Speaking recently, UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond explicitly called upon Germany to help ‘deliver more useable firepower to the NATO alliance’ and Europe, adding that the Second World War had happened a long time ago. Stan Boardman would no doubt be incredulous at such a statement, probably screaming ‘The Germans? They bombed our chippy!’ It is also safe to say that anyone else who was affected by Hitler’s destructive war machine and racial policies would be distinctly unimpressed too. However, with the imminent collapse of the Euro and a US military pivot to Asia only months away is it time for Germany to substantially increase their military capabilities in a bid to offset a rapidly weakening European NATO?
On the face of it there doesn’t seem to be much need. As the world’s foremost military power the United States has taken an active interest in the military protection of Europe since the Second World War through the operation of a large network of bases and training facilities. Additionally, both Britain and France feature fourth and fifth respectively on lists accounting for global arms spending. As usual though, statistics and broad foreign policy statements do not tell the whole story.
Whilst big spenders, the literal ‘bang’ that Britain and France gets for their ‘buck’ has diminished distinctly since 2010. Grappling with huge structural deficits, the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced eye-watering cuts which resulted in the early retirement of a British aircraft carrier capability, serious reductions in mechanised infantry and compulsory redundancies for thousands of highly trained soldiers, airmen and sailors. Furthermore, further announcements by the Ministry of Defence have highlighted the need to shed another 4000 posts by 2017; such cuts no doubt shattering the illusion that Britain can unilaterally project anything more than a few missiles around the globe.
Likewise, whilst grappling with their own financial difficulties the United States has also been forced to make some tough choices. Recognising the dramatic rise of a resurgent, territorial and potentially economically unstable China, President Obama recently announced a new American foreign policy doctrine – one in which American military power is directed away from Europe and towards Asia. Indeed, the Americans are canny enough to realise that the 21st Century will belong to Asia, not Europe. Ultimately this means that Europe is no longer completely protected by the United States.
Whilst politically damaging for European outsiders such as Britain, the shedding of NATO military resources and an American pivot to Asia is more worrying for Europe and the future of a young, incoherent and militarily weak European Union. It is an unmistakable historical fact that Europe has only known continued peace and prosperity for as long as the NATO alliance has enabled stability within Western Europe; as a former Cold War battleground and largely responsible for two World Wars the European borders are among the most politically unpredictable and volatile regions on the planet.
To find evidence of this you do not have to look far. For instance, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia created a multitude of problems for the European Union which were made more so complex by limited European firepower and an almost complete lack of support from Washington for a prolonged military operation.
Likewise, continued Russian support for the morally bankrupt, repressive and repulsive Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad despite massive international pressure highlights the issues that the European Union is likely to face in the future. Bordered in the East by Russia and former Soviet Bloc states, the European Union will no doubt be expected to respond to further Russian provocations now Moscow is awash with cash due to a current commodity boom. Additionally, with further ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions predicted in the Middle East it is almost a certainty that European military forces will be required to undertake combat roles with increasing frequency. A NATO strengthened by Germany would undoubtedly help to ease pressures on both American and European allies.
After reading the above you would be forgiven for thinking that I am an arms dealer in favour of creating a ‘fortress Europe.’ However, whilst amusing, such assumptions would be incorrect. As the most populous country with the largest economy in Europe, Germany increasingly finds herself as the leading European power to which all others seek guidance and support. Indeed, all recent European economic solutions have focused upon using the strong German economy as a base for either bailouts or recovery options. Ensuring that Germany has the military firepower to match economic and political capabilities is only fair.
And as the strongest and richest Eurozone nation, the colossal might of the German economic machine could be used to ensure that even when other NATO allies are sacrificing military units the security of Europe is not affected. Undoubtedly, a strong European economic recovery would no doubt greatly benefit from a continued secure, stable and confident Europe, supported by a strong and confident Germany.
Everyone deserves a second chance, right?
Largely ignored by the mainstream media, a recent Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) report has shown that in terms of the world economic league table rankings, Brazil overtook the UK in 2011 to become the world’s sixth largest economy. Whilst disappointing for Britain, other key European countries suffered a similar fate. By 2020 Germany, Italy and France are also expected to slide significantly down the league table, having been overtaken by the rapidly emerging Asian ‘tigers’ and BRIC countries. Aside from the obvious dent to national pride and international economic influence, what does the report mean for the future of the United Kingdom, Europe and the Western world?
When considering Western decline, most concerning for Europe, America and Japan is the spectacular rise of two BRIC countries; Russia and China. Largely reliant on natural resource exploitation for predicted future growth, Russia is both a past adversary of the West and a likely future one. Recent Russian defence spending has focused on enlarging the armed forces to cope with high unemployment, joint military manoeuvres with China and an increasingly bombastic international role culminating in the now largely forgotten 2008 invasion of Georgia.
Unlike Russia, China is not particularly resource rich. Despite this, the official Chinese military budget has increased by nearly 200% since 2001; this being fuelled by exceptional double-digit economic growth throughout the decade. Unofficially, the budget is rumoured to have increased by an even larger amount. This budget amplification has enabled the Chinese to design and produce advanced stealth fighters, create a naval base in the Seychelles to directly threaten India and purchase rusting Russian aircraft carriers. Again, similar to Russia, China has become increasingly vocal within international politics by peddling ludicrous territorial water claims and adopting an ever more offensive posture with regards to Taiwan.
When Russian and Chinese investment is contrasted with severe Western military budget cuts (including those recently announced by the United States) and combined with increased international posturing, commentators are rightfully concerned that the West faces a tough choice; to either submit to the new economic powerhouses or invest in the military and suffer from increased debts and economic stagnation. Furthermore, it is a certainty that at some point this century the United Nations Security Council will have to be overhauled to reflect modern day politics; this likely costing the West dear in terms of their previously almost unrivalled control of international affairs.
Faced with the CEBR report, continued Chinese and Russian intransigence combined with military expansion, a stubborn economic financial crisis and a continuous slew of disappointing economic data it would be rational for Western politicians to panic at the prospect of a century increasingly dominated by a series of unstable, unmanageable and untested countries. Especially countries ever more flush with cash and lacking a fondness for quaint European traditions, American excess or Japanese electronic domination.
However, this predictable panic is often unnecessary. Since 1945, the UK has been suffering from a slow international decline as the Empire has been gradually disbanded; a direct result of having fought and shouldering the burden of two devastating world wars. Despite such decline, this has not meant an end to peace and prosperity for the British people. Instead, decline has been ‘managed’ to ensure that aside from brief periods in history, British military power and influence around the globe has remained constant, national security has not been threatened and living standards have generally increased, decade after decade.
If managed correctly, many commentators are confident that gradual Western economic decline is not necessarily the doomsday scenario that scaremongers predict. Whilst international politics and conflict is inherently difficult to predict, unbiased observers are able to see that economic decline does not always correlate with a demise in international influence, foreign policy or military power. Provided that investment is made in the right areas, the British – and in some respects, Western – role in the world as nations of highly educated and skilled designers, service sector workers, high-end manufacturers and engineers can only complement non-Western economic growth. Indeed, the rapidly growing countries of Asia and Latin America need our skills and expertise as much as we need their natural resources and mass produced factory goods.
Whilst the CERB report is undoubtedly a blow to British and Western visions of self-importance, I can still see one reason within the report to be cheerful. Apparently, should the predictions turn out to be accurate the British rate of economic decline will not be as quick as that of our closest continental neighbour and age old national adversary, France. By 2020, the United Kingdom will have come from behind to beat the French to eighth in the global pecking order, and by quite a considerable margin too. Now that is a cause for celebration. Someone pass the Chardonnay…