Why the Eurocrats think they need the European Union to suppress nationalist impulses for war is beyond me when you consider that European militaries are mostly a joke--and getting worse:
Europe once was a military power—many military powers, in fact. But no longer. Today Europe is turning into a continent without a military. ...
No amount of whining by Washington will change this reality. There is no political will to increase outlays. And despite the Europeans’ unwillingness to fulfill their alliance responsibilities, some of them have criticized the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia. Panetta claimed that “Europe should not fear our rebalance to Asia; Europe should join it.” But the likelihood of the Europeans deploying military personnel in Asia is about as likely as the Europeans conquering Mars.
The Europeans rightly fear that the “pivot” will shift U.S. military resources from Europe. Yet there is no compelling reason why Washington should continue to protect the populous and prosperous continent from largely phantom threats.
Europe barely defeated Libya, for God's sake, and took far longer to do it than they assumed. And it took a Libya wracked by civil war and a substantial assist from America to do the job. It was a closer thing than you think, in my opinion.
It is time to stop trying to get Europeans to build even small versions of our military. We can't lead from behind when there is nothing in front.
And the idea that NATO will pivot to Asia with us is ridiculous. I count it a success if our European allies just decline to sell China military technology useful to kill our military personnel.
Let's just get the European to make whatever they are willing to field good enough to take the field at our side if we can round up a coalition of the willing for the problem at hand. That's what we need to do anyway, so why not accept it? Think of the dribs and drabs of European military assets as a source of tribal auxiliaries to attach to our actual military.
I take exception to the idea that there is no compelling reason to protect Europe from phantom threats. One, you never know when real threats will emerge. Once they do, we may not have the will to rebuild what we abandon in Europe. And the Europeans might be too frightened to accept our help (calling it "provocative" or some such rot). So best to stay as insurance, no?
More to the point, it is in our interest to remain in Europe even if that presence looks like a free defense against phantom threats because Europe is a convenient staging area for deploying our forces into a vast arc of crisis from West Africa to Central Asia.
Remember that "leading from behind" essentially assumes we can get allies to fight for our interests. Libya worked because it was in Europe's interest to fight the war. I argued for that interest all along as a reason to let Europe handle the job. They let us handle Iraq, for the most part, alone. Same with Afghanistan. There are honorable exceptions by allies who shed blood at our side at one point or another (Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Britain, and Poland, off the top of my head, have my gratitude), but they were and are more rare than the war tourists who went along for the t-shirts and snow globes, with more caveats than capabilities in their kits.
So even if we could get Europeans to build up their militaries, we can't get them to fight for us. Let's just accept that only we will fight for our interests and seek the most effective way to get real allied help when our interests coincide. Even if select European states decide to rearm, Europeans will rely on us to take the lead anyway. Even France's commendable effort to rout the jihadis in Mali was a fairly tiny expedition (yet still required substantial American help):
Going into Mali there were only about two thousand troops heading north, and only a few hundred of those were commandos. But like their American counterparts, the French have elite infantry units (airborne and Foreign Legion) who were flown in (or parachuted in) to assist. The basic French tactic was to use months of air reconnaissance to identify buildings where the al Qaeda men were staying in the dozen or so major towns (and a few cities) in northern Mali they occupied. Using a dozen or so fighter-bombers and several hundred smart bombs and missiles, these al Qaeda targets were hit. Then, when the commandos approached the al Qaeda held town in their Patsis (or even lighter vehicles) they would call in smart bomb strikes as needed.
Our tankers and surveillance were key to getting French troops to Mali and allowing that air support to work. But how often is a threat going to be small enough for our European allies to handle? When their capabilities continue to drop? If we treat Europeans as tribal auxiliaries, we might be the ones to organize and lead a force with a couple thousand French plugged into our organization to carry out the mission. It might not even look much different than the way it turned out. But at least we'd be clear from the start what our allies can and can't do.