How is Trump changing Europe's defence?

The US has upped pressure on European Nato states to increase their defence spending. Vice-President Pence and Secretary of Defense Mattis have pointedly reminded Nato members of their 2014 commitment to invest two percent of GDP in defence. Some commentators are delighted that Europe is finally being forced to develop a consistent defence policy. Others predict a change in Nato's balance of power.

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Berlingske (DK) / 21 February 2017

US president deserves credit

The statements of the new US administration have set a process in motion that no one else had been able to initiate before: the European states must now jointly develop a reasonable, truly effective defence policy, Berlingske writes with satisfaction:

“No matter what you might think of the new American president, you have to give him credit for having achieved something at the Munich Security Conference that a number of his predecessors have failed to do. ... Trump's threats open up the possibility of constructing a viable defence system - and hopefully of ending the long period during which the Danish and European governments got away with not fulfilling their defence investment promises.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) / 21 February 2017

Washington could lose its power

If the US expects its European Nato partners to invest more it must also let them have more say in the alliance, which will no doubt complicate things, writes Hospodářské noviny:

“They need to say what the extra money would be spent on. The answer is easiest on the subject of international terrorism, of which the Islamic State is the most obvious example. But here there are differences between the US and Europe. Not every state has troops for foreign operations and not every nation and government would want to deploy troops. And the question of how much of a security risk Russia poses is even more contentious - and not just among Europeans. … Up to now the debates at Nato have been dominated by the US. If the Europeans are going to increase their security contribution, the US will have to get used to the idea of them wanting to have more say too.”

Diário de Notícias (PT) / 20 February 2017

Who wants Berlin as a major military power?

The UK is the only major European state that fulfils the two-percent target. France falls slightly short of it. So Pence's appeal was aimed mainly at Berlin, but it is too shortsighted, Diário de Notícias writes:

“Germany has increased its military spending but it won't reach the two-percent target until 2024. ... But even if Chancellor Angela Merkel were to give in to Trump and Pence during a fourth term in office this wouldn't necessarily be a good thing for Nato. It is questionable whether other Nato members would stay calm at the prospect of Germany's military budget increasing from its current 36 billion to around 60 billion euros. Because this would mean Germany would be the superior military power in Europe - and allies like the UK and France would find that hard to swallow.”

Novi list (HR) / 21 February 2017

US weapons lobby pulling the strings

Donald Trump has made big promises to the US's arms industry, Novi List fears:

“The world is out of joint and we don't know what lies ahead. But we do know who will benefit from the chaos: the arms manufacturers, and first and foremost the US as the world's biggest arms exporter. And that's how things are meant to stay. ... First Trump questioned the purpose and future of Nato, now the Americans are trying to appease us by saying that of course they stand behind Nato. Provided, that is, that the European allies raise their military budgets to the agreed two percent of GDP. ... The strategy is clear: more weapons means less money for social benefits, education and healthcare, and at the same time less peace. Exactly the recipe that guarantees American arms producers juicy profits.”

Die Tageszeitung taz (DE) / 19 February 2017

A boon for the defence industry

The taz suspects that interests other than boosting defence capabilities are behind the calls to increase military spending:

“It is absurd of the US to claim that its defence budget is so high because of its Nato contributions. By the same token it is not about a fairer distribution of the burden but about the interests of the military industrial complex. If this really was about defence capabilities the approach would be different. The primary question would be whether the Nato alliance lacks capabilities and if so, which. Only after this had been established would the distribution of costs be negotiated. Here it's the other way round: first the money is to be made available and then they want to look at how it should be spent. The defence industry companies can start celebrating.”

Dnevnik (BG) / 17 February 2017

Moscow more dangerous than Europeans think

Europe clearly cannot accept the idea that Russia represents a real military threat, Dnevnik comments, and explains why:

“The hypothesis of a growing threat from Russia - whether from a cyberattack, hybrid warfare or a conventional military attack - encounters two forms of ideological resistance in Europe. The first group to reject such scenarios is Putin's increasingly influential 'fifth column', which resolutely objects such hypotheses and resorts to methods from the days of the Cold War. The second group is comprised of well-known European post-liberals who won't tolerate so much as the notion of a war on the European continent and continually dish up the timid argument that dialogue is needed to improve relations with Russia.”

The Times (GB) / 16 February 2017

Invest in high-tech combat

The EU states need to invest more in defence and intensify their cooperation, The Times agrees:

“Plainly Europe not only has to dig deeper in its pockets but also play a more concerted role in rethinking how to defend the West. Budgets have to be intelligently allocated with an eye to evolving 21st-century warfare. New models of co-operation have to be devised between tech companies and the defence industry. Future battlefields will be in the realm of cybersecurity and big-data analytics rather than on the north German plains. The West's advantage over big-spending Russia and China, over terror cells and insurgents, is its technological edge.”

Dennik N (SK) / 17 February 2017

Europe lagging behind its commitments

Trump isn't the first president to call on the Europeans to fufil their defence policy obligations, Dennik N reminds readers:

“Obama and his predecessors said the same thing. In vain. Trump and his advisors are merely using clearer language and combining their demands with a thinly veiled threat: if the Germans, Italians, Spanish, Czechs, Hungarians, Slovakians and others want to continue benefiting from collective security but refuse to fulfil their obligations, they can't automatically rely on the US's help in the event of a threatening scenario. According to the current agreements we should put two percent of our GDP into defence, which we haven't done for ages. However unless all Europeans are willing to do this any plans for a European army are just further proof that the Old Continent's political elite is frequently out of touch with reality.”

Berlingske (DK) / 17 February 2017

Saving Nato worth every penny

Denmark has cut its defence budget by 15 percent since 2012 and is planning additional cuts. Such a decision could not be more wrong, Berlingske argues:

“In such times it's incomprehensible that the government can allow defence spending to taper off like this. ... It's up to Denmark and the other Nato countries to decide whether Nato should rescue itself. No one else will do it. In Denmark's case there should be no doubt. In a country with public expenditures of more than 1.1 trillion kroner [148 billion euros] per year, it goes without saying that raising the defence budget by 17 to 18 billion kroner [2.3 to 2.4 billion euros] is a feasible move. That's an incredibly small price to pay to maintain the world's most successful defence alliance. And the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) / 17 February 2017

More isn't always better

Nato's big problem is certainly not a lack of money, writes Frankfurter Rundschau:

“Germany may seem stingy with a defence budget of just 1.2 percent of its GDP but if you convert the percentage points to billions things sound different. Germany spends 36 billion on soldiers and operations. … Increasing that to two percent would amount to an extra 20 billion euros. That's an enormous amount of money. So we shouldn't just parrot the calls for two percent. The Nato resolution obeys the all too simple logic - in evidence even before Trump's rise to power - of the phrase: 'the more the better'. But if Nato is in need of reform that is above all because of lacking cooperation among its forces and its duplicated structures. And if the US threatens to cut its Nato contribution one can still legitimately ask whether there's not enough left even so.”

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