- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

Monday, the Pentagon announced a sweeping policy change that will see as many as 70,000 troops redeployed. Many of these personnel will come from bases in Europe.

These troop movements signal the end of large Cold War force structures and therefore have direct implications for our NATO allies. It is time for Europe to radically rethink its militaries. This must include shifting away from outdated force structures, cutting duplication and waste, and pooling resources. Otherwise, Europe risks military irrelevance in the coming decade.

Europe’s defense problems stem from a Cold War legacy, a time when defense requirements were relatively static and based on defending the homeland from the Soviet threat. When the Berlin Wall fell, those requirements changed dramatically. Yet little has been done on the European Continent itself to shift resources accordingly.

Tackling today’s security threats has therefore become very taxing for European militaries strained by performing more missions with fewer resources. This is largely because Europe as a whole lacks the capabilities (such as air-to-air refueling and strategic lift) needed to quickly project forces out of area.

Only a small fraction of Europe’s 1.9 million military personnel are readily deployable. Furthermore, many new missions involve higher conflict intensity than traditional peacekeeping. Europe also lacks crucial tools for performing these missions, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Precision Guided Munitions.

Yet the funds to buy new capabilities and technologies to support these expanded roles simply do not exist. This is due in part to unnecessarily duplicative spending across the Continent. Each military has its own training facilities, repair centers, and the like. Costs could be easily streamlined through pooling these kinds of logistical resources.

In addition, defense costs are rising. While transformational technologies are inherently expensive, costs for items such as spare parts and personnel also are increasing. When these trends are coupled with shrinking defense budgets, it becomes clear spending will likely remain static at best.

Developing those capabilities will only progress if European leaders decide to think more creatively and spend more efficiently. This will involve moving away from planning independent, full-spectrum capabilities toward finding opportunities for greater defense integration.

NATO is therefore at a watershed. Either it finds ways to develop an integrated force or it faces military unimportance in the 21st century. Fortunately, various opportunities exist for greater integration — and significant savings.

First, European militaries must cease unnecessary duplication of capabilities. For example, European nations currently field large numbers of various fighter aircraft. The resources required for procuring, fielding and maintaining these aircraft could be better used to develop more urgently required capabilities, such as strategic lift.

Second, the “logistical tail” of operations can and should be reduced. European spending on things such as logistics, training, basing, research and development is bulky and leaves significant room for cost savings through harmonization.

Third, increased coordination is needed between NATO and the European Union. Both European military organizations, especially their military staffs, need to work together more effectively to harmonize defense requirements across the Continent.

Finally, “Buy American” and “Buy European” defense trade policies are counterproductive. Such policies unnecessarily restrict defense ministries from getting the most value from their procurement dollars. The trans-Atlantic partners must try to reduce trade barriers between them while ensuring goods and technology are not re-exported to third parties.

This week’s announcement to move troops out of Europe highlights the inadequacy of Cold War force structures for providing security in this century.

Europe should take note: Europe has the potential to be a robust partner for the United States but lacks the capabilities to turn potential into reality. It can no longer postpone the tough decisions that will transform its militaries into flexible forces. Yet the implications of inaction are clear: Either Europe chooses to improve its capabilities today, or it will not be able to play a global security role.

Julianne Smith is deputy director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Kathleen McInnis is a research associate there.

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