David with the head of Goliath, by Caravaggio

David with the head of Goliath, by Caravaggio

Europe Relies On The United States

Most nations in Europe are a part of NATO, the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization. This defensive alliance was founded as a response to the Soviet Union expanding its sphere of influence over Eastern Europe after the defeat of Nazism at the end of World War 2. It was back then, and has always been, spearheaded by the United States.

However, how much longer should we expect that status quo to last?

The Rules

The agreement between NATO members is that they will spend 2% of their GDP on military expenditure. Apart from the United States, only France, Poland and Greece reach these levels. Most likely, none of them do it because of the rules, but because they have their best self-interest in mind. Poland has good reasons to distrust its neighbors, and is still suspicious of the Russians. France’s military is active in its previous colonies in Africa, protecting its economical interest. Greece is distrustful of Turkey; partially because of wars in the past, but renewed by Turkey’s invasion and occupation of North Cyprus.

Turkey, which is part of NATO, but not of the EU, also spends more than 2%. Its military is required to guard the borders with Syria and to control the Kurdish independence movement within its own borders.

Then there is the United Kingdom, which is very close with 1.96%. The UK has been bound up in active wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a rare voice in Europe to actually support the American invasion of Iraq.

 

Military expenditure as a percentage of GDP

Military expenditure as a percentage of GDP

The US and NATO

Although Obama promised change and was handed a Nobel peace prize, he did little to curb the military expense of the US. Trump appears eager to give up being the police force of the world, and prioritize internal affairs. A shrinking US military would leave the rest of NATO vulnerable next to the Russians who spend over 5% of GDP on its military.

‘Expenditure To GDP’

Fortunately for the EU, 5% of a small GDP is still not a huge amount. Russia’s GDP is 1.2 trillion US dollars, which compares meagerly to the EU’s GDP 19.2 trillion US dollars for 2016. In other words, 18 trillion more than Russia; creating a total 16x Russia’s GDP. Although Russia’s firepower is second in the world on a ‘per country’ basis (with the US obviously being first), this measurement does not take into account the joint forces of the European nations.

Relative to GDP the EU may appear to be funding its military to a lesser extent than Russia, but when taking into account the 16-fold size of the EU’s economy the tables are suddenly turned. Add onto that the nuclear capabilities of France and the United Kingdom and there is a strong deterrent for Russia to seek any conflict with the European Union.

Conclusion

Charts like the one in this article look as if they are warning us from threatening Russia. Depicted in bold red it looks ready to harass Europe and end the peace. Yes, Russia spends more on its military compared to its GDP. It rules a vast territory with vague borders and many different peoples.

In overall firepower and military expenditure, the EU would be more than capable to defend itself from Russia. Even in a scenario where the US would completely withdraw from NATO.

Yet, let’s remember David and Goliath. Strength and size do not mean anything. Strategy and the right tactics can make or break any war.