"Europe is defenseless. Who is to blame?"
Gilbert Doctorow (February 16, 2023)
This morning’s edition of the Financial Times carried a fairly dramatic article entitled “A year of war in Ukraine has left Europe’s armouries dry.”
The content of this article is, like the very heavily publicized meetings of Europe’s defense ministers in Brussels these past two days, and the statements before journalists of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg regarding the inability of European defense manufacturers to meet the current daily needs of the Ukrainian army for artillery shells – all of this is in a way preparing the European public for the likely collapse of the Ukrainian army in the coming weeks of Russia’s spring offensive. The logic is that we just weren’t ready for such a war [emphasis added].
To get a feel for this argumentation, let me quote from the aforementioned article:
Europe responded to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion with initial disbelief. Capitals that had previously declared he had no plans to do so then duly predicted Kyiv would fall in days. But that rapidly gave way to a level of unity and support that defied both expectations and past form.
Armies starved of funding by governments that had long dismissed the notion of war in Europe dug deep, and within weeks arms were flowing east across the Polish-Ukrainian border (as refugees flowed the other way).
But almost 12 months of gruelling war, in which Putin’s troops have targeted both civilian infrastructure and military targets, has placed immense pressure on Europe’s ill-prepared defence sector. Europe’s factories are barely able to make enough shells to supply a week’s worth of Ukraine’s needs. Waiting times for some munitions have more than doubled.
“It’s not going well for the Ukrainians. They are short of everything,” said Judy Dempsey, non-resident senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. “Ukraine really needs the means [to fight back], but they aren’t getting it.”
This brings to my mind many questions which I do not see being asked in public space in Europe let alone being answered.
Those who follow the Washington narrative, meaning the entire mainstream media in Europe, are formally in denial that Ukraine is losing its war even if articles like the one I have cited above allow one to believe the opposite is true. Meanwhile, antiwar activists who publish online blame the European leadership for their abandonment of all pretence at sovereignty following the start of Russia’s Special Military Operation and slavishly submitting to orders from Washington including the insistence on shipping all imaginable offensive weapons systems to Ukraine however much that prolongs a war that is killing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. If only the Old Continent stood up to the Americans, everything would be fine. No one in the antiwar camp really cares to deal with the question of armories going bare. The mood is ‘so much the better.’ [emphasis added]
I believe that European leaders’ slavish subordination to diktats from Washington especially since the start of the war in Ukraine resulted not from character defects but from their horror upon realizing that the Continent was totally dependent on the USA for its defense in the face of an enraged and militarily superior Russia that was no longer talking but acting. [emphasis added]
How could Europe be defenseless? After all, putting aside the issue of meeting or not meeting the 2% of GDP spending on defense, which the United States has been hammering away at ever since the Obama Administration, the European member countries of NATO have for a long time had military budgets which taken together exceed by many times the Russian defense budget. [emphasis added]
In Western media, Russia is seen as the vastly overpowering side, pitted against an enemy, Ukraine, which has one-third its population. However, the war very quickly turned out to be a proxy war between Russia and the whole Collective West. As seen from Moscow, the European military forces altogether comprised men at arms on the order of 3 million men, exceeding by five times Russia’s 600,000 man army? Given the relative numbers of men at arms and of military budgets in this broader context, one has to reconsider who is the David and who, the Goliath. And this is so even without taking into account the discrepancy in gross GDP between Russia and the EU, remembering that, rightly or wrongly, our analysts routinely take GDP as an indicator of hard power. [emphasis added]
The question that necessarily follows is where did all the European defense money go these last ten years or more? Into whose pockets or to enrich which domestic arms manufacturers while getting nothing useful in return? [emphasis added]
I highlight the possibility of massive corruption across Europe in the defense domain in light of the allegations that Putin runs a deeply corrupt and “kleptocratic” regime. That story has been incessantly promoted in our newspapers and electronic media ever since the start of the Information War in 2007. Somehow, somewhere those hundreds of billions supposedly pilfered from the Russian state by Putin & Co. and salted away in foreign bank accounts seem to have gone to build Russian defenses. Judging by what we see on the battlefield of Ukraine today, those assets were in fact invested in building the world’s largest store of munitions and industrial capacity relevant to the biggest ground war in European history since 1945. [emphasis added] What we do not yet see, thank heavens, is the Russian investment in strategic nuclear weapons systems, including their hypersonic missiles on land, sea and air. The nuclear dimension places Russia as much as a decade in the lead in the arms race with the USA.
Quite separately from the fashionable topic of the strategic autonomy of Europe, there was a lot of talk in the past decade about aligning defense priorities, about better coordinating military production and procurement among EU member states. Judging by the present situation, we might conclude that nothing worthwhile occurred. Did U.S. meddling have something to do with these failures of Europe to stand on its own two feet, or was it the incompetence of European leaders who came to the fore in deeply flawed electoral processes and dependence on formation of coalition governments that lack policy principles and exist only for the sake of seizing and holding power? [emphasis added]
Until these questions are asked and answered satisfactorily, the idea of any fix to the European security architecture is pointless.
It would be nice, though I imagine it is asking too much of them, if the attendees at the Munich Security Conference that opens this weekend spent a few minutes pondering the questions I have posed. Given their refusal to receive a Russian delegation, they will have plenty of idle time on their hands.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023