Speaking to the European Parliament on Tuesday July 14, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said that gradual disengagement of the United States from Europe was likely, and this whatever the result of the presidential election this fall across the Atlantic. In fact, according to her, even if the democrat Joe Biden came out on top, as the polls seem to indicate, it is likely that the disengagement of the American forces in Defense of Europe will be inevitable, even if the tone of the Democrat will certainly be different from President Trump today. The declaration of the German minister did not fail to react, especially across the Atlantic, or many voices wanted to emphasize the attachment of the Democratic candidate to his allies. However, despite these reassuring statements, it seems obvious that the United States has no choice but to disengage from Europe in the years to come. It is not a question of political choice or positioning, but of geostrategic imperatives.
Today, the United States deploys in Europe almost 64.000 men, or nearly 5% of its total workforce, more than half of which are stationed in Germany, which remains the second country hosting the most American soldiers, 35.000, behind Japan, 55.000, but ahead of South Korea, 26.000. They were more than 300.000 at the end of the Cold War, and even more than 100.000 in 2001. Asia has experienced a very different journey, going from 100.000 to the Cold War turkey, to 78.000 today, and remarkable stability since the beginning of the years. 2000, despite the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. What was presented, at the beginning of the 2010s, as a Pivot in the East on economic bases, rested, in fact, in the beginning of a process of competition going towards the confrontation between the United States and the China. This phenomenon then accelerated as the oppositions between the American ambitions and those of Chinese President Xi Jinping were emerging.
To neutralize Chinese military power in full transformation, Washington must today focus efforts, but also resources, and can no longer afford to disperse them, whether in medium to low intensity conflicts such as in Iraq or Afghanistan, or in areas of low strategic risk, such as in Europe. Not that the risk of conflict in Europe is lower than elsewhere, but the extension of a European conflict to the United States is very unlikely. Indeed, if Russia can potentially take military advantage over European countries, or at least some of them, the country's limited budgetary and human resources would not allow it to continue the effort as far as America. In addition, Europe has two allied countries, France and the United Kingdom, which have a sufficiently effective deterrent to contain an extension of the conflict to Western Europe, and therefore across the Atlantic. In other words, if Moscow were to intervene in Europe, it would not be beyond the very close allies of these two countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.
This is obviously not the case in Asia, where the main allied military powers of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, do not have deterrent weapons. What is more, the People's Liberation Army has an almost unlimited pool of young men, far beyond the resources that can be mobilized in the allied countries of the Region, including the United States, and with a very assertive ambition. In other words, if the global geostrategic epicenter was in Europe during the Cold War, it is now in the Western Pacific. Faced with this observation, the United States, whatever the political aspirations of the tenant of the White House, will be forced, in the medium term, to concentrate their efforts, and their military means, in the Indo-Pacific zone, in order to contain the expansionism, which Beijing has given a taste with the de facto annexation of the China Sea. In other words, the US disengagement from Europe is, as Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested, inevitable.
But the announcement made by the German minister is not only for the purpose of raising European awareness in the face to geostrategic realities that will impose themselves on the continent in the years to come. Indeed, this observation had been made several months ago, and even years ago, by France, which even proposed, through the voice of its president Emmanuel Macron, to start discussions with the European partners who wished, to extend the doctrine of French deterrence to these countries. Proposal immediately rrejected by Berlin, then by the majority of European countries, who do not want to consider European defense outside the framework of NATO, and American protection. Here is revealed all the apparent schizophrenia of the German position in matters of Defense; unless it is a more elaborate goal.
Aware of the inevitable American disengagement in Europe, Berlin might wish to position itself as the benchmark alternative for piloting this European defense, quickly eliminating the problems linked to the often highly contested efficiency of its armed forces. But by retaining European Defense as part of NATO, Berlin would partly retain control of the deterrent component of the alliance, using B61 gravitational nuclear bombs under the double key system, therefore flown from Washington. In Europe, Berlin remains the largest contributor to this component, with two squadrons dedicated to this mission, as much as in all the other countries sharing this function, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy (Turkey n not being European). In addition, because of its economic power and its large population, Germany outperforms these other countries, even from a military point of view.
Consequently, the declaration made by the German minister will not have anything of a sudden realization, but of a plan carried out with method. This plan would aim to gradually replace the United States in the role of defense referent in Europe, while neutralizing the French initiative which, by calculation, or by naivety, is positioned on the same objective, but with a strategy much more readable, and predictable. So when Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer proposed to create a “strategic compass” which will be used to orient needs and threats in Europe, she would make sure to pilot the tool used as a reference for the construction of the European initiative defense to come.
But the German plan would not be flawless. Firstly, it too is relatively visible and predictable, and there is no doubt that in European chancelleries it will not go unnoticed for long. Above all, the German armies today have only a limited military power, very insufficient to establish a dynamic of transition vis-à-vis the countries of Eastern Europe against the United States, the more sensitive to defense issues, and to the Russian (or Turkish for Greece and Cyprus) threat. In addition, while the NATO deterrence component helps keep appearances in peacetime, it has only very little deterrent potential in the event of a crisis. On the one hand, the United States will not be rashly exposed to a Russian response fire linked to the use of such a weapon in Europe, on the other hand, the chances that a device, even a stealthy one, will reach today in the position of dropping such a bomb above an objective of significant value, are, so to speak, close to zero.
Certainly, Berlin would have the possibility of rapidly increasing its defense budget, its finances allow it. On the other hand, it would be very difficult for it to appreciably increase the format of its armies, even gradually, at least without profoundly destabilizing the German social model, very exposed to a more than tense demographic curve, and rapid aging of the population. Even a return to conscription, like in the Cold War era, would have very negative effects on the German economy. It would therefore remain an option, therefore, for Berlin, only to supply European countries with a more dynamic demography with Defense equipment at privileged prices, like what the United States did in Europe during the Cold War. . It remains to be seen whether the hypothesis of sponsoring defense equipment will convince German public opinion, which is far from certain.
Anyway, the observation made by the German Minister, whether or not dictated by an underlying plan, remains no less incontestable. Whether they act on the scale of nations, as proposed by France, or at the supranational level, as seems to be proposed by Germany, it appears essential to design and size European Defense apart from any American assistance which , while remaining our allies, will probably need to concentrate its resources in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. This presupposes, as a preamble, to take an objective look at the threats, whether they are border and distant, and to define, again objectively, a framework to respond to them in a sufficiently effective manner to be perfectly dissuasive. In other words, much more than a strategic compass, it would be necessary to carry out an independent European Strategic Review, identifying and quantifying the threats, followed by a European Defense White Paper, defining and quantifying, also independently, the means to respond. It is then up to European governments to respect, or ignore, these analyzes, and to respond to them in the face of their public opinions. With more than 400 million inhabitants and a global GDP equal to that of the United States, Europe has the means to ensure its defense. Still you have to want it….
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