- Europe is around 3.9 million sq. miles which is a bit larger than the US size of 3.5 million sq. miles.
- Europe has a population of around 740 million which is over twice the US population of 326 million.
- European GDP = $22 trillion
- US GDP = $19 trillion
- European GDP per capita = $29,000
- US GDP per capita = $59,000
So, raw statistics tell us that Europe is somewhat larger than the US, has more than twice the population, and has a larger GDP (though smaller per capita). Does this sound like an area that the US needs to be defending?
Let’s turn it around - a great way to test the logic of any situation! What if the US decided to drastically reduce its defense forces and called on Europe to station significant and permanent protective forces in the US? What would Europe’s response be? It would be outrage, of course! Europe would rightly point out that the US, while being tiny in comparison (area, population, and GDP), is certainly large enough and prosperous enough to defend itself without having to rely on its bigger brother, Europe.
The reality, however, is that the larger, more populous, and wealthier (total GDP) Europe is demanding US military protection. Does that seem logical? If anything, the US should be asking for a small European defense presence protecting US interests.
So, why is the US still in Europe?
The main military threat to Europe is Russia. Is Russia so big a threat that it requires the combined might of both the US and Europe to counter it? Let’s take a cursory look at the Russian and European military might.
Personnel 800,000 1,500,000
Navy, ships 175(a) 268(c)
Airforce, aircraft 1380(b) 2043
Army, tanks 2500 7700
Army, IFVs 3200 19,000
Army, artillery 5800 10,000
(a) Note: Figure includes 111 surface combatants and 64 submarines; the actual number of operational ships is likely significantly less
(b) Note: Combat aircraft only; includes 180 naval aircraft; Russia has hundreds of additional patrol, surveillance, and transport aircraft
(c) Note: Figure includes 208 surface combatants and 60 submarines
This comparison is cursory, simplistic, and makes no attempt to compare quality, training, maintenance, etc. Further, the numbers are highly variable depending on exactly what type of equipment one wishes to include or exclude. Regardless, the figures clearly indicate that Europe overmatches Russia in every category of military might.
Europe is clearly capable of defending itself from Russia. In fact, the situation is further skewed in favor of Europe given the fact that many European countries are spending less than the “standard” of 2% of GDP on defense. If every European country would spend at least that amount, the situation would be even more lopsided in Europe’s favor.
So, why is the US still in Europe? I have no good answer but here are a few thoughts that may be relevant.
Tradition/Inertia – The US has been in Europe since WWII and any attempt to reduce the US presence is upsetting to Europe. This is idiotic on the face of it. Europe needs to grow up and accept responsibility for its own defense.
Irresponsible Priorities – Too many European countries are taking advantage of US military presence to redirect spending into social programs. Europe needs to make its own decisions and live with the consequences. If social programs are more important than defense then Europe has no one to blame but itself if it suffers military defeats. Europe needs to establish its priorities without the US presence.
Middle East Terrorism – The US sees Middle East-fed terrorism as an existential threat and does not trust Europe to deal with it as witnessed by the many European open borders, massive redistribution of European demographics, unwillingness to stand up to radical Islam, and the creeping, passive acceptance of radical Islamic influence and control of many countries which is undermining the national identities of European countries.
Unity – European countries are, unsurprisingly, multi-directional when it comes to their geopolitical objectives. Thus, there is no unity of military purpose. From the US perspective, it can’t count on unified action and support from Europe therefore it maintains a presence for its own benefit. Even so, many countries refuse to cooperate with the US and deny overflights, staging, etc. depending on whether they agree or disagree with the US in the moment.
Just as Europe needs to grow up and accept responsibility, so too the US needs to allow Europe to go its own way – the baby bird needs to be shoved out of the nest to fend for itself. Ballistic missile defense in Spain, ASW in Scandinavia, control of the Black Sea, protection of the Mediterranean, reining in of Russian expansionism, and defeat of terrorism are all issues that the US needs to walk away from and Europe needs to take control of.
The US is eventually going to have to defend the entire world by facing China in a massive war and we can’t afford to be distracted by Europe when Europe is more than capable of defending itself.
Here are some related topics for comment consideration:
- Should NATO reform itself by dropping the US and making membership a strictly European requirement?
- Is the European Union a military failure? Can it succeed?
- Who/how should European military might be controlled to ensure a common purpose and goal?
- Is there any role for the US in Europe?
- Is there any benefit for the US in maintaining a presence in Europe?
- If Europe wants a continued US military presence should the US demand that Europe pay the entire cost of such presence?
- If the US pulls out of Europe, what military capabilities does Europe then lack?
- Which country is the next Russian target after Ukraine falls?
(1)Data assembled from various sources; individual sources vary widely