The armies of Europe may soon be on the run as the debt crisis forces politicians to rethink military spending. The cuts being driven through by cash-strapped governments, although they have been announced piecemeal, may force a redesign of the bloc’s military power over the next few years.
The latest countries that are working out how to downsize the army are Spain and Italy. The government of Mariano Rajoy is planning to cut 15,000 military personnel and 5,000 civilians from the forces, according to El Pais. Spain, which has 130,000 military personnel now, will be vacating air bases and arsenals and buying more drones for the airforce, the report said. Italy will take just 90 Joint Strike Fighters instead of 131 and reduce the military by about 40,000, the government said in February.
Earlier this month Britain said it would cut the army by 20,000 to 82,000, half the number it had at the peak of the Cold War, in what Defense Secretary Philip Hammond described as the biggest shake-up in 100 years. The German government announced military base closures last October as part of an overhaul of the Bundeswehr. Thirty-one bases out of 328 across Germany were to be shut and 90 others scaled back, according to Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere.
Britain calls its plan “Army 2020,” Spain calls its one “Vision 2025” – but the trend is clear. Greece already reined in military spending by 26 percent from 2008 through last year. Spain cut 18 percent and Italy 16 percent in the same period. The U.K., Germany and France all cut less than 5 percent from their budgets, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Now deeper reforms are under way.
This comes none too soon for some countries. Between 2003 and 2007, Greece, with a population of just 11 million, was the fourth-largest arms importer, behind China, India and the United Arab Emirates, according to Sipri. Greece was the top client for German arms exports, taking 11 percent of the total, Greg Viscusi reports. The Greek military has 136,000 personnel – that is more than Spain but for a population a quarter of the size. It has been spending more on its soldiers as a proportion of its economy than any other EU member for ten years.
The debt crisis is likely to do more for the reform of military spending in Europe than either NATO or any other organization has been able to do.