Blogs > Cliopatria > Reality Bites

Jan 17, 2006 5:23 pm

Reality Bites

Victor Davis Hanson is afraid. He is frightened, first, by"Islamic fascists" who wish to destroy the values of Western Civilization; and second, by his certainty that we are nearly alone in a fight for our lives, abandoned by an international community bent on appeasement. In an anguished Letter to the Europeans this month, Hanson tells the people of that continent that they have"dismantled [their] armed forces," an act that follows their"faith that war has become obsolete."

The essay, with the too-enjoyable subtitle"Cry the beloved continent," tries to rouse Europe from its slumber before it Slides Inexorably Over the Lip of the Abbatoir, and yadda yadda yadda."Even in this era of crisis," he writes to the whole of Europe,"we cling to the notion that in the eleventh hour you, Europe, will yet reawake, rediscover your heritage, and join with us in defending the idea of the West from this latest illiberal scourge of Islamic fascism."

The eleventh hour."Will yet reawake." Cough, cough.

Now, reality. There are almost too many places to begin, but a column by defense analyst David Smith in the October 12, 2005 issue of Jane's Defence Weekly seems like an especially good start. Smith notes that NATO members, who quickly realized after the Sept. 11 attacks that"Europe could be more vulnerable to terrorism than North America," began the immediate deployment of military assets to protect against al Qaeda attacks. Recognizing the vulnerability of international shipping to terrorists, NATO quickly launched a naval operation called Operation Active Endeavour, putting a joint force of German, Greek, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Turkish, British, and U.S. ships on patrol in the eastern Mediterranean. Elements of the force were in place in the first days of October, 2001."The mission," Smith writes of the task force,"is to intercept, escort, protect, disrupt, and deter criminal activity that may dovetail with terrorism." (Yes, that sentence is grammatically awkward.)

A similar joint task force, CTF 150, currently patrols the Arabian Sea. In December, a Dutch commodore took command of that task force...from the French vice-admiral who had been in charge. And European navies operating in that neighborhood have acted against threats. Many readers will remember that in 2002 the Spanish Navy boarded a ship bound for Yemen with a load of scud missiles from North Korea. The United States decided to let that ship sail on to deliver its cargo.

On the ground, European land forces (and others) reacted to the attacks of Sept. 11 with equal speed and seriousness, moving troops to Afghanistan to aid in the fight against al Qaeda warriors and their Taliban sponsors. As the website reported:"France had 2,000 military personnel in the region as of early November 2001. Japan, Germany, Italy and New Zealand have pledged to deploy ships and troops if needed. Turkey and Australia have announced that special operations forces would be deployed. Italy announced in early November that ships and aircraft, and up to 3,000 military personnel, would be deployed. The 3,900 Germans planned on deployment would include some 100 special operations troops. Turkey has committed 90 special forces troops and is prepared to send a peacekeeping force numbering about 3,000 if needed. By January 2002 special operations forces from Australia, Britain, France, Denmark, Germany and Turkey were on the ground in Afghanistan."

The European commitment to military operations in Afghanistan continue. The cover story of the November 9, 2005 issue of Jane's Defence Weekly was a long report on the efforts of the German Bundeswehr in that country, where German troops make up"the largest troop contingent for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afganistan."

Meanwhile, even a cursory reading of Jane's Defence Weekly -- which would maybe be a good source for someone who wished to make broad claims about the state of a continent's military forces -- shows the ridiculousness of Hanson's assertion that Europeans have"dismantled" their armed forces in the service of their"faith that war has become obsolete." Examples? Sure, in the order they come off the pile:

The December 9, 2005 issue reports on the extensive procurement agenda of the Dutch navy, the competition among European arms contractors for a NATO missile defense contract, and the development of a new self-propelled artillery platform for the Belgian army.

The October 26, 2005 issue reports on testing of prototypes for a new self-propelled artillery system to be fielded by the Swedish army, new developments in the British submarine fleet, the awarding of a contract to develop a new armored infantry combat vehicle with a 20 mm. cannon for the French army, and the development of a new 7.62 mm. sniper rifle for the Polish army.

The October 12, 2005 issue describes the German army's new infantry fighting vehicle, the German navy's new corvettes and upgraded frigates, and the newly awarded contract for the Swedish navy's new hovercraft.

The September 26, 2005 issue describes the Dutch army's new logistics trucks, the German army's new light armored vehicles, the plans of the Italian armed forces to improve their amphibious capabilities...

Bored yet? Because I can do this all day.

My point here is not to discuss the political implications of European force levels; I have no interest here in arguing for or against any particular size, shape, or role for Europe's armed forces. The point is simply to note that Victor Davis Hanson, the drum major for the band that keeps playing the specious March of the European Appeasement Weaklings (I think it's played slowly and in b-flat), plainly needs to aggress against the very most basic kinds of human reality in order to sustain his baffling and reductionist worldview.

In any case, I think Europe could probably have gotten by without the lecture.

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John H. Lederer - 1/18/2006

European defence spending is generally criticized for two factors (beyonf the overall level):

1. It is heavily distorted by domestic political priorities. Thus manpower levels are kept relatively high (reduce unemployment) and equipment spending is heavily directed towards maximum political effect.
Yes, we also direct defense spending for political effect, but not to the same degree that the Europeans do.

2. EU forces often lack basic infrastructure -- air-air refueling capabilities, oilers, construction units, refurb units, etc. that are fundamental to any sort of large sustained effort, and great difficulty in significant deployments outside of the EU (one estimate was that less thann 5% of EU troops are depolyable).

In 2002 it was estimated that the US capital investment per serviceman personnel was about $44,000, the Eu's about $14,000. The R&D investment was about $28,000 compared to $4,000.

Perhaps reflecting NATO history the Europeans do have some very capable specialized units. During NATO's heyday specialized small scale tasks were often assigned to European NATO countries (mountain troops. anti-aircraft, minesweeping, etc.)

Manan Ahmed - 1/17/2006

funny stuff. tho, your post reminds me of all my posts on niall ferguson. anyways, i read mr. hanson in our local chicago tribune a week or so ago on the liberal hollywood in which he roundly condemned captalism, that friend of Islamofascists:

And who are the really greedy? Do the simple arithmetic of pumping petroleum in the desert: After expenses of typically under $5 a barrel, rigged cartels in the Middle East - run by Iranian mullahs, Gulf royals or Libyan autocrats - sell it on the world market for between $50 to $60. They don't merely price-gouge Americans in their SUVs, but also third-world struggling economies in places like Africa and Latin America.