COPENHAGEN – All over Europe, budgets are being pared as a new age of austerity takes hold. Defense expenditures are proving to be the easiest of targets. Even Britain under the Tory David Cameron has joined the rush to slash defense spending.
These cuts are coming at a time when European efforts to shoulder a fair share of the Western defense burden have been cast in doubt – not least in Afghanistan, where most European countries have limited their participation by insisting on a myriad of “caveats” that usually serve to keep their troops far from the most dangerous zones.
Defense cuts are also happening at a time when Europe, for the first time in modern history, has been overtaken by Asia in terms of total defense spending. Western Europe’s long-held position as the world’s most important concentration of military power after the United States and Russia appears to be over.
The US faces no serious challenge (not yet, at least) as the world’s dominant military power. After all, the US spends almost as much on its armed forced as the rest of the world combined. But the picture is changing with the rapid growth of China’s military expenditures. The official growth rate of China’s military expenditure – 15% per year over the last decade – has increased substantially, and there is much hidden military spending as well. Growing anxiety among China’s neighbors, particularly India, has led to remarkable increases in defense spending by other Asian powers as well.