Budget cuts ‘hollow out’ Europe armies

Budget cuts ‘hollow out’ Europe armies

BRUSSELS - Reuters
Budget cuts ‘hollow out’ Europe armies

US Ambassador to NATO Daalder (C) talks with US Defense Secretary Hagel (L) and greets Georgian Defense Minister Alasania during a NATO meeting. REUTERS photo

Most European allies are “hollowing out” their armies as they slash defense spending, casting doubt on whether Europe can remain a viable military partner of the United States, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to NATO said June 17.

Many Western European countries have slashed defense spending in response to austerity induced by the 2008 crisis and the U.S. now accounts for nearly three-quarters of total NATO defense spending, Ivo Daalder said. “Most European allies are hollowing out their militaries, jettisoning capabilities, and failing to spend their existing budgets wisely,” he said in a farewell speech, hosted by the think-tank Carnegie Europe. “The gap between American and European contributions to the alliance is widening to an unsustainable level,” he said. “The trends need to be reversed.”

Britain lays off 4,400 soldiers

A day after Daalder’s words, British Defense Minister said that London laid off more 4,400 soldiers in a third wave of military job cuts intended to help tackle a budget deficit. The soldiers, 84 percent of whom had applied for voluntary redundancy, were informed in person by their commanding officers, the ministry said.

The concern in the U.S. was that “Europe is not investing enough in defense to remain a viable military partner”, said Daalder. “Europe’s ability to serve as America’s partner of first resort is diminishing,” he said, noting that Europe was slashing defense budgets at the same time that emerging powers in Asia and elsewhere were spending heavily on defense.

He urged European countries to use savings from withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan over the next few years to invest in new military equipment and to “reinvest in NATO” once the economic situation improved. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged earlier this year that declining defense budgets will put the alliance’s military power and political influence at risk.

As former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned two years ago, “The ability and willingness of the U.S. to fill the growing gaps left by European under-spending on defense is coming to an end,” Daalder added. However, he said that the U.S. was not abandoning NATO or planning to move away from Europe.

Two years ago, NATO played a critical role in toppling Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Daalder said that if defense spending cuts continued, he was not confident that NATO would be able to repeat such an operation in five or 10 years’ time.