15 November 2004

Superpower Europe?

Yglesias comments on "The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy", a new book by T R Reid.

I haven't read it, but I blogged recently on how many in Europe are planning to build a new superpower to challenge the USA, even to the extent of being able to oppose it militarily. I didn't get round to explaining why they would fail.

The European members of NATO spend $200bn a year on defense. The USA spends $393bn.

Britain and France, who between them account for something like half of that $200bn, have much of their military tied up in former colonies

Britain is reducing its forces.

But that's only the start. Except in a "total war" situation, defense spending has
to come, in a sense, out of discretionary income. Europe's economies are already struggling under the weight of high taxes and expensive welfare systems. There is just nowhere they can find the money to fund a superpower-grade military. Even enlargement doesn't help here; bringing in Eastern European countries adds significantly to the total size of the economy, but whatever extra tax revenue becomes available for military must be used directly for defending the new nations' borders. Indeed, as the new nations are expecting subsidy "structural funds" from the wealthier nations, their accession leaves less in the pot for military adventures.

The facts are, Americans are used to spending 3.5% of GDP on defence, and Europeans (except for Greece) aren't.

Of course, as the USA has a much higher rate of economic growth than the EU members, the existing gap is just going to widen.

But all this is built on the idea that an EU Common Foreign Policy, theoretically established over a decade ago by the Treaty of Maastricht, is even possible. There's been no sign of one yet, and again, the enlargement of the Union makes it less likely that unanimity can be reached. While it seems that the latest round of centralisation will be difficult to get accepted, the idea of having countries' own servicemen directed by a policy made by other countries is hardly on the cards.

This objection links with the previous ones, as the countries where there is the most enthusiasm for the idea of challenging the USA are the ones with the most stagnant economies and the lowest growth. The countries with the healthiest economies are the ones least hostile to the United States. This is not coincidence; the hostility to the United States is rooted largely in hostility to the economic system which enables growth. (The text of the speech linked to in that article is very much worth reading).

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