Tag: europe

Is Europe Irrelevant?

Paul Starobin at the National Journal’s Security Experts Blog has kicked off a spirited debate surrounding Europe’s military capabilities (or lack thereof). The jumping off point in the discussion is Robert Gates’s speech to NATO officers last month, in which Gates lamented that:

“The demilitarization of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it – has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.” [Justin Logan blogged about this here.]

Starobin asks: “Can America Count On Europe Anymore?”

Is Gates right? What exactly does “the demilitarization of Europe” mean for U.S. national security interests? Should Americans care if Europe has to live in the shadow of a militarily superior post-Soviet Russia? Is NATO, alas, a lost cause?

[…]

In short, should the U.S. be planning for a post-Europe world? Does Europe still matter? Can we count on Europe any more?

My response:

It would be unwise for Americans to write off Europeans as a lost cause, congenitally dependent upon U.S. military power, and unable to contribute either to their own defense or to policing the global commons. We can’t count on Europe – right now – but that doesn’t mean we can never count on Europe in the future.

Americans who complain about Europe’s unwillingness to play a larger role in policing the globe, and who would like them to do more, should start by exploring the many reasons why Europe is so weak militarily.

Consider, for example, Europe’s half-hearted and inconsistent steps to establish a security capacity independent of NATO – and therefore independent of the United States – since the end of the Cold War. Such proposals have failed for many reasons, but we shouldn’t ignore the extent to which Uncle Sam has actively discouraged Europe from playing a more active role. Most recently, Hillary Clinton expressed the U.S. government’s position that political and economic integration would proceed under the EU, but security would continue to be provided by NATO. This echoes similar comments made by the first Bush and Clinton administrations with respect to European defense. (See, for example, Madeleine Albright’s comments regarding European Defence and Security Policy (EDSP) in 1998).

We can dismiss such comments as useful cover for Europeans who were looking for an excuse to cut military spending in the first place. The demographic pressures of an aging population consuming a larger share of public resources are being felt in many advanced economies, but are particularly acute in Europe.

But the problem goes well beyond the fiscal pressures associated with maintaining an adequate defense. Washington has been openly hostile to any resurgence of military power in European, no matter how unlikely that might be, on the basis of what political scientists call hegemonic stability theory. That theory holds that it is better for security to be provided by a single global power than by regional players dealing chiefly with security challenges in their respective neighborhoods. The argument is that such self-sufficiency is dangerous, that it can lead to arms races, regional instability, and even wars. One can think this a smart philosophy or a dumb one, but we can’t ignore that it has guided U.S. foreign policy at least since the end of the Cold War.

It could be argued that the costs to the United States of providing such services for the rest of the world are modest, but that is ultimately a judgment call. To be sure, the dollar costs will not bankrupt us as a nation, but Americans spend $2,700 per person on our military, while the average European spends less than $700. The bottom line is that Europeans have little incentive to spend more because they don’t feel particularly threatened, and they aren’t anxious to take on responsibilities that are ably handled by the United States. The advocates of hegemonic stability theory would declare that a feature, not a bug. Mission accomplished.

And that might be true, if the greatest threat to global security were a resurgence of conflict in Europe, and if it is truly in the U.S. interest to forever have allies with few capabilities and many liabilities. But that seems extremely shortsighted. The sweeping political and economic integration in Europe has dramatically reduced the likelihood of another European war. In the meantime, the fact that we have many allies with little to offer by way of military assets, and even less political will to actually use them, is forcing the U.S. military to bear the disproportionate share of the burdens of policing the planet. And in the medium- to long-term, while I doubt that we will be facing “a militarily superior, post-Soviet Russia,” allies with usable military power might ultimately serve a purpose if Moscow proves as aggressive (and capable) as the hawks claim.

In short, Secretary Gates’s comments last month suggest that he has stumbled upon the realization that being the world’s sole superpower has its disadvantages. This by itself would be a significant shift of U.S. policy, and therefore drew favorable comments by others who welcome such a change. (See, for example, Logan, Steve Walt, and Sean Kay.)

Getting Europeans to take a more active role – even in their own backyard – will be difficult, but not impossible. It starts with blunt talk about the need to take responsibility and to assume a fair share of the burdens of policing the global commons. But we’ve heard such comments before. What is also needed is greater restraint by Washington, behavior that over time will force the Europeans to play a more active role.

Do We Really Want to Mimic Western Europe’s Stagnant Welfare States?

Since many of the politicians in Washington want America to be more like Europe (including complete government-run health care instead of the partially government-run health care system we have now), it’s worth contemplating what that would mean for the economy.

America today is richer than Western Europe. Indeed, per-capita living standards are about 30 percent higher in the United States — and that’s according to the statists at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (see page 6 of this report). And we have been growing faster, which presumably should not be the case according to convergence theory (see Annex Table No. 1 of this OECD database).

It also seems that Europe’s economy is more likely to endure a double-dip recession. Bloomberg reports:

Europe’s economy may be coming unstuck from the global recovery as governments to the south of the region struggle to reverse budget deficits and consumers in the north pull back spending. After the 16-nation euro economy almost stagnated in the fourth quarter, data this week showed the weakness reaching into 2010. …“Europe is where we see the biggest risk of a double dip at the global level,” said Julian Callow, chief European economist at Barclays Capital in London. “Europe has been lagging and we’ve continued to see better numbers in Asia and now the U.S.” …“There are tentative signs that the U.S. economy may be pulling ahead from Europe,” [UBS strategist Nick] Nelson said in a Feb. 23 report… “The sovereign debt crisis in Europe’s periphery reinforces drags on euro-area growth,” said Michael Saunders, an economist at Citigroup in London.

Left-wing populists genuinely seem to believe that the economy is a fixed pie, so even though they are fundamentally wrong, their fixation on redistribution is understandable. After all, given their inaccurate view of the world, robbing Peter is the only way to lift Paul. What is more mystifying is why the (presumably) thoughtful left wants America to be more like Western Europe, where living standards lag America and the gap grows wider with each passing year. The only logical conclusion is that they are so fixated on differences in income (or, less charitably, are so resentful of success) that they are willing to make poor people worse off if they can impose even greater damage on rich people.  As Winston Churchill noted, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Statism Update from Brussels

America may have dodged the bullet of Obamacare thanks to voters in Massachusetts, but even if the left ultimately succeeds in expanding government’s control of health care, the United States will still have more freedom than Europe. It seems that the European Union’s governing entities, the European Commission and the semi-ceremonial European Parliament, combine the worst features of statism and collectivism from the entire continent. The Euro-crats make lots of noises about subsidiarity and other policies to leave decision making in the hands of national and local governments, but virtually every policy coming from Brussels is a new power grab for unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. The latest example is possible EU-wide driving laws for the purposes of imposing absurdly low speed limits and to requiring foolish rules against more comfortable and safer large cars. Here’s what the UK-based Express wrote about the topic:

Brussels bureaucrats want to slap draconian European Union driving laws on Britain’s roads in a new “green” campaign on motorists, it emerged last night. Measures being considered include a barrage of new maximum speed limits in town and city areas. British motorists could also be forced to undertake exams in “environmentally-friendly” road skills as part of an EU-wide overhaul of driving tests. And many large cars and other so-called gas-guzzling vehicles face being banned from newly-declared “green zones” in urban centres. The latest threat of meddling from Brussels comes in an Action Plan on Urban Mobility drawn up by European Commission transport chiefs. …Mats Persson, of the Euro-sceptic think tank Open Europe, commented: “This illustrates that the EU simply can’t stop interfering in every aspect of people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, a different tentacle of the European octopus is proposing that the European Union be given the power to audit budget numbers from member nations. Given the fiscal fiasco in Greece, this seems like it might be a reasonable step - until one remembers that the EU’s auditors every year give a failing grade to the EU’s own budget practices. The EU Observer reports on the issue, but the phrase “blind leading the blind” somehow did not get included:

…the European Commission has indicated it will seek audit powers for the EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, in order to verify elements of national government accounts. …Speaking to journalists after a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday (19 January), outgoing EU economy commissioner Joaquin Almunia said greater Eurostat auditing powers could have avoided the mistakes that led to the Greek revision. He said the commission will propose “a new regulation in order to obtain powers, which we’ve already requested, to give Eurostat the possibility of carrying out audits.”

Last but not least, that same EU Observer story has a tiny bit of good news, or at least a dark cloud with a silver lining. Some of Europe’s governments want to impose an EU-wide tax on banks. This certainly fits the theme of ever-growing levels of bureaucracy and interference from Brussels, but the good news is that there is still (even under the statist Lisbon Treaty) a national veto on tax matters. So even though some of the big nations in Europe want to demagogue against the financial sector, the EU’s taxation commissioner (and former communist apparatchik from Hungary) indicated with sadness that such a tax probably would not make it through the process:

While discussion on Greece took up considerable time, EU finance ministers did have an opportunity to discuss a Swedish proposal for an EU-wide bank levy to mitigate the effects of future financial crises. …British, Belgian and German ministers were amongst those who showed moderate support for the idea. However, outgoing EU taxation commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said it was unlikely to fly because of EU unanimity voting in the area of taxation.

Someone in Europe Is Talking Sense on Carbon Tariffs

The nominee for EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht has taken the brave step of opposing carbon tariffs, called for by many European politicians (including, notably, French President Nicolas Sarkozy).

In the first day of his confirmation hearings, Mr. de Gucht expressed concern that carbon tariffs were a possible first step in a “trade war” and implied that they were in any event inconsistent with current trade law. (I agree.) He also called for abolishing tariffs on goods beneficial to the environment as a trade-friendly way to reduce greenhouse gases, and expressed support for the Doha round of multilateral trade talks. (More here.) While the Trade Commissioner’s influence over actual trade policy in the EU is arguably limited, it is good to have someone in the post who is instinctively suspicious of green protectionism and friendly towards the WTO.

The European Parliament is due to vote on the European Commission nominees (en masse) on January 26.

Great Moments in Government Waste, the European Version

While American politicians are experts when it comes to squandering money, they may not be the world’s most profligate group of lawmakers. To be sure, American politicians sometimes give big piles of other people’s money to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the politicians at the European Commission in Brussels engage in similar forms of corporate welfare with their Emissions Trading Scheme.

The overall burden of government is heavier in Europe, so that certainly suggests that there are greater opportunities to waste money, but what makes the European Commission special is that it is insulated from democratic accountability and there is no system of checks and balances. So even though the actual amount of money spent by Brussels is small compared to what is wasted by national governments in Europe, the outcomes are especially obscene. Here’s a story from the UK-based Daily Mail, reporting on a program (no joke) to fund activities such as basket weaving and siestas:

British taxpayers are helping to fund basket-weaving and slapstick acting workshops for young people across Europe. The projects, which include meetings about folk dancing and even a scheme to promote afternoon siestas, are part of an £800million EU programme to help people aged 13-30 ‘feel European’. …Another venture in Finland received thousands to support a coffee house which offered ‘everyone the chance to have a sleep for free’. It aimed to encourage afternoon naps to reduce stress. ‘Youth exchange participants’ also flocked to Macedonia last year for a meeting entitled Stories And Legends, receiving £18,000 to explore storytelling. …An EC spokesman said the projects were about exposing young people to other cultures and increasing their participation in  society. He added: ‘I don’t see anything wrong with basket-weaving or music-making if it encourages young people to meet other Europeans and learn a new skill from another part of Europe.’

Readers may be thinking this is no big deal. After all, American politicians fund pork projects all the time. But here’s the clincher. The UK’s Daily Telegraph reports that the European Commission is subsidizing a ski trip for…drum roll, please… the children of European politicians, and that the subsidies even go to households with income equivalent to about $175,000:

Taxpayers will heavily subsidise a skiing holiday in the Italian Alps for the children of MEPs and European Parliament officials in February. …The eight-day skiing trip for 80 children aged between eight and 17 is timed to begin over the weekend of St Valentine’s Day, providing some romantic time off from parenting for officials.  Costs, the holiday is priced at 920 euros (£822), are generously subsidised by the parliament’s budget. Households receive different levels of subsidy depending on their monthly income but even those on a income of over £108,000 get a discount. There is reduction of up to 52 per cent for officials earning £69,620 a year and an MEP, earning £86,000, is eligible for a subsidy of 45 per cent. …The children will enjoy full board in a three-star hotel in the beautiful village of Spiazzi. The trip includes “workshops” in a “multilingual environment” on the themes of “the mountain, its snow, its nature”. …The parliament’s spokesman declined to comment on the holiday.

Perhaps I’m not paying close enough attention, but I can’t think of anything the crowd in Washington has done that rivals this odious example of self-serving by lawmakers. Can anybody come up with an example that tops this?

Thursday Links

Don’t Copy Europe’s Mistakes

In this new video, Eline van den Broek of the Netherlands needs only about four minutes to explain why government-run healthcare in Europe is a mistake and why the problems in the U.S. healthcare system are the result of too much government, not too little.

The only thing I don’t like about this video is that I fear people may no longer want to watch the ones I narrate.