Europe Reckons With Its Depleted Armies

As European NATO members confront rampant materiel shortages, officials acknowledge Trump has a point in calling for more military spending

By Anton Troianovski in Berlin and Robert Wall in London, WSJ

A Leopard tank and Tiger helicopter of the German Armed Forces participating in military exercises in October near Bergen, Germany.
A Leopard tank and Tiger helicopter of the German Armed Forces participating in military exercises in October near Bergen, Germany. Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Soldiers in Germany’s Light Infantry Battalion 413 near the Baltic Sea coast complained last year that they didn’t have enough sniper rifles or antitank weapons or the right kind of vehicles.

During exercises, they told a parliamentary ombudsman, their unit didn’t have the munitions to simulate battle. Instead, they were told to imagine the bangs.

Across Europe, similar shortfalls riddle land, sea, air and cyber forces following years of defense cutbacks.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month irked European leaders when he berated them at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s new headquarters for insufficient defense spending and what he called unpaid military bills.

Current and former European officials were quick to point out that NATO members don’t owe dues to the U.S., but they acknowledged Mr. Trump wasn’t wrong: Europe lacks the capabilities to defend itself.

“Trump won’t have made many friends during his trip to Brussels,” said Richard Shirreff, a retired British four-star general and a former senior NATO commander. “However, Trump is dead right that European nations do not spend enough on defense.”

When Belgium put hundreds of soldiers on street patrols in Brussels after the Paris terror attacks in November 2015, it had to request a thousand armor sets from the U.S. Army. Britain’s Royal Navy has 19 destroyers and frigates. In 1982, during the Falklands War, it had 55.

Fighting wars—and preventing them—doesn’t entail just bullets and bombs. Troops and heavy weapons must be moved to the front, requiring fleets of planes, helicopters and trucks. Arsenals must be ready to reload weapons, necessitating stockpiles of munitions. Armies must be ready to defend themselves and to counterattack, which requires specialized systems. In Europe, all are in short supply.

The U.S. has also cut back its troop strength, naval fleet and tank forces from their Cold War highs. But Europe’s offerings are far outmatched by America’s high-end military capabilities, including advanced fighter planes, armed drones, elite special-operation forces and aircraft carriers.

Despite cutbacks in the Pentagon’s budget in recent years, U.S. military spending far exceeds Europe’s, and American conventional forces are generally better trained and equipped than their European counterparts. The U.S. defense budget, $680 billion by NATO calculations, dwarfs the alliance’s European members, which spend a total of $242 billion.

Europeans have tried for decades to more efficiently build military hardware and organize troops. That effort is littered with failures, delays and compromises. Today European allies spend roughly half as much as the U.S. on defense yet have less than one-sixth of its combat power, European officials acknowledge.

The U.S. has long chastised Europeans on their inadequate military. After the 2011 bombing campaign in Libya, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized allies for not having enough smart bombs to conduct the effort. NATO countries had to rely on U.S. targeting experts and refueling planes and even borrowed American munitions.

The real wake-up call, allied officials say, was Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, followed by Moscow’s intervention in Syria. Both displayed new Russian tactics and weaponry. Suddenly long-ignored weapons of the Cold War became relevant again.

“The Russian ground forces have under way the biggest modernization program they have undertaken in the last 50 years,” said Christopher Foss, editor of Jane’s Armored Fighting Vehicles. “Their new vehicles are a step-change in capability on what NATO has got.”

For decades, NATO’s nuclear forces kept the peace, offsetting any imbalance in conventional forces. Russia wouldn’t risk annihilating the planet by invading a NATO country, the thinking went. But in view of the risks of nuclear war, the West would only consider pushing the button against an all-out attack. A a so-called hybrid scenario like Crimea, involving a handful of unidentified soldiers sneaking across a border to foment unrest, is impervious to nuclear deterrence.

That is where conventional weapons fit in. The best way to prevent Moscow from stirring up trouble on NATO’s borders has been to ensure the world knew NATO had the firepower to win any kind of conflict, U.S. and allied officials say.

NATO’s challenges in achieving such deterrence today are exemplified in the decline in stocks of tanks.

During the Cold War, the Netherlands had 445 battle tanks. In 2015, the country put up for sale its last 60 tanks, along with its transport helicopters and many of its naval minesweepers. Instead, the Dutch sent soldiers to operate German tanks.

But Germany was also cutting tank numbers, from a Cold War peak of 2,125 Leopard 2 battle tanks to a force as of last fall of only 244, of which just over half were ready for action. The reduction has meant units sometimes have to borrow tanks from sister units for training with just hours’ notice, according to a parliamentary official.

A defense ministry spokeswoman said military units do sometimes need to borrow equipment from other units to carry out exercises—a problem, she said, that informed a recent government decision to invest more in such equipment.

The dearth extends beyond tanks. Last year, only around nine of Germany’s 48 NH-90 transport helicopters and 40 of its 123 Eurofighter jets were usable at any given time.

Hans-Peter Bartels, the German parliament’s armed forces commissioner who functions as a military ombudsman, said in his annual report this year that efforts to improve equipment and replenish munitions stores were taking too long. At Light Infantry Battalion 413 the battalion near the Baltic Sea, he said, materiel shortfalls led to “discontent and frustration” among the troops.

A German army spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the complaints reported to Mr. Bartels were accurate. She said the battalion currently has the equipment and munitions it needs to train properly and carry out its duties.

Stories of shortages abound in Europe. France recently sent only five tanks and 300 troops to a new NATO force in the Baltic states partly because French deployments in Africa, Syria and the streets of Paris have overtaxed its military, according to allied officials.

Britain’s storied Royal Navy is without a single aircraft carrier while it awaits the delivery of two carriers. When the HMS Queen Elizabeth sets sail in 2021, it may initially carry U.S. Marine Corps F-35B fighter planes while Britain builds up its own fleet. The U.K. has also placed its submarine-hunting crews with allies because it lacks planes and awaits new surveillance aircraft.

Britain and France—Europe’s biggest defense spenders—and Germany, its biggest economy, have all pledged to rebuild their militaries. In 2016, non-U.S. NATO military spending ticked up by $10 billion, an increase of 3.8% over 2015 outlays.

Officials say a first sign that Mr. Trump has had an impact may come later this month when NATO releases preliminary estimates for 2017 European defense budgets.

NATO’s goal that member countries spend 2% of economic output on defense is formulated as a loose target meant to be reached by 2024. But Washington increasingly treats it as a requirement. Days after the NATO meeting, Mr. Trump tweeted: “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”

German officials acknowledge their force has become hollow and vow to rebuild it—a decision they stress was made before Mr. Trump’s election. Chancellor Angela Merkel  pushed through parliament a military budget increase of 8% for this year, to €37 billion ($42 billion). According to the German government, that represents 1.2% of the country’s gross domestic product. Ms. Merkel says she is committed to NATO’s 2% goal.

German and U.S. critics say changes are too slow. The German defense ministry announced in 2015 it would rebuild its tank force, but the tanks haven’t arrived, to the frustration of U.S. military planners. The €760-million deal to refurbish 104 tanks was signed only last month. The two-year gap was due to the technical complexity of the refurbishment and procurement process, the German defense ministry spokeswoman said.

How money gets spent is another factor. “Better defense spending, not just more defense spending, is what is required,” said Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Transportation remains the most critical need, U.S. and NATO officials say. The U.S. has been urging allies to extend rail lines to training bases, since its transport trailers can’t legally carry tanks on European roads due to weight limits. The U.S. also wants Europeans to buy their own tank transporters.

Cargo planes and helicopters are also a big capability gap, officials say. If tensions with Russia flare on NATO’s borders, war plans call for reinforcements of front lines with NATO rapid-reaction forces. But deploying those forces quickly would likely depend on American equipment.

NATO says members are beginning to turn a corner. Later this month, the alliance will approve a new defense plan that boosts heavy equipment, like tanks, but also calls for additional surveillance planes, air refueling tankers and strategic airlift, according to a senior NATO official.

In the short term, the U.S. is filling the gap in European defenses. Last month, the U.S. announced plans for $4.8 billion in new military spending in Europe, an increase of $1.4 billion over last year.

In Germany, military spending has become an issue in September general elections. The main party challenging Ms. Merkel is casting her support for higher military spending as kowtowing to Mr. Trump, whom many German voters dislike.

Ms. Merkel’s chief electoral rival, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, said Thursday he would officially abandon the 2% goal if elected. “I don’t think this spiraling arms buildup makes sense,” he said.

At last month’s NATO summit where Mr. Trump lambasted Europeans, several leaders said they would publicly advocate higher military spending for the sake of their own national security, not American demands. But they also privately told Mr. Trump they agreed with him, according to diplomats.

“To an extent,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte after the meeting, “he has a point.”

June 4, 2017 | 6 Comments » | 61 views

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6 Comments / 6 Comments

  1. / It is a lot cheaper to take advantage of the ex-colonies!!! And now they refuse to pay back!!!

  2. Estonia and Poland, which do spend 2% of their GDP on defense, must be thrilled with the lack of tanks, helos, and transport.

  3. “Trump is right about NATO”

    “Donald Trump Should Stand Up For Americans By Giving NATO To The Europeans”

    Trump Says NATO Accepted His Demands, Declares It No Longer Obsolete

    As long as it is focused on Russia and not on Islam, it’s still obsolete. The Libyan war, Hillary’s war which led directly to Benghazi, mentioned in the article, should never have been fought. Quadaffi had given up his nukes and was finking on his fellow terrorists. His overthrow empowered Jihadist forces.

    Russia is supporting the established government in Syria against an amalgamation of Jihadist forces. It is allying itself with Iran, up to a point, because Russia, in all of its forms, has always supported whatever regime was in power in Iran, because it doesn’t want Iran, on its border, to be invaded but it is basically doing what we did, supporting Bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviets, playing off enemies against each other. It annexed Crimea, because it is 60 percent Russian, and the natives rebelled against their Ukrainian overlords and ASKED to rejoin Russia. Plus, they had naval bases there. Before the Obama/EU/Soros sponsored coup that overthrew the elected pro-Russian government of the Ukraine, there was no problem. This government, despite a Jewish Prime Minister and a few other officials, has been busy naming streets after Nazi collaborators with Jewish blood on their hands, trying to join the EU, and inviting in descendants of the Muslim Tartars Stalin expelled to other parts of the Soviet Union, many of them Jihadists. Putin wouldn’t know what to do with the rest of Europe. It’s idiocy.

    As long as Progressives are running the show, pretty much all of these wars will be about wasting blood and treasure in order to promote pacifism at home, while the enemy is stirring up patriotism at home. It’s all about Cognitive Warfare.

  4. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    Sorry. I meant this one. Same author.



    Cognitive warfare is the art of getting the more powerful enemy to unilaterally disarm. “In essence,” writes Stuart Green, author of a seminal work on the subject, Cognitive Warfare (p. 85), “cognitive warriors seek to shatter their enemies’ wills rather than their abilities to fight.” Ron Schliefer described its goal as “convincing your enemies to be pacifists and your own side to be patriots.”

    On a strategic level, CW in the modern era operates from the following principles:

    Democracies, while capable of fielding the most powerful armies, have profound vulnerabilities which CW exploits to dissuade democratic societies from using their military.
    Goad the enemy into wasting blood and treasure — intensify the natural distaste for war of civil societies and remove the will to fight a “senseless” war, thus negating their military advantage.
    Infiltrate the enemy narrative: exploit guilt, and exhaust them with cultural divisions among themselves.
    Tactics employed by cognitive warriors include

    Framing your narrative in cultural terms/memes familiar to the enemy, more specifically, attaching to the most self-critical elements of the target culture.
    Exploiting cultural weaknesses in target culture: commitments to fairness and reluctance to “demonize” the other, sharpening politically correct inhibitions, etc.
    Feeding lethal narratives into the information stream, demonizing a democratic enemy and pleading legitimate resistance on the basis of those accusations.
    Disguising aggressive hostility as “legitimate aspirations,” manipulating the “moderate” memes of the target culture (fear of accusations of racism and xenophobia) to delegitimize criticism of your side even as you scapegoat the enemy.
    Intimidating anyone who persists in criticizing you, if necessary, with violence.
    Anyone who listened to this list of tactics and thought, “that describes just what the Israelis are doing,” just failed the test of this mental exercise: the working hypothesis here focuses on the Palestinians. Indeed that reaction illustrates one of the major victories achieved by the cognitive warriors on the “other side,” that is, forbidding you to think ill of them, and insisting that you lay a thick coat of their projection onto your own side. For them this demand that you adopt their projection is an honorable act of aggression; for you, it is an act of honorable self-criticism and even-handedness. The result is, as I shall argue, is a deadly marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism.

    Place in strategies of Palestinians

    In the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel’s foes pursue a four-pronged strategy.

    paralyze your enemies with guilt
    tie them down with lawfare and diplomatic stigmatization,
    incite your own side to violent and irredentist hatreds, and
    get bystanders to either cheer you on, or at the very least, give you a pass.
    Tactics involve:

    Framing the narrative as Israel, the colonialist-imperialist mega-power with links to international Jewry and America, against the tiny Palestinian resistance: the Palestinian David against the Israeli Goliath.
    Create and launching lethal narratives that accuse Israel of deliberately murdering innocent civilians, preferably children.
    Fire at Israeli civilians from Palestinian civilian areas, trying to draw return fire that will kill some of your own civilians, thus producing lethal narratives.
    Inspire empathy for your own “innocent” victims among outsiders with the use of camera shots.
    Suppress any negative coverage of your own side through a variety of techniques from cutting off access, to intimidation, to violence.
    Spread the most virulent anti-Zionist memes – apartheid, nazi-like, genocidal – among useful infidels in the West.
    Use every Israeli military campaign as an opportunity to spread memes of Israeli violence, Muslim victimization, cowardice of “moderate” Muslim rulers, guilt by association of any “ally” of Israel – US, Europe.
    In this battle, journalism, especially “independent journalism” plays the single most important role. Without the cooperation – willing or unwilling – of outside journalists (still better, journalists from the enemy side), the Palestinian cognitive war strategy could not work. Thus an enormous amount of effort on the Palestinian side goes into affecting the product of journalists reporting on the conflict.

    Obviously the Israelis too recognize this problem and work to effect coverage, although Edward Saïd’s claim that “Israel has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into what in Hebrew is called hasbara, or information for the outside world (hence, propaganda),” would strike anyone aware of just how little funding Israel places in the cognitive war as risible.

    His comment, however, illustrates just one aspect of the cognitive war: each side accuses the other of “cheating” to influence the press, and succeeding. Thus even as CAMERA publishes the kinds of figures that make many a Zionist refer to NPR as “National Palestinian Radio,” FAIR publishes studies that put NPR in the tank with Israel-firsters. And, the mainstream news media complacently and triumphantly respond: “If we’re being criticized by both sides we must be doing something right.”

    My purpose here is to discuss the role of the mainstream news media in the Palestinian Cognitive War strategy – all understandable strategies, however dishonest and malevolent their means and message. My point is not to point the finger at Palestinians pursuing “the weapons of the weak” (although at some point the West needs to pressure the Palestinians to abandon this use of the public sphere for war and engage in both building a civil polity and encouraging the independent journalism necessary), but rather to call this activity to the attention of Western journalists, without whose rather fulsome cooperation, especially since the outbreak of the Second Intifada, this strategy could not possibly work…”

  5. Sebastien Zorn Said:

    It annexed Crimea, because it is 60 percent Russian, and the natives rebelled against their Ukrainian overlords and ASKED to rejoin Russia.

    Actually, I see a parallel with Texas whose predominantly American natives rebelled against their Mexican overlords, maintained the independence they had won for a time, asked to join the U.S. and were eventually accepted. The Left similarly views Texas as having been stolen from Mexico.

    They are like the characters in this satire across the board.

    “Sad satire: European Islam survivors plan the next boycott on Israel”

  6. Putin is a serial murderer and a dictator, just as his enemies say. However, he also happens to be Russia’s ruler, and we need peace with Russia. During World War II, we made an alliance of convenience with Stalin’s Russia, and Stalin murdered far more people than Putin. Later, Nixon and Kissinger initiated “detente” with Russia, even though Brezhnev was no saint either. Bush 41 and Bill Clinton supported Boris Yeltsin, who also killed some of his fellow Russians, and who was a hopeless crook and drunkard as well. Putin’s murders have been almost exclusively aimed at Russians who opposed him, and do not indicate an intention to conquer the West. It is not true that Russian “interference” changed the results of the U.S. Presidential election. The attack’s on Putin’s Russia by the “progressives” in the U.S. are really intended exclusively against Trump. The “progressives” are not really worried about Russia. They just consider it to a useful political club with which to beat Trump.

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