential election – moderates such as Condoleezza Rice now have the edge over hard-line Israel-firsters such as Dick Cheney. It is not inconceivable that the US could discreetly encourage the EU to take the lead in engaging with Hamas (as it earlier encouraged the EU to talk to Iran), while itself remaining aloof. The broader regional perspective may yet encourage the US – and possibly even Israel – to welcome the EU playing such a role. Given the growth of both Islamism and Iranian influence in the region stretching from Lebanon to Afghanistan, the US could reason that engaging Hamas would help to prevent an increase in the influence of either Iran or al-Qaeda in Gaza.

Charles Grant is the director and Clara O’Donnell is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.


Added on 26 Jul 2007 at 21:00 by Anonymous

Hamas are a neo-nazi organization so therefore its: HELL NO

Only fascists would suggest talking to Hamas (or their fellow nazi organizations Hezbollah and Ba'ath)

Europe's defence industry: A transatlantic future

Europe's defence industry

Europe's defence industry: A transatlantic future

Written by Charles Grant, Gordon Adams, Alex Ashbourne, Luc Boureau, Bruce Clark, Chris Crane, Keith Hayward, Theresa Hitchens, Robbin Laird, Denis Verret and Stephan von Henneberg, 02 July 1999

The impact of the euro on transatlantic relations

The impact of the euro on transatlantic relations

The impact of the euro on transatlantic relations

Written by Steven Everts, 07 January 2000

The EU, the US and Taiwan

The EU, the US and Taiwan

The EU, the US and Taiwan

Written by Charles Grant, 16 April 2007

The EU, the US and Taiwan

by Charles Grant

Taiwanese domestic politics is nasty and messy. The two main political forces – the KMT, which believes in ‘one China’, and the DPP, which leans towards an independent Taiwan – hate each other with venom that is unmatched in most other functioning democracies. But the country is pluralistic, with a free press and fair elections. Since Taiwan’s politics are so much more ‘western’ than those of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it ought to have many friends in the western democratic world.

But it has few close friends. Both the Americans and the Europeans know that they must be on good terms with China. It is simply too important, economically and strategically, to have as an enemy. Therefore ministers in most western governments are careful not to meet their Taiwanese counterparts on an official basis, lest China get annoyed. And they tolerate the fact that China excludes Taiwan from many international bodies, such as the World Health Organisation. Of course, there are some policy-makers in the West who think that democracies should stand by other democracies. The much-maligned neo-cons, for example, give moral support to Taiwan, as do some idealists of a more liberal persuasion.

American policy on Taiwan is both realist and idealist. The US supports the status quo, meaning that it opposes Taiwanese independence. But the US also promises to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. That promise is deliberately couched in ambiguous terms, to discourage the Taiwanese from provoking China, and to dissuade China from taking military action.

Having made no commitment to defend Taiwan, EU policy is much simpler. The EU does not see China as a strategic competitor, since – unlike the US – it is not an Asian power. So it has a clear policy of engagement with China, of supporting the status quo across the Taiwan Straits, and of being friendly towards Taiwan – but not so friendly that China would become annoyed.

The EU and the US agree on the goals of stability and the non-use of force across the Taiwan Straits. But Americans care much more about Taiwan, for the understandable reason that American blood and treasure could be shed in its defence Such emotions explain why the US over-reacted over the EU’s tentative moves towards lifting its arms embargo on China two years ago (there were good reasons why the EU should not have lifted the embargo at that time, but it was hard to have a rational discussion with some Americans over the matter, such was the strength of their feelings; they talked of the Chinese firing French missiles at American troops fighting on the beaches of Taiwan).

European views have shifted somewhat over the past two years, to be slightly more sympathetic to Taiwan. The fact that China passed the Taiwan secession law, which promises the use of force if Taiwan moves towards independence, was good PR for the Taiwanese. And the replacement of Gerhard Schröder by Angela Merkel has made a difference. She is a little more critical than her predecessor of large countries that abuse human rights, and opposes lifting the arms embargo. The departure of Jacques Chirac is also likely to affect EU’s China policy: he has been the leading proponent of lifting the embargo.

In some ways, the status quo is not so bad for Taiwan. The country is rich, successful and free, and many of its people enjoy a good quality of life. The problems for Taiwan are, firstly, its status – it is not allowed to do many of the things that normal countries do; and, secondly, its insecurity – almost a thousand Chinese missiles are pointing at it.

So the US and the EU are right to tell the Taiwanese not to rock the boat. This, along with a sensible US China policy balancing engagement with a promise of a military response to an attack on Taiwan helps safeguard the status quo, probably the best option available to Taiwan at the moment. In time, burgeoning economic ties between Taiwan and the mainland should make each side very wary of taking provocative actions that could threaten the prosperity of both – whatever the nature of the political relationship between the two. Ties between businessmen and politicians in Taiwan and the PRC are growing all the time. China is also democratising, slowly but surely, which increases the odds of peaceful reunification. Perhaps in the long run Taiwan can offer China an example of how prosperity, order and stability can co-exist with liberal democracy.

Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform.


Added on 17 Apr 2007 at 19:22 by James

As Director Grant said that “ministers in most western governments are careful not to meet their Taiwanese counterparts on an official basis… And they tolerate the fact that China excludes Taiwan from many international bodies, such as the World Health Organization.” It means that Taiwan has been unfairly treated by many countries for too long.

Taiwan has been excluded from the United Nations and its related organizations since 1971, such as mentioned World Health Organization (WHO). According to a recent local poll to Taiwanese, up to 94.9% of the Taiwan public supports the nation's entry as a member of the WHO and that Taiwan should enter the organization under the name "Taiwan." Therefore, President Chen Shui-bian is sending a letter to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun to express Taiwan's hope to apply to become a member of the organization under the name "Taiwan."

Many endorsements to Taiwan’s bid to WHO arise from global community.

Peter Kramer, the International Secretary-General of the Association of European Journalists, has regularly spoken on behalf of Taiwan in recent years noting how unfair it has been that Taiwan has not been able to enter the WHO. In an article of a recent edition of European Business magazine, he expressed his hope that European nations will assist Taiwan in participating in the WHO.

World Medical Association President Kgos Letlape recently pledged to do his best to facilitate dialogue between the Taiwan Medical Association and its Chinese counterpart to seek ways of resolving the differences between the two sides. "One of the biggest reasons why China has been so opposed to Taiwan's participation in the WHO is the name issue," he noted. "By holding an open dialogue, the two parties would have an opportunity to express their opinions and try to reach a middle ground on the issue."

Furthermore, Malawi Minister of Health Marjorie Ngaunje argued that Taiwan has every reason to be part of the international health watchdog because "all people have the right to health and life….The WHO is an organization designed to create more international collaboration on health issues. Although Taiwan is not part of the organization, it is already doing its part by holding such forum," she said.

A global petition “Say Yes to Taiwan's Bid to WHO” is appearing in GoPetition.com website. I would recommend everyone to login and click “Yes.” The address is as follow.


In defence of missile defences?

In defence of missile defences?

In defence of missile defences?

Written by Tomas Valasek, 14 March 2007

In defence of missile defences?
by Tomas Valasek

For those spoiling for another good transatlantic fight, the headlines from last week’s EU summit must have come as manna from heaven. “Chirac hits at US missile plans,” read the headline in the Financial Times after the soon-to-be-departing French leader addressed reporters in Brussels. “Cold War over missile defences,” wrote Le Monde, referring to US plans to place missile defence sites in Europe. Add to that the apparently critical words by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, from earlier in the week and a new storm would appear to be brewing over the Atlantic.

Unfortunately for the hawks on either coast, closer reading of the actual statement shows a different, much calmer picture. Jacques Chirac did warn against needlessly ruffling Russia’s feathers, as did Angela Merkel. But little in the way of outright opposition to American plans is in evidence among European leaders.

There are two good reasons for that. As with the Iraq war, missile defences are likely to divide Europe itself. Warsaw, Prague and London have all expressed interest in hosting parts of the US system and would naturally oppose any attempt to build a common European position on the basis of opposition to missile defences. Most of the cost of a bruising argument would thus be borne internally, within Europe.

But just as importantly, many EU member-states are hedging their bets, not wanting to rule out the possibility of building a missile shield for Europe as well. The majority of EU member states – the 19 that are NATO members – already approved a 2006 study showing that such a programme is technologically feasible. That does not by itself mean that an allied missile shield will or even should be built: there are differences within NATO as to the gravity and urgency of the missile threat. But the fact that NATO countries commissioned the study at all shows their shared concern over Iranian and North Korean missile plans.

So while a tactical, politically-driven stance against US plans may seem tempting it would be difficult for any European capital to be simultaneously for and against missile defences, which is exactly the position in which those EU member-states that are also in NATO would find themselves. For that reason, chiefly, robust opposition to US missile defence plans is likely to be limited to a handful of European countries.

That is not to say that a debate on the system should not take place amongst European countries, quite the contrary. The discussions so far have already raised interesting questions about two key choices for the Europeans: How should they relate to Washington? And just how much solidarity can and will they show towards Moscow?

On the first point, German chancellor Merkel was absolutely right to say that Washington needs to use NATO more assertively in selling its plans for a missile shield. In saying so, Merkel is in effect echoing Gerhard Schröder, her predecessor, who - in one of his last speeches as chancellor in 2004 - urged allied leaders to involve NATO more in broader policy debates and to start using it to fashion common strategies and threat assumptions, not just military plans. This, Schröder and others argued, would be the most effective way to revitalize an alliance reeling from the aftershocks of Iraq. It could also give Europe a better foreknowledge of, and a bigger say in, US defence plans and strategy, thus reducing the chance of fratricidal arguments like those that shook NATO in 2003. The alliance is already moving toward broader policy debates. It plans to draft a new version of its key guiding document, the ‘Strategic Concept’, by 2009 and in fact, it has already debated US missile defence once, in February. Washington should continue to offer its future military plans up for a robust discussion at NATO, and it should do so early, to allow for a fruitful talks rather than a simple briefing. It may be rewarded with a greater sense of usefulness and solidarity among allies.

It is the European Union that comes out the worse for wear from this debate so far. When Moscow threatened Warsaw and Prague with military reprisals if they allow US missile defences on their territory, Paris and Berlin responded by, in effect, siding with Moscow against their fellow EU member states. While the French and German positions were nuanced – arguing for more consultations with Russia and not directly addressing Russian threats – the Czechs and Poles will no doubt feel that their EU brethren showed far too little solidarity given the gravity of Russian statements. This will do little to convince them to show more faith in the EU's security and defence policy, or to back Merkel's plans to revive talks on the EU's constitutional treaty and the creation of a European foreign minister.

Tomas Valasek in director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European reform.

Launch of German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends Survey 2008

Launch of German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends Survey 2008

Launch of German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends Survey 2008

11 September 2008

With Ron Asmus, GMF.

Location info


Don't undermine free markets

Don't undermine free markets

Don't undermine free markets

Written by Philip Whyte, Simon Tilford, 08 October 2008
From International Herald Tribune

Obama's missile defense change shows different targets

Obama's missile defense change shows different targets

Obama's missile defense change shows different targets

with Tomas Valasek, 21 September 2009
From Yale Global Online

Obama’s European Scorecard

Obama’s European Scorecard

Obama’s European Scorecard

with Josef Joffe, Tomas Valasek, Patrick Weil, 07 April 2009
From The New York Times

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