Alex Massie Alex Massie

Europe’s defence budgets may not be noble, but they are at least rational

Gideon Rachmann is unhappy that european defence budgets are still falling:

Since 2008, in response to the economic downturn, most big European countries have cut defence spending by 10-15 per cent. The longer-term trends are even more striking. Britain’s Royal Air Force now has just a quarter of the number of combat aircraft it had in the 1970s. The Royal Navy has 19 destroyers and frigates, compared with 69 in 1977. The British army is scheduled to shrink to 82,000 soldiers, its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars. In 1990 Britain had 27 submarines (excluding those that carry ballistic missiles) and France had 17. The two countries now have seven and six respectively.

And yet Britain and France are commonly regarded as the only two European countries that still take defence seriously.

[…] The situation in most other European countries is worse – Spain devotes less than 1 per cent of GDP to military spending. And much European military spending goes on pensions or pay, not equipment. The Belgians distinguished themselves in the Libyan campaign of 2011. But about 75 per cent of Belgian military spending now goes on personnel – causing one critic to call the Belgian military “an unusually well-armed pension fund”.

None of this might matter much if the US was still willing to step in whenever the Europeans fell short. In fact, America is losing patience with Europe’s inability to act on its own.

This is fine as far as it goes. The problem is that it does nto go very far. I confess I don’t see the point of writing about defence spending without at least attempting to match spending to needs. Nor, in its present predicament, do I quite see how one could realistically expect Spain to be in a position to double defence spending.

Washington often says it is displeased by europe’s defence draw-down.

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