Sunday, September 19, 2004

My linking mechanism is not working so I decided to print the following article as a post. It is by Thomas Bray of the Detroit news. It examines why Europe -- especially France and Germany -- is unable to make a meaningful contribution to international security.

Happy reading!!


How Europe became a 90-pound weakling

By Thomas Bray / The Detroit News

If there is a consistent thread to John Kerry’s constantly shifting Iraq policy, it’s that George W. Bush didn’t do enough to create a real coalition to do the fighting. If elected, Kerry pledges to rectify that oversight.

But that involves several large assumptions, beginning with the question of whether the foremost absentees from the Iraq conflict, France and Germany, would report for duty. Second, what could these two countries bring to the party even if they were so inclined?

The answer: Not a lot.

The harsh fact is that the European military establishment, never large to begin with, is a 90-pound weakling. The United States, despite years of cutbacks beginning in the wake of the Cold War, plunked down nearly $400 billion last year to support its military. That’s about 3.7 percent of gross domestic product, only about half the amount spent at the height of the Cold War. The European Union, by contrast, spends less than 2.0 percent of its GDP on the military.

France spent a grand total of about $40 billion in 2002, according to North Atlantic Treaty Organization figures. Germany spent about $37 billion. The United Kingdom, though Prime Minister Tony Blair has proved to be a stalwart friend, came up with about $37 billion. Canada is off the charts at a mere $10 billion, and shrinking fast.

In Bosnia, where the French and Germans did collaborate in the sort of coalition Kerry favors, the United States had to deliver an embarrassing 85 percent of the missile strikes because of the primitive condition of the European air forces.

Why is Europe so weak? The trend began well before the end of the Cold War. Increasingly, Europe opted for the free-rider approach, happy to let American taxpayers shoulder the major share of the burden. But Europe’s continuing power-slide strongly suggests there may be an even more fundamental reason for its weakness: the debilitating effect of the vast European welfare state.

Europeans like to look down their noses at what they see as America’s “cowboy capitalism.” They prefer a system with generous economic and health benefits. And once somebody has a job, employers are all but forbidden to fire them or lay them off.

But the costs are substantial. Employers are understandably reluctant to hire new workers. And the average tax burden in Europe is about 40 percent, compared with 30 percent (federal and state) in the United States. Thus, while America was generating tens of millions of jobs in the 1980s and ‘90s, Europe was virtually stagnant.

There’s a lot of moaning stateside about President George W. Bush’s jobless recovery. But the unemployment rate in America is 5.4 percent, or less than it was in 1996 when Bill Clinton was running for re-election. In Europe, the average unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent.

And lest you think that Europe’s military stinginess and high tax rates at least keep deficits down, most European countries are running substantially in the red. Both France and Germany have failed to meet European Union requirements — which they themselves wrote — to keep deficits under 3.0 percent of GDP. The U.S. deficit is 3.7 percent of GDP.

John Kerry says the Bush administration offended our allies by “dissing” them on such matters as the Kyoto global warming accords, which Bush opposes. But the European fondness for carbon dioxide controls is easily explained by the fact that they would impose the biggest penalty on the American economy. This would make it far easier for Europe to compete without having to dismantle its cozy welfare state. Think of Kyoto as Europe’s weapon of mass destruction.

A broader European coalition to help out in Iraq? Don’t count on it. There isn’t much that France and Germany could contribute, beyond some marginal peacekeeping forces, even if they wanted to. And they are likely to remain unwilling to do so even if John Kerry is elected.



Thomas Bray is a Detroit News columnist who is published on Sunday and Wednesday. He can be contacted at (313) 222-2544 and

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