Poland Wants an American Garrison; Germany Wants a Free Ride

Poland Wants an American Garrison; Germany Wants a Free Ride, by Doug Bandow.

For years American officials have variously demanded, urged, and begged European governments to increase military outlays. For years the Europeans have instead reduced their spending, manpower, and procurement. … Only four European countries last year hit 2 percent of GDP on defense. …

Now Poland, which fell just short of that level last year, is requesting that Washington establish a permanent base and garrison. Warsaw says it will kick in a couple billion dollars, while Washington can pick up the change on its way to confronting nuclear-armed Russia in a crisis. …

Europeans don’t see Russian aggression as a threat to them:

Vladimir Putin is an unpleasant character, but he is not suicidal. Russia today looks a lot like the pre-1914 Russian Empire, intent on having its interests respected and its borders protected. Taking back Crimea, which hosts the Black Sea base at Sevastopol, and preventing Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO were obvious and important interests. But Putin would stand to gain little from triggering full-scale war by invading one or more of the Baltic States or Poland, the most nervous alliance members.

Most of Europe agrees with this assessment. The specter of Russian aggression simply does not frighten. Europeans recognize that Russian troops are not going to march through their neighborhoods, so why spend more on defense? Especially since Uncle Sam can be trusted to play his default role. …

Euorpe … enjoys about 12 times the economic strength of Russia. Italy’s GDP alone is larger than that of Russia. Moreover, the Europeans have more than three times Russia’s population. …

Free-rider Deutschland:

The biggest problem today is that Berlin’s actions don’t match its words. In 2014, Merkel’s last government promised to hit 2 percent of GDP by 2024. … But in 2015, total German defense spending dropped to 1.1 percent. During last year’s election campaign, the opposition Social Democrats hardened their position against expenditures that, from Berlin’s standpoint, make no sense, since the likelihood of a Russian attack on Germany is only a bit greater than that of a Martian invasion.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen recently expressed a desire “to reach defense expenditures of 1.5 percent of GDP in 2025.” However, the coalition budget caps military outlays at 1.3 percent.

This helps explain the judgment of the Atlantic Council’s Jorge Benitez: “The readiness of the German military is abysmal.” During a recent assessment, the German army had 244 tanks, but only 95 were battle-ready. None of the country’s six (count ‘em, six!) submarines were in service. Not one Eurojet fighter was combat-ready. Just 8 percent of German soldiers said they trusted their weapons.