Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Put Up or Shut Up

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, December 10, 2002 --  

President Bush's impressive collection of recent foreign policy victories has been obtained at the cost of rising anti-Americanism in Europe. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that the number of people with favorable views of America have dropped by 17 percent in Germany in the past three years.1 While the figures show that 61 percent of Germans still view America favorably, this number understates the true anger that has developed over war preparations against Iraq. Twice on foreign trips this fall, I have been taken to task by furious Europeans, eager to rail against the U.S. Government to any American they could find. Meeting such Europeans is not unusual. Among Germans, 71 percent oppose the use of force against Iraq.3

The Europeans are livid, and it's not hard to understand why. Since they host numerous NATO military bases that would be used to stage a war on Iraq, President Bush has been using strong arm tactics to drag them into a war they oppose. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, once Europe's most vocal opponent of the war, has now quietly been cornered into accepting the use of bases in Germany to launch attacks on Iraq. Europeans, unlike their cousins across the Atlantic, do not see the point in a war, and they are not happy that their views have been ignored by a "unilateralist" America.

While Europeans may be correct in their opposition to a war, they are completely wrong to develop such righteous indignation when ignored by the U.S. Government. America's government ignores Europe on military matters because, quite frankly, Europe just doesn't matter when it comes to military matters. Ever since the end of World War II, Europeans have allocated only modest budgets to their armed forces, while enjoying the protection of tens of thousands of American troops stationed on their soil with expensive American weapons.

In recent NATO actions in Serbia and Afghanistan, European militaries have been so lacking in modern equipment that they were almost a hindrance to the American effort. Europe's militaries are relatively under equipped because they continue to spend comparably little on their armed forces. The United States spends 3.2 percent of its GDP on defense, while Germany and Britain spend only 1.4 percent.4

Even this stark difference understates the extent of Europe's military weakness. European governments spend much smaller percentages of their military budgets on advanced weapons compared with America. Thus, their militaries do more to serve the purpose of increasing employment than they do to help fight wars.

This dichotomy in military preparedness is especially striking, given the greater costs of defending Europe compared with America. Europe lives in a bad neighborhood. Even after the fall of the Nazis and the Soviets, Europe experienced a series of unstabilizing Balkan wars. Ample threats remain, ranging from the unpredictable dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, to the bitterness of well-armed ethnic Russians in former Soviet Republics, to the slight risk of a nuclear-armed Iraq on Europe's southeastern frontier.

In such a dangerous environment, the only reason European voters choose not to spend much on defense is because they know America's military will come to the rescue whenever something goes wrong. This is exactly what happened in World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Bosnia, and Kosovo. They know that if Iraq ever does become a threat to Europe, the U.S. Government will bail them out. With such a fantastic insurance policy, it is no surprise that Europeans oppose a preemptive war.

The time has come for Europe to take care of the burden of its own defense. America, with no neighboring threats, spends way too much on its military. The U.S. Government needs to cut costs by pulling its troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo, and closing its bases in Western Europe. Given that Saddam Hussein is a much greater threat to nearby Europe than distant America, it would be much more appropriate for Europe to handle the Iraqi threat. Of course, this is impossible, given the anemic state of Europe's militaries. As long as European taxpayers fail to carry their own weight on defense, they should not be surprised that their opinions on defense carry little weight as well.


1. Pew Research Center for People and the Press, What the World Thinks in 2002; How Global Publics View: Their Lives, Their Countries, The World, America, December 4, 2002

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Central Intelligence Agency, CIA World Factbook, 2002