Europe should sell arms to itself, first

Posted in Europe | 07-Mar-05 | Author: Thomas Friedman| Source: International Herald Tribune

The United States is building 180 C-17 long-range lift aircraft to transport troops and tanks anywhere in the world, and 112 C-5s, to replace the aging C-141s. The European NATO members have exactly four C-17s.
WASHINGTON I simply do not understand why President George W. Bush is objecting to the European Union's selling arms to China, ending a 16-year embargo. I mean, what's the problem?

There is an obvious compromise that Bush could put on the table that would defuse this whole issue. He should simply say to France, Germany and their EU partners that America has absolutely no objection to Europeans' selling arms to China - on one condition: that they sell arms to themselves first. That's right, the United States should support the export to China of any defense system that the Europeans buy for their own armies first. Buy one, sell one.

But what the United States should not countenance is that at a time when the Europeans are spending peanuts on their own defense, making themselves into paper tigers and free riders on America for global policing, that they start exporting arms to a growing tiger - China.

This is especially true since the real reason that the EU wants to end its arms embargo with China is to position itself better to sell more Airbus passenger jets to Beijing. Weapons systems are the loss leader that the EU is dangling in front of the Chinese to persuade them to buy more of Europe's civilian airplanes. Indeed, what is really sad about the European arms sale proposal to China is that the EU doesn't seem to be demanding any political price, even the slightest change in behavior, from Beijing in return, except some vague "code of conduct." Sure. Ask the software industry about Chinese promises not to pirate technology.

I am not part of the bash-China lobby. I believe that the United States needs to engage China, not isolate it, and work with it so that it takes its rightful place on the world stage. I believe China is largely a force for stability in Asia, not instability. But one reason for that is that the United States has countered any other impulses from Beijing by maintaining a stable balance of power among China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan - a balance that has helped the entire region prosper. The sale of advanced European weapons to China can only weaken that balance.

But what really concerns me is Europe. Europe's armies were designed for static defense against the Soviet Union. But the primary security challenges to Europe today come from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. If you put all the EU armies together, they total around two million soldiers in uniform - almost the same size as the U.S. armed forces. But there is one huge difference - only about 5 percent of the European troops have the training, weaponry, logistical and intelligence support and airlift capability to fight a modern, hot war outside of Europe. (In the United States it is 70 percent in crucial units.)

The rest of the European troops - some of whom are unionized! - do not have the training or tools to fight alongside America in a hot war. They might be good for peacekeeping, but not for winning a war against a conventional foe. God save the Europeans if they ever felt the need to confront a nuclear-armed Iran.

U.S. defense spending will be more than $400 billion in 2005. I wish it could be less, but one reason it can't is that the United States of Europe is spending less than half of what America is. And the United States and EU really are the pillars of global stability.

The United States is building 180 C-17 long-range lift aircraft to transport troops and tanks anywhere in the world, and 112 C-5s, to replace the aging C-141s. The European NATO members have exactly four C-17s. They all belong to Britain, and even those are leased from Boeing. The Europeans are so short of long-range lift aircraft that they basically have to depend on leased Russian and Ukrainian Antonov transports to get to the battlefield. George Robertson, the former NATO secretary general, used to ask them what they would do if a war broke out during the Christmas season, when most of the Antonovs are leased to toy companies shipping electronic games around the world. Ride, mister?

For all of Europe's complaining about what the Bush team stands for, my ears are still ringing with the remark that a German columnist recently made to me in Berlin: "What do we stand for?" he asked. What is Europe's foreign policy? America is saying that the largest strategic issue of our time is peacefully managing the rise of China. We have to get this right. Having a strong Europe on its side - not on both sides - would be a big help to America.

If Europe wants to go pacifist, that's fine. But there is nothing worse than a pacifist that sells arms - especially in a way that increases the burden on its U.S. ally and protector.