- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

LONDON The flooding that struck central Europe this month is doing what no amount of anti-military politicking has been able to do: force cuts in NATO-members' defense budgets to pay for billions of dollars in flood relief.
The most devastating floods to hit the continent in almost 150 years have led Austria to reduce its planned purchase of Eurofighter combat jets from 24 to 18.
The Czech Republic has scrapped plans to buy 24 British/Swedish Gripen fighters because of an urgent need for funds to pay for flood damage.
Germany, similarly faced with billions of dollars in damage and with an election a month away, is expected to renege on a commitment to fund such major European defense projects as the A400M military transport aircraft and Meteor air-to-air missile.
Poland and Hungary likewise may be forced to reconsider some of their defense expenditures.
"Each nation makes its own purchasing decisions, of course, but our goals do include the need for next-generation fighters and multipurpose aircraft," a NATO spokesman in Brussels said. "There may be some delays, but I don't think I'd be prepared to say we are worried yet."
The anticipated cutbacks come at a time when the United States is pressing its NATO allies to invest in modern weaponry. After the 1999 air war in Kosovo, many NATO countries made a decision to modernize.
"I think some politicians may see these floods as a blessing in disguise, since they have an excuse now not to spend on defense," said one NATO source. "I have to admit that right now it is very difficult to justify buying advanced jet fighters when you are standing waist-deep in floodwaters."
The NATO summit in Prague in November will decide which of nine Eastern European countries will be admitted to the alliance and when, and also will consider national capabilities. For the first time, NATO will require each nation to say exactly what it can best contribute and when.
"It is no longer enough for nation X to say it has lots of conscript infantry troops when what NATO wants is specialist engineers, field hospitals or light, fast reconnaissance units," said a senior British officer. "It may be that some nations should give up some aspect of their national defense in order to specialize and let other countries cover for them."
The Czech Republic's requirement for fighters, for instance, dated to before 1999 when it joined NATO and needed to replace its aging Soviet-made MiG 21s.
It chose the British/Swedish Gripens partly because of a political need to embed itself among its European Union neighbors.
The Gripen is the most advanced light fighter in Europe and would have provided the Czech air force a seat in the front row of European air defense.
The Czech Republic, however, also has some of the best deployable chemical and biological warfare detection units in NATO used in the Persian Gulf war and Afghanistan.
With Iraq considered a threat with its chemical and biological weapons, NATO may conclude that this is where it prefers the Czechs to spend their money rather than on advanced combat aircraft they can't afford.
"Europe needs to target its defense spending much better than it has so far," said a British official. "Unlike the Americans, we get too little back for what we spend and we can't take it to where it is really needed."

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