Cuts to U.S. defense spending will leave Europe defenseless

Importantly for America’s allies, many of the cuts will lead to closure of overseas bases. These have no political constituency in the United States, and thus no defenders in Congress, which will have to approve cuts. Europe is certain to suffer disproportionately in any future base closures. The continent is not high on the Defense Department’s list of priorities and it is seen as relatively free from danger. The allies have capable militaries, which, the Pentagon believes, should be able to assure security of Europe’s periphery (in places such as Libya) with little US help…

These departures are certain to be unpopular with local governments around Europe, some of which will suffer a double or triple setback. In addition to expected US base closures, NATO and national governments have also been cutting budgets and forces. Portugal, which will probably lose Lajes, had recently seen NATO decide to close its ‘Joint Force Command’ near Lisbon. Germany plans to close many of its own bases to save money; it now stands to lose some of the US ones as well. The closures will cause tensions among local and national governments but the impact on transatlantic relations will be limited – because virtually all allied capitals are reducing forces, none will be in a position to complain. But the US and European militaries will lose some of the existing opportunities to train together. And the loss of schools such as the George C Marshall Center would deprive the allies of the ability to win the hearts and minds of young officers in dangerous parts of the world such as South Caucasus and Central Asia…

There is a real danger that cuts on one end of the Atlantic will encourage more cuts on the other end, thus degrading NATO’s credibility. While some of the bases that the United States is thinking of closing may well be redundant, NATO defence guarantees will lose their meaning unless the allies maintain a certain minimum number of forces and military installations.