Armies: An austere disarmament
9 June 2010
Il Sole-24 Ore
Emergency measures enacted to reduce public spending and deficits are now being applied to the Defence budgets. Pulling out of foreign missions, reductions in weapons maintenance, and a decrease in military purchases are therefore the order of the day, at the expense of efficiency, notes Il Sole 24 Ore.
In the United States, military spending is considered a springboard for the revival of the economy and Congress has approved $726 billion (€608bn) for the 2011 budget which, setting aside the $159 billion (€132 billion) that will fund the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, leaves the Pentagon with $23 billion ($19bn) more than it had this year. China and India continue to register increases in spending as well. However, serious difficulties are surfacing in Europe, where the Greek crisis has driven governments to measures that enforce drastic, if not always well-considered, cuts in the field of defence.
In an effort to create savings, Athens has reduced military spending by 25% and will pull its contingent out of Kosovo. While Portugal takes similar action, Austria plans cuts of 10% (€1.67 bn) which will penalise maintenance work and training. Berlin also intends over the next three years to cut €4.3 billion off its budget of €31 billion with the closing of several military bases, a reduction of at least 40 thousand troops, the grounding of several Typhoon jet fighters and Tornado bombers, as well as the scrapping of patrol boats and submarines. Cuts are also foreseen for the MEADS antimissile defence project, for Nh 90 helicopters and A-400M cargo planes.
Britain to discard older equipment
Similar decisions are being made in Spain, where additional reductions to the cut of 6.4% already in place, could compromise the country’s acquisition of planes and combat vehicles. France, with a budget of €32 billion, had put in place a considerable project to restructure its defence in 2008, but is now looking at cuts estimated between 2 and 5 billion euros spanning three years.
Under the austerity of the new Cameron-Clegg government, Britain will be discarding older equipment (tanks, artillery, helicopters and aircrafts), reducing or delaying new acquisitions in order to save at least £7 billion (€8.4bn) over five years with a budget of £36.8 billion (€44.4bn) as of this year. It looks as though projects already under contract (such as the purchase of two new aircraft carriers) will continue to move forward, as their cancellation could result in penalty fees to industries concerned, thereby making the savings drive futile.
Afghanistan the priority
The dilemma all of Europe now faces is that budget cuts will primarily effect army personnel, in the areas of training, equipment maintenance and infrastructure. The risk is putting in place new, sophisticated weaponry without the resources to operate them, as is already the case in Italy, where funds are insufficient to repair damaged equipment in Afghanistan or to fuel jets and ships.
Throughout Europe, the needs of troops stationed in Afghanistan, especially those engaged in counter-insurgency, has become a priority. This choice, while justified, risks sacrificing the indispensable preparation that is necessary to deploy sufficient forces in response to future threats, even those of a conventional nature. It is for this reason that Nato’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has warned that disarmament by allied forces “could threaten international stability and therefore limit prospects for growth.”