On Friday, the Syrian people were once again subjected to the unrestrained immorality of the Assad regime. Amidst the continuing bloodshed and the unmitigated failure of the U.N.-led “peace plan,” demands for intervention are now increasing in Western capitals. Unsurprisingly, many of these calls are coming from Europe. Sadly, however, Europeans lack either the will or the capability to intervene. Ultimately, European calls for action are just another example of the false moralism on which E.U. foreign policy currently resides.
First, consider the pathetically low expenditures that European states make on defense. In 2010, while the United States spent 4.7% of GDP on defense-related expenditures, the U.K. and France spent around 2.7% and Germany, a staggeringly low 1.8%. The consequences of these spending levels have been dramatic. In supporting their military forces with crumbs, European states have systematically degraded their capacity to wage war. While it is true that many European militaries have exceptionally courageous military personnel, it is also true that excessive defense cuts have meant these militaries lack the ability to effectively wage war against other conventional militaries. During the recent intervention in Libya, this dynamic was illustrated to a troubling degree. As Andrew Exum notes, while the Libya operation was supposedly led by European states, nearly all the intelligence, targeting, refueling and ammunition requirements had to be provided by the United States. Although British pilots performed superbly, even the U.K. military contribution did not escape embarrassment.
In asking where this European approach come from, the answer is simple: America.
Faced with a United States that is seemingly willing to do all the hard lifting, European states have long been happy to live off the back of American defense spending. For Europeans, this is a political strategy that works wonders at home. While America underwrites global security, European states are able to provide their people with generous social welfare programs. When Europe disagrees with American intervention, Europeans condemn the U.S. military as the product of a crazed, American national psyche. Conversely, when Europe desires American intervention, Europeans regard U.S. military power as imposing America under a moral obligation to act.
This is a hypocrisy that is stunning, sustained and immoral.
It is important to note that the impact of this E.U. security posture reaches far beyond American frustration. Instead, the real tragedy of this approach is in its enabling of tyrants like Assad. Ultimately, because men like Assad, Khamenei and Nasrallah understand that E.U. states lack the connected will and capacity to intervene against them, E.U. threats are rendered utterly obsolete and potential diplomatic remedies are restricted. Instead, E.U. threats are translated in Damascus and Tehran as platitudes at best and amusing jokes at worst. Ignoring Teddy Roosevelt’s lasting adage that successful foreign policy requires the ability “to speak softly and carry a big stick,” the E.U. speaks softly but carries only carrots. This is a paradigm that is especially ridiculous in the context of European history.
Concerning Syria specifically, to me at least, U.S. intervention in that country would certainly be morally justified, even if perhaps not strategically justifiable. However, faced with its own fiscal difficulties, America cannot be expected to perpetually stand as Atlas, largely carrying alone the weight of global security. If Europe wants to be able to impact the behavior of men like Assad in the future, Europeans must be willing to support defense spending and action that enables this objective. War is brutal, involving as it does closing with the enemy and killing him. But for dictators who depend on fear and force, force is a language that is well understood. Until Europeans accept this fact and until they are willing to join with the United States in honest shared endeavor, by tyrant and friend alike, Europe’s ability to act for good will always be in doubt.
Tom Rogan is an American blogger and writer currently studying in London, England. He holds a BA in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, London. His blog can be found at TomRoganThinks.com.