James Dail CM ’20 – The two international developments in the twenty-first century that have defined relations between former Eastern bloc countries are growing Russian belligerence and the dawn of US isolationism. The Russian invasion of Crimea, and its covert involvement in the Ukrainian civil war, have the former Eastern bloc countries worried about their own security. Complicating matters further is that many of these countries are now members of both the EU and NATO. Eastern Europe’s problems are now problems for the West. This would normally be inconsequential, if it was not for the second major development: growing US isolationism. What began in the Obama administration, such as ending the Iraq war and advocating a policy of leading from behind, has only escalated further in the Trump administration. President Trump promised his voters a foreign policy of America first. Presumably tired of America’s role as the world’s policeman, he has also called for an increase in European defense spending, as well as for Europe to take care of its own security needs.
Currently, the militaries of the majority of European countries are quite small. In 2015, the median military spending as a percentage of GDP by a NATO member was 1.18%, in the United States, it was 3.7%.1 There is clearly some catching up to do. The three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which face the most immediate threat, have all agreed to triple their military spending by 2018.2
However, in many European countries, there lies a deeper issue than merely a lack of money. European civilians have an apathy towards their military. Seeing growing Russian aggression, Sweden had tried to increase the size of its military through increased benefits and advertising, but over a five year period, it only received half of the desired number of recruits.3 To counteract these low recruitment numbers, they have taken the radical step of reintroducing a military draft. 13,000 young people will be drafted from Sweden’s youth, and of those, the top 4,000 who are deemed fittest for military service will be selected to serve in the military.3 The number selected will steadily increase each year until it reaches 8,000 in 2025.3 Sweden follows the example Lithuania set in 2015, which was designed to counteract the same problems. The size of Lithuania’s military has plunged from 39,000 in 2004 to 15,000 in 2015.4 Lithuania’s version of compulsory military service differs only in the numbers involved. It is the same in principle. Lithuania will select 3,000 people from ages 19 to 27 that it deems to be most fit for military service. In addition to the individual nation-states bolstering their own security, the European Union itself has also shown an increased commitment to defense. It’s governing body has passed a resolution to begin pooling the military resources of member states.5 While also spending $528 million on research and $5.3 billion on the purchase of military hardware for its member states by 2021.6 This pooling will be significant in bolstering the defenses of any single country that is threatened.
None of these policies provide the perfect solution to Russia’s aggression and lackluster European defense on their own. In order for them to solve all of Europe’s problems, they would need to be combined by all member states involved. Nevertheless, the fact that they are even being discussed demonstrates a fundamental attitude change towards defense spending. Though the Nordic and Baltic states are at the forefront of the discourse around this issue, other European countries have displayed a commitment towards raising their defense spending towards the required NATO level of 2.0%.7 With the pooling of EU resources, there is talk of a potential pan EU military force. With the US in retreat from world affairs, a multi-polar world may soon come to fruition.