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America won’t be Europe’s policeman any more – but that’s good for Britain

25 February 2014

The US Army’s cuts are good for Britain. They will force our European allies to think about their own defence and re-evaluate their policies. This will highlight the benefits of NATO’s guarantees and put the focus in the EU on what matters.

For over twenty years European members of NATO have had a free ride. They’ve enjoyed the protection of a shield on land and a fleet at sea wherever needed, and have prospered as a result. Insurance without premiums has been one hell of a gift. It has also led to what Sir Humphrey would call ‘courageous’ assumptions.

Just think what hasn’t happened. The Baltic States haven’t been invaded, Poland hasn’t been cowed like Ukraine or Belarus, Japan hasn’t feared China, oil hasn’t hit $300 a barrel and piracy has had little impact on world trade. Given the instability of the world since the fall of the Soviet Union none of that was inevitable.

And none of it happened by accident, but the only ones who recognised that were the newly-freed states of Eastern Europe. Old Europe knew what Chirac’s France denied: it’s the US Army, Navy and Air Force who have guarded the free world at great personal cost both in lives and treasure. But for many in NATO that first function of a government – defence – cost little or nothing.

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Today’s Europe spends very little on self protection. Investment in navies has shrunk to its lowest levels in generations with only Britain and France manning fleets worthy of the name – and even then only just. Armies, though apparently not much reduced in size, lack the transport and equipment capable of allowing them to do more than simply operate in benign environments.

Air Forces have only maintained themselves by cutting everything that makes them viable. Even small nations without the capability to use them still buy aircraft. Why? Because even the most outwardly pacifist nation has a touch of the peacock about it. So we end up with situations, like last week’s, where Switzerland was unable to launch aircraft to intercept a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane because it was outside office hours. One can only hope an enemy will be more considerate.

The real reason the Swiss, and others, have been able to make such outwardly absurd decisions to keep Potemkin-like forces and leave themselves defenceless in a violent and unpredictable world is that they know they have the US on speed dial.

Yesterday, the US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel made it clear that though the number still works, unless it’s urgent and there’s nothing else on, there may be a delay in answering.

That forces questions not just of rearming, but more importantly attitude. Many countries will have to think again about their relationship to the US if they want to enjoy Washington’s guarantee of safety. Even trade will be affected. Many nations sell military equipment to the Gulf pretending not to understand that the relationship being bought is one through them to the US, not with them as a defence partner.

So America’s frankness has done Britain a huge favour. They have torn down the curtain. Europe should be under no illusion – America is opting out.

For our Eastern allies the timing is sobering. While the world watches for Russia’s reaction to events in Ukraine, Hagel’s comments have resonated louder, and our allies are left with a stark choice: invest in defence and make the political choices it demands or prepare for an EU in retreat.

David Cameron’s talks with Chancellor Merkel on Thursday should take on a new tone. They should focus on the things that bind us – trade and values – not pie in the sky plans like common defence. After all, if Russian influence moves West, Britain won’t be the first to feel the cold blast, Poland and soon Germany will.

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Show comments
  • Marie Shanahan

    It’s unfortunate, but maybe willful for a higher end. All of us will need to take the scars of war a lot more serious now. Things just became alteringly real. People don’t always appreciate our men and women dying on some “distant land” even if it is to protect that land. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be negative, but we hear things coming from Europe and they don’t seem to be mourning our dead in causes not our own a disappointing amount of the time. So we’ll stop dying for them. They need to concentrate on their own military capabilities. We’ll come, but only if it’s urgent. It’s the smartest decision I’ve heard Washington speak in years. God be with you, Europe. Still our friends. Be there if you really need us, but rise and fight well.

  • Ron Todd

    With no overt threat of invasion does Europe need a large military? The American Navy is still the guarantor of free trade, and terrorism is a police intelligence diplomatic problem. China is a land based empire that is only a threat to its immediate neighbours. And China has its own problems. Russia is dependent on gas and oil exports and could see the value of them drop rapidly and has difficult neighbours. Neither is an immediate threat to Europe.

  • Curnonsky

    Why bother with worrying about troops and weapons when there is no will to use them? The West is sliding into late-Roman decadence and decline; the Visigoths and Mongols stand ready to harry the dying beast. Russia, Iran, China – they are the future – better hope they want to preserve London, Paris and New York as tourist destinations, perhaps they will allow a little of their louche pleasures to remain for the entertainment of their vacationing elites.

    And the British armed forces will look marvelous, won’t they, as they drill in front of Buckingham Palace Casino and Spa for the gawking unintelligible hordes?

  • D Whiggery

    The EU is all for handling our defence but not through NATO.

  • Tom Tom

    ” if Russian influence moves West,” – could you be more absurd ? Who owns the Indie ? How many Russians live in London ? Who owns Waterstones ? Who owns Chelsea FC ? Who did France build a helicopter carrier for ? Which is the No2 foreign TV station after BBC in USA – RT !

  • Noa

    America’s military withdrawal may be bad for Europe, however I fail to see any benefit whatsoever accruing to the UK from its fellow cold turkeys in the EU.

  • Mynydd

    If Mr Cameron can reduce his armed forces so can we, so carry on Europe and defend your self.

  • zanzamander

    Then why is it meddling in Ukraine? Why is it turning us into Russia’s enemy. Why is it sponsoring Islamists? Why is it bullying us to admit Turkey in EU? We have to leave with US’s misdeeds, not them.

    It is not us that needs NATO, it is US that wants to keep this dead duck alive so that it can keep Turkey on side. Without NATO and the dangling carrot of EU membership, Turkey would scurry along to its natural ME allies and slide into an Islamist hole without trace. US opted out the day it elected Obama. It has set sails for the Islamist countries. US now relies on drones, spying, sponsoring terrorists, propping up thugs, arranging coups etc. to defeat its enemies, it doesn’t a need big army to do this.

    BTW, nobody wants to invade Switzerland to steal all its cuckoo clocks, ok?

    • Wessex Man

      haven’t they always?

  • fubarroso

    This is bad news indeed. The weakening of NATO forces by scaling back the US contingent paths the way to a EU defence force that will be incapable of our protection. If we become estranged from the EU (not impossible) it could even end up as a potential enemy force.

    • Wessex Man

      do grow up, the European mainland is disarming further and faster than us and the USA, yet still they are baying threats at the Russians. Time to get out of Europe, look after our own and trade with the world as we used to.

      • fubarroso

        I don’t agree that the European mainland is disarming. The EU is attempting to off lay the costs of building their own capability by diverting UK and French defence forces and assets to their perverted cause. I do agree that it is time to get out of the EU and look after our own ad trade with the World.

  • saffrin

    Sounds like the invitation Islamists have dreamed for, a defenseless Europe.

    • Jabez Foodbotham

      Immigration wins what invasion couldn’t

    • Marie Shanahan

      They aren’t babies. They were building and utilizing armies long before we were born. If anything, maybe the “lion” in them all must rise again. They can do this. They should be doing this.

  • Mark McIntyre

    Blighty be still waiting mind – for ‘Uncle Sam’ to withdraw all his ‘Cowboys’ from our land !
    The real madness must be the continued overstretching of Uncle Sams commitments over this side of ‘The Pond’ – and us ‘Limeys’ propping them up !
    Time to dis-arm on all sides – in as ‘dis-arming’ a manner as possible – if only not to frighten ‘the children’ !

    • Marie Shanahan

      You’ll fight well, brother. On speed dial, but only when it’s important. In the meantime. the old “lion” in Britain must rise and fight again. That’s all. God knows you fellows are more than capable. LOL :)

  • Count Dooku

    Hahahaha. The Germans afraid of Moscow? The Russians should be so lucky that Fritz has lost his taste for war. Were it not for our assistance all of western Russia would have been part of the Greater Rhine Empire.

    • Noa

      The USSR woud have defeated Germany regardless of receiving allied assistance.

      • Count Dooku

        I seriously doubt it. Not without our Arctic convoys or lend-lease from the US.
        But then I am also in no doubt that we would have been invaded and conquered without the war on the eastern front. But then that’s a seperate discussion.

        • Noa

          And you are entitled to your views. However Allied supplies, whilst helpful, were nver crucial. The much greater size, strength and equiment of the Red Army would have prevailed over the overstretched Wehrmacht.

          • Count Dooku

            The WM and LW were stretched because they were fortifying coastal Europe against our invasion as well as fighting us in Africa.
            While the Soviet Union definitely had the manpower, they were woefully underequipped and didn’t have tanks or planes until much later in the war. They also lacked fuel oil, munitions & steel

            • Wessex Man

              I suggest you go and get a good unbiased history book about the war. more Germans were killed on the Eastern Front than anywhere else, the Russians broke them.

              • Count Dooku

                My argument is a nuanced one. I’m not denigrating the fighting spirit of the Russians, just their preparedness to wage total war. I am also aware that the SU were decisive/instrumental in defeating Hitler.
                I am trying to point out that they became formiddable because the allies equipped them. The German military was the best equipped in the world by a country mile at the start of the war.
                Ultimately though, what won it was not men but American grain, coal, oil, lumber, cotten, munitions etc. It ended up being a logistical war.

                • Tom Tom

                  The British lost every battle until El Alamein which came after
                  Stalingrad. The German Wehrmacht was NOT the best equipped – it had
                  fewer tanks than France. It used Renault trucks to invade the USSR and
                  needed Skoda armaments. It did not use 24 hour production. The British
                  equipped the Wehrmacht at Dunkirk with 25-pounder field guns and lots of

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Yes, but it was the western air campaign that pinned down 1,000,000 Wehrmacht specialists and all their equipment, keeping them away from the Sovs. Air power ruled that war. Those who dominated the skies dominated the ground.

                  The US gave the Sovs nearly all their rolling stock. They would have been walking without it, and their materiel moved by ox cart.

                  Not to mention all the specialty metals, petroleum products, electronics and food.

                  The Sovs were still fighting on their own soil in 1945, even if they were also fighting in Berlin. That was all the progress they’d made, about 4 years after being invaded. The only reason they managed to hold out was because Stalin sent 14.5M Russian boys to their deaths. The Wehrmacht literally melted their gun barrels killing them, and still they came on. It was Stalin’s self-genocide that was the difference here.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  Self-genocide? I think that is a term we can do without.

                • the viceroy’s gin


                  Well then you and that little mouse in your pocket should make a point to do without it.

              • JabbaTheCat

                “more Germans were killed on the Eastern Front than anywhere else, the Russians broke them.”

                Strictly speaking, it was the Russian winter that broke the Germans and then the Russians pushed back with overwhelming numbers of tanks and ground troops…

            • Tom Tom

              How did the USSR lack oil ?

              • Count Dooku

                Refined oil, a lot of which was captured/destroyed during Barbarossa.

                • global city

                  Too many people still hold a candle for ‘Uncle Joe’.

                • Noa

                  Well I’m certainly not one of them.
                  After their failure to defeat Stalin in 1941, whilst still at war with Britain, the the very best that Germany could hope for was an impermanent settlement, possibly based on the treay of Brest Litovsk.
                  Hitler’s declartion of war put paid even to that.
                  The war might have lasted two or three years longer without US intervention, but Germany’s ultimate defeat was inevitable.

                • Noa

                  Most of Russia’s oil came from Azebaijan.

            • Noa

              The Todt organisation undertook the construction of fortifications, with conscripted and slave labour.
              Germany’s war against Russia was always predicated on a quick, blitzkrieg victory in 1941. It never had the resources for prolonged attritional warfare and was indeed dependent upon Russian supplied material for Operation Barbarosa.

          • global city

            With Britain out of the war the Wehrmacht would not have been so stretched. They most likely would have won against the USSR.

            • Noa

              But Britain was not out of the war, and the US was not in it, when Hitler invaded Russia.

          • tastemylogos

            logistics are always crucial

            • Noa

              The return distance between Berlin and Moscow is a very long, hungry, snowy, muddy and bloody 1,126.6 kilometres, as the Wehrmacht discovered.

        • Tom Tom

          There was no prospect of an invasion of the UK and no real intention. It
          was peripheral which is why 80% casualties were on the Eastern Front

        • Ron Todd

          Even if the Germans had got to Moscow what would have happened then? Would all the Russians have put up their hands and said OK we surrender. Or would they have destroyed all the food stores cut the German supply lines then like they did with Napoleon said to the Germans ok you have no food winter is coming what are you going to do next.

    • Tom Tom

      Actually if the Japanese had NOT attacked Pearl Harbour but invaded Eastern USSR Zhukhov’s troops could not have been moved to Stalingrad

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Yes, it’s amazing how Stalin got everybody else to fight his enemies for him… talk about useful idiots.

      • Ron Todd

        It is a long walk from Tokyo to Moscow. The Japs could have froze in Siberia for a long time before the Russians had to worry about them.

      • Wessex Man

        a lot of ifs there!

  • Tom Tom

    So that is why USS Donald Cook has just been moved to Rota in Spain ? I think this is hogwash, the US is simply focusing on missile shield and drone systems to wage hi-tech warfare in Europe and let Europs supply basic manpower. The US will never give up control of European defence and will use the NSA to stop any rival defence electronics industry in Europe.

    Unless women like Isabel start having lots of baby boys there won’t be the indigenous manpower to provide soldiers……even Germany is now talking of copying the British and hiring mercenaries since their volunteer Bundeswehr has been an unmitigated disaster

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Volunteer BW was not a ‘disaster’.

      Kriegsdienstverweigerer are no longer required to run the National Health Service – qualified Eastern European daycare and nurses have successfully filled the gaps. Pop goes another project fear bubble.

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