LONDON – In the run-up to last December’s European Union defense summit, British General Nick Houghton warned that the United Kingdom’s armed forces risked being “hollowed out.” Too little of Britain’s reduced defense budget was being spent on personnel, he noted, and too much on “exquisite” equipment bought for the wrong reasons. “We must also be careful,” he cautioned, “that the defense budget is not disproportionately used to support the British defense industry.”
Houghton’s concerns are as relevant, if not more so, to Europe’s security. When it comes to using the defense budget to advance its industrial, employment, or regional-policy goals, the UK is by no means the worst offender. Europe’s leaders may have declared last December that “defense matters,” but evidently not as much as their economic concerns.
To assert one policy and practice another is unhealthy for democracy, as well as being economically inefficient. But, more important, Europe’s lack of seriousness about defense presupposes the absence of any military threat, and suggests that the need to project power and influence internationally is somehow irrelevant, outdated, or even distasteful in the modern age.
Yet time and again we are astonished by invasions, whether in the Falkland Islands or Kuwait decades ago, or in Ukraine today, and we discover that the “foreseeable future” is as close as a few days. Worse, the prevailing attitude toward defense overlooks the vital deterrent purpose of armed forces.