Challenges and Consequences of Increasing Military Capacity in Europe

05.03.2024

With the increasing likelihood of conflict in many parts of the world and the increasing threat capacity of existing tensions, the importance given to the defense appears to be at a new level globally. While everyone was preparing to focus on security vulnerabilities in East Asia due to the intensification of competition, Europe found a major war right next to its borders with Russia’s entry into Ukraine in February 2022. This situation caused a significant change of axis for Europe, which believed that guaranteed its security and thus focused on prosperity. Increasing militarization due to security concerns returned to Europe once again and became the main region feeding trend, as military expenditures increased rapidly around the world.

When we look at the world in general, total military expenditures increased in real terms starting from 2022 and broke a record by exceeding 2.2 trillion dollars with an increase of 9 percent in 2023. Military spending in Europe also saw its highest annual increase in at least 30 years period. It is expected that European countries will spend more on defense when the continent’s security is believed to face the greatest threat since the Second World War. But privately, they also recognize that current growth is only a starting point which needs to be enlarged significantly if Europe is serious about defending itself.

After 75 years as the continent’s primary protection umbrella, it is customary for NATO to be involved in all defense initiatives in the region. According to alliance data, all NATO members in Europe have spent 32 percent more on defense since 2014, while this year 18 of NATO’s 31 members are expected to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense in line with a target set for 2024 – a record amount of money spent across the alliance. This would be the strongest increase in more than 30 years and a return to the level of spending (in constant dollars) in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell.

Despite increased spending, Europe’s defense industry is unable to keep up with demand from Ukraine, which is fighting the Russian invasion. Ukraine’s demand for more weapons and large quantities of ammunition has depleted NATO member states’ stockpiles and fueled fears that the alliance’s defense industry cannot produce enough weapons. Eventually, decades of underinvestment also began to show on the continent: critical capabilities are missing, wartime stocks are low and readiness levels are poor. The main reason for this can be traced to the US purchase of European security.

The Challenges to the USA’s Role as a Security Provider

It is a fact that the USA has been trying to persuade its European allies to increase their defense budgets for a long time, but it has had limited success. However, the skeptical and obstructive attitude of US towards EU-led defense initiatives for years also fed this failure. Washington sacrificed Europe’s defensive self-sufficiency for America’s access to the continent’s market. Every American arms sale to Europe weakened Europe’s defense industrial base and thus contributed to long-term dependence on the United States

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