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Ian Proud - Blog - The Kremlin
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It's time to put an end to the hysteria about European Defence spending

Updated: Mar 15

Below the text of an article that I recently published in Brave New Europe Website

When Donald Trump invited Russia to invade ‘delinquent’ European NATO members who weren’t spending 2% of their GDP on defence, the liberal media went into a collectively indignant cringe. NATO potentate, Jens Stoltenburg, jumped on the bandwagon, accusing Trump of “endangering American and European soldiers”.

Dutch General Rob Bauer, Head of NATO’s Military Committee, had already warned in January of the risk of eventual war with Russia within twenty years. European leaders from Tallinn to Berlin then fell over themselves conjuring up even more terrifying and imminent doomsday scenarios, to the point where we might expect the Katyusha rockets to start falling on us as soon as next year.  Keen not to be outdone, Britain’s Chief of the General Staff hinted at our possible conscription into a modern day Dad’s Army; don’t panic!

This two month period of hysteria all adds to a state of fear the securocrats want us to live in each day that Russian tanks – probably rusted T-55 tanks, as we are also told that Russia’s new tanks have all been destroyed by Javelin missiles – will soon roll into Estonia/ Lithuania/ Latvia/ Poland (pick any from the list). This is utter balderdash of the most self-serving kind, intended only to line to coffers of western arms manufacturers.

Just look at the numbers! NATO’s own statistics [1] show that the military alliance spends almost $1.3 trillion every year on defence at today’s prices. If NATO was a country, it would find itself the seventeenth most powerful in the world, on the basis of its yearly output.  Imagine, then, Jens Stoltenburg’s surprise at a G20 Summit in discovering that, of the Heads of the 16 states larger than his, the only other leader voted in by a murky, democratically unaccountable backroom process, was Xi Jinping.

$1.3 trillion each year is more defence spending than the rest of the world[2], combined.  That’s over four times more than China (“that’ll piss Xi off, for sure”, smirks Jens), considered by many a bigger global threat to peace and security than Russia.  Even when Russia increases its defence spending in 2024 to $109 billion – still a shockingly high number - it will spend almost twelve times less on defence than NATO from an economy over twenty-two times smaller. 

Of course, the US alone accounts for two-thirds of all NATO, and 39% of global, defence spending.  So it’s easy to whip up resentment about European decision makers, slurping on moules frites and Pouilly-Fumé in the Grand Place and not having enough spare change to defend their eastern flank. A paltry 2% of GDP sounds an entirely reasonable and easy-to-achieve, target after all. Just look at what’s happening in Ukraine, the foreign policy herd would moo anxiously, brass alarm bells jangling at their necks.  If Putin is allowed to win in Ukraine, then he will attack NATO next!

But having worked on Russia for a decade as a British diplomat, it is blindingly obvious, at least to me, that Russia would not launch a pre-emptive invasion of a superior military alliance, which outguns it in economic reserves, active military personnel, equipment and spending.  Indeed, Putin has pointed this out on several occasions. While Putin undoubtedly hates NATO, he is not completely stupid, and knows that an attack by Russia would have catastrophic consequences for him, the political system he has built, and for his country.  Put simply, it would be an act of political and literal suicide.  Even the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff recognised this in a recent speech at Chatham House[3].   Stand down then, lads and lasses; no need to report to Captain Mainwaring at the village hall in Walmington-on-Sea.

So what’s this hysteria about 2% of GDP all about then? European countries already outspend Russia on defence by almost four times (3.7 to be precise) with over one and a half times the number of active military personnel.  Dig a little deeper into NATO’s data and you’d see that meeting the 2% commitment would add a whopping 20% to their defence spending, or around $80.6bn ($71bn in real terms[4]) widening the gap to Russia still further. 

On average, NATO countries spend around 30% of the defence budgets on equipment.   So, for non-US NATO members, that amounts to around $120bn every single year in defence equipment production, more than Russia’s total yearly military spending. Look at which NATO members export the most defence equipment, you’d find – a desperately unsurprising fact, for which I apologise – that the US accounts for around 57% of the market.  That means Uncle Sam already cashes in $68,4 billion each year from its NATO allies.  Trump’s 2% simply means 20% more defence spending for Europe and $20bn more each year in defence sales for US firms. Ker-ching, ka-boom!

Admittedly, non-US NATO members have so far donated around $61bn [5] in military equipment to Ukraine, in the two years since war broke out. On paper, that amounts to around one quarter of their total spending on military equipment.  However, some of the kit supplied, dusted off and dragged out of long-forgotten warehouses, has been old, out of date [6] and/or broken.  

So don’t buy into the baloney (perhaps, bratwurst?) that European countries are running out of military stocks. Even with supplies to Ukraine, they continue vastly to outspend Russia on arms manufacturing.

When the head of Germany’s biggest defence contractor Rheinmetall said recently [7]that Europe will need ten years to rebuild its weapons’ stocks, what he was really saying, with the same emotional vigour as Bob Geldof in the Eighties, was “give us your money”.  The only difference was that he was choosing guns over butter.

For ordinary Ukrainians, there appears no end in sight to the misery of war that has long moved off the front pages of western journals. Russia’s war aims since February 2022 have been limited, although continue to creep as Zelenskiy stubbornly holds out against a negotiated settlement.  Even the most optimistic military pundits in the west are now retrofitting their narratives to accept that Ukraine cannot score a decisive military victory on its own without direct NATO military engagement.  And we have always known (and have known since 2014, in fact) that that isn’t going to happen.    

So, rather than whipping everyone in Europe into a lather with fantastical predictions lifted straight from the pages of a dodgy spy thriller, it’s time we got back to searching for an end to this needless war.  Pumping ever more billions into the gluttonous mouths of the military industrial fat cats is not making us more safe. I’d suggest quite the opposite.

[4] NATO publishes data in today’s prices, and in real terms, using 2015 prices as a benchmark.

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