D-Day and the lessons of history for Europe

D-Day and the lessons of history for Europe

Seventy years ago the price of European freedom was paid in blood with the sacrifice of brave young men on the beaches of Normandy. The commemoration of this defining moment of our history should act as a reminder to European leaders that security does not come for free.

The landing on Omaha beach was the bloodiest with GIs falling by the hundreds. It was chaos but American soldiers – like their comrades on Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword beaches – kept on coming, pushed forward by the largest military logistics operation ever undertaken.

In June 2014 the shores were quiet and the welcome warm for the dwindling number of veterans. World leaders put aside their quarrels to pay respect to the “immense and heroic endeavor of the Normandy soldiers” as Queen Elizabeth II stated. It was right that President Vladimir Putin was present and that the sacrifice of Soviet soldiers on the Eastern front was remembered.

The bravery of the 177 French marine commandos, a unit integrated into the British Special Forces,
was duly honored. On that fateful day they bore on their young shoulders the honor of a nation humiliated in defeat.

“France,” said President François Hollande, “will never forget what it owes to the United States.” I hope, too, that the French people never forget that the invasion of our country in May 1940 was in a large measure the consequence of poor political and military leadership in Paris. Within a few weeks French defenses and institutions collapsed. By the stroke of Marechal Pétain’s pen the Republic had surrendered and lost its great power status.

If democracy is not a given, Europe appears unwilling to pay the price in euros to defend it with adequate “hard power.” It is irrelevant that EU institutions were certified by a handful of Nobel Prize luminaries as the “guarantor” of our liberty. The reality is that the U.S. military and American taxpayers continue to bear a disproportionally high burden for European defense and security. The U.S. administration is thus justified to call upon its allies to step up their defense spending.

EU leaders claim in unison that “defense matters” yet the integrationist momentum toward a super welfare state is causing the steady shrinking of member states’ defense budgets with the loss of key capabilities in conventional forces. Paraphrasing NATO’s latest concept (Smart Defense), one has to wonder what is so “smart” about pooling and sharing military decline.  

In 2014 French green berets, the successors of the World War II “Commando Kieffer,” continue the tradition of professionalism and courage in many theaters of war. Too many perhaps… Experts warn that the large-scale operation in Mali has stretched to the limits the army’s power projection capabilities. Some even argue that the deployment in the Central African Republic could be the intervention too far. “Soldiers,” an officer confided, “are as worn out as the equipment they use.”

Last month rumors of more cuts in the defense budget triggered the most worrying of reactions from the French armed forces’ top brass: a threat of resignation by the four chiefs of staff. Across the Channel, too, the military establishment rang the alarm bell. The fighting in Ukraine should be yet another wake-up call for the Europe’s political class but in all likelihood, even France and the U.K., Europe’s foremost military powers, will find it difficult to prioritize defense spending in times of austerity. 

As we remember D-Day, we owe it to the soldiers who fought for our freedom to be fully prepared to defend it.