Stephen M. Walt on the 2% debate

Finally, I found some sensible mainstream publication article that tells the public the same thing as I did for years.

This recurring concern with European defense spending is understandable, but it mostly misses the point. Why? Because the fundamental problem isn’t inadequate latent capacity or even a lack of mobilized resources. The only “clear and present” military threat Europe faces today is a resurgent Russia (though this threat may not be nearly as great as alarmists maintain), and NATO’s European members possess the wherewithal to deal with the challenge on their own. Leaving the United States and Canada out of the equation, NATO’s European members have nearly four times Russia’s population, and their combined GDP is more than 12 times greater. More importantly, even at today’s supposedly “inadequate” spending levels, every year NATO’s European members (again: not counting the United States and Canada) spend at least five times more on defense than Russia does.
The problem, in other words, is not the amount of money that European countries devote to national security. The problem rather is that they don’t spend these funds very effectively and don’t coordinate their defense activities as well as they could. Despite numerous attempts, Europe’s long-promised “Common Foreign and Security Policy” remains an aspiration, not a reality. This failure isn’t at all surprising, because CFSP is an EU initiative and the EU is still more of a collection of nation-states rather than a fully integrated community. The key point, however, is that throwing more euros (or kroner or zlotys) at the problem won’t fix it.


  1. The 2% mandate is obsolete and should be revised. The U.S. spends too much on defense as well. The article made some good points but the bashing of Trump, Fox News and Steven Bannon at the beginning of the article is boring.

  2. >>The problem, in other words, is not the amount of >>money that European countries devote to national >>security. The problem rather is that they don’t >>spend >>these funds very effectively

    Cannot agree more. More money wasted on the armies would not fix the main real problem: inefficieny. Real military power is not the result or more moeny, but of efficient use of the spending to create true fighting power, which also includes intangible factors.

    The russians are a real thread not because of spending or technolgoy, but because of this intangibles.

    Therefore more moeny would not solve the real problem and would lead not to more fighting power.

    We must change our military culture and moreover we must restore the efficency - otherwise any furhter spending would be only a useless waste.

    1. It's rare to find a opinion like Walt's where someone acknowledges the real spending relations, acknowledges that deterrence works at the current spending level and points at efficiency as the main topic.

      It's even more difficult to find someone who goes the next step and points out that if we had better efficiency we could actually reduce the military spending by much and still be safe.

  3. Could you perhaps shed some light as to how truthful this article is:
    [link to Spiegel article removed for stupid and specific German legal reasons]

    It seems absolutely unfathomable, how a country that spends nearly 80 times the amount that a frontline Baltic country can spend, but still ends up with an army that is under-equipped and under-trained. Surely this has to be propaganda of some sorts.

    1. Complicated story
      - Spiegel traditionally is highly critical of Bundeswehr
      - high cost of labour (recent conversion to all-volunteer force)
      - hollow force syndrome (especially regarding buying of spare parts and munitions)
      - imbalanced structure (too much medical support)
      - lacking readiness to disband units that have useless (obsolete) main equipment and recreate them when useful equipment becomes available again (example F-4F wings that shouldn't have existed in the 90's at all)
      - incompetent, some even disinterested ministers for 20+ years (the office has post-70's become a graveyard for rising politicians' careers)
      - inflated officer corps (in part because of staffs for multinational formations, growth potential)
      - procurement agency is lacking personnel, especially competent personnel
      - procurement regulations have become too intricate and too much an obstacle
      - too many much-publicised projects were cancelled or led to procurement of negligible quantities after high development expenses
      - distraction by ISAF mission and smaller great power games in Asia and Africa

      BTW, there's a reason why the Russian army cannot do more than rotate one understrength battalion battlegroup into the Ukraine conflict per "brigade" involved ;-).

    2. Sweden just released an inquiry about its participation in ISAF, the highlight being strengthen credibility as an international partner in these adventures, all other strategic goals being unmet. In particular for security (the biggest cost in the budget (11 BSEK out of 18) the result was: "fulfillment of objectives in terms of security and stability was poor. The Swedish military operations – and ISAF operations as a whole – did not succeed in assisting the Afghan authorities and government to maintain security and stability in the country. In the four ‘Swedish’ PRT provinces, the Swedish forces, together with those from other countries, did not assist in maintaining security to the extent desired, nor did it sufficiently succeed in building the capabilities of the Afghan security forces."

      I though that would cheer you up Sven, full report, and link to english summary here: http://www.regeringen.se/rattsdokument/statens-offentliga-utredningar/2017/03/sou-201716/