Europe Caught Napping on Defence
Despite the existence of many European and Global defence organizations in which European countries participate, defence expenditure overall has been dropping significantly throughout the European Union and the European Economic Area.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the escalating crisis in Ukraine have re-fuelled the debate about Europe’s declining defence expenditure.

NATO sets a guideline for defence expenditure of 2% of GDP for its allies. However, based on 2013 data for defence expenditure (as defined by NATO) and GDP, just three of NATO’s European allies reach that level of commitment. The US commits over 4% of its budget to defence and is clearly unhappy with Europe's underspend. US Secretary General Kerry can barely contain his frustration as he makes repeated calls for a more equitable commitment to defence from European allies especially as the latest global security threat to flare is right at Europe's back door.

NATO officials have echoed these calls. Speaking in Vilnius in May, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for an urgent reversal of defence spending cuts.

He also highlighted the failure of many NATO allies to achieve agreed defence budget guidelines as a critical weakness at a time of real threats to European integrity posed by Russia's expansionist activities.

The map below illustrates the percentage of budget spent on defence by European NATO states contrasted with that of Russia:
Europe Defence Budgets.png

Defence spending follows a highly reactive pattern, it's priority fluctuating in response to perceived levels of security risk and the prevailing economic conditions. Preparing for war in times of peace does not win votes in the democratic world. When security threats come out of the blue, as happened when the Maidan demonstrations escalated to the crisis now facing Ukraine in just a matter of months, states are caught napping.

The ending of the cold war and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a sharp reduction in defence budgets by national governments in Europe. Defence spending by NATO’s European members fell from $320 billion to just over $290 billion by the end of the 1990’s. Economic and social development budgets gained at the expense of military spending:

European Defence Expenditure.png
 Data source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 

Following the 9/11 attacks in the US in 2001, NATO Defence expenditure rose, boosted largely by a sharp rise in the United States’ defence budgets.

EU Defence Expenditure.png
 Data source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 

Similarly, the 2004 and 2005 bombings in Madrid and London prompted significant increases in military allocations in Europe. This was short-lived as the financial crisis in 2008 forced policy reappraisal and defence allocations again fell sharply.

The onset of the debt crisis in 2008 triggered major cuts to defence spending throughout Europe. Overall, European NATO allies cut 11% off their defence budget between 2009 and 2013 in response to the crisis. To reach the 2% target from the current level NATO’s underspending European allies would require an additional annual allocation of $83 billion US at today’s prices.

Meanwhile, Russian Defence spending has been on a steady upward trend since the turn of the century:

Russia Defence Expenditure.png
 Data source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 

Russian defence spending grew by 38% in the five years to 2013 and over the ten years to 2013 it has increased by 117%. And this surge in spending is set to increase further as Putin drives on with reorganising and modernising the military. While Europe has been nurturing diplomacy and focusing on social and economic development Putin has clearly stated his belief that militarism is still a valid means of determining the international order. In a 2012 article in Foreign Policy Putin stated: 

“...we should not tempt anyone by allowing ourselves to be weak. We will, under no circumstances, surrender our strategic deterrent capability. Indeed, we will strengthen it.”

Chilling words given what we have witnessed in Ukraine thus far in 2014.

- - -

This article, as well as the map and all graphs in the text have been created by Tom Hobson - data analyst and geographic information systems specialist at Locus Insight, Innovation Centre Institute of Technology in Sligo, Ireland.

He previously published maps and analysis on the Ethnic Russian Population in Eastern Europe.

Edited by: Ivan Botoucharov