Tuesday, February 09, 2010

When Numbers Lie

Not long ago, a blogger/writer set out a number of charts and graphs to "prove" that the common American view of Europeans as free riders on our defense dollars is grossly unfair. The charts showed numbers of troops and purported to prove that Europeans sure are stepping up to the plate to provide forces for our common defense.

I almost blogged on it at the time, but in the end I decided not to since it was such an absurd argument, notwithstanding the lovely charts. Just looking at what we deploy overseas and what the Europeans deploy (and then looking at what those troops deployed are allowed to do) makes it easy to see that despite their wealth, Europeans are punching well below their weight.

But when Strategypage brings up the subject of Europe's defense effort, I figured it was worth a quote:

Most European nations treat their armed forces as a jobs program, and keeping people employed is more important than readiness or accomplishing any military task.

Not that the Europeans can't scrape up small fighting forces that fight well. And we have to recognize the partial exception of Britain which still attempts to keep a fighting force deployed across the conflict spectrum.

But when their militaries are mostly jobs programs, measuring the number of nominal soldiers in uniform is no measure of military power.

UPDATE: Again, Britain remains the exception in Europe in trying to maintain full-spectrum capabilities:

"That is why we must maintain generic capability able to adapt to any changing threats. Second, we cannot accept the assumption in the Green Paper that Britain will always operate as part of an alliance. We have unique national interests and have to maintain the capability to act unilaterally if required.

But this is the position of the shadow secretary of defense. British advocates of maintaining military power have a tough crowd to persuade.

UPDATE: Years ago, I would have named France as the other partial exception given their efforts to maintain capabilities from nukes to special forces. But their recent Afghanistan combat performance cast doubts on that. The French at least aspire to being an exception to the rule, as recent increases in defense procurement indicate:

Last years' purchases included 60 Rafale jet fighters and 65 naval ships and boats. But there was also increased spending on new equipment for the infantry, to provide them with equipment similar to those American troops have, and many other European nations (like Britain and Germany) are getting.

All this is in the wake of the embarrassing release of a report two years ago, that detailed the sorry state the French armed forces had fallen into.

There is some spirit left in Britian and France. We shall see if the flesh is willing.