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Will The “Republican Wave” Crash Over European Defense Spending?

By James Krotz


Belgian ISAF forces man a machine-gun position in Afghanistan.

It is no secret that the Republican Party, which, after Tuesday’s election, now controls both houses of Congress in numbers not seen since the Second World War, is decidedly more hawkish than its Democratic counterpart.  Republicans, moderate and Tea Party alike, believe in a strong, well-funded military, able to project American power and protect its interests overseas.  In an age of decreased military spending in the Western world, the United States stands alone.

European defense spending is at its lowest levels since 2001.  Only four of the 28 NATO allies, Greece, Estonia, the UK and the US, meet the agreed-upon defense spending level of 2% of the GDP.  All other NATO countries agreed in September at the Wales Summit to increase their spending.  However, few of them actually seem interested in keeping their word.  Poland, Hungary and Romania are among the only countries that have made moves in their respective parliaments to appropriate money for such spending increases, highlighting Eastern European concerns over Russia.


Two U.S. F-16 fighter jets take off from an airstrip in Turkey.

The ongoing airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq are a case and point.  A mere 5% of the airstrikes have come from European planes.  The United States makes up roughly 90% of the strikes.  The highly-touted coalition against ISIS appear decidedly unilateral.  This raises further questions about European military capabilities to even carry out limited operations.  European unwillingness to commit forces to the ISIS campaign highlights a growing dialogue between U.S. military commanders that the United States will have to plan on a decreased European military presence in future operations, including a hypothetical conflict with Russia over Ukraine.


Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is likely to be the new Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee.

How might this tie into a Republican takeover of the Senate and a larger Republican majority in the House of Representatives?  It mostly relates to the Senate, the house of Congress which historically has had more influence on foreign policy.  Under a Republican majority, the likely Chairman of the Armed Services Committee will be Senator John McCain (AZ), the most well-known and vocal critic of Obama’s foreign policy in Congress.  McCain is staunchly in favor of redeploying American troops to Iraq to combat ISIS and stabilize the democratic regime.  As of yet, he has not called upon NATO allies to do the same, but if he were to get his wish, it is likely military commanders would demand multilateral action from Europe.  Concurrently, the new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee will be Senator Robert Corker (TN).  While Corker’s primary concern will likely be the passage of a comprehensive immigration bill, he is a supporter of amending the NATO Charter to exclude members states who do not meeting the 2% spending requirement from Article 5 protection.  Such an amendment would be a dire consequence, especially in the light of an ISIS terrorist threat or Russian aggression against eastern Europe.

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Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) is the likely Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Luckily for European defense institutions, the main focus of Republican policy is fixing the American economy and tightening the budget.  Foreign policy is likely to take the back seat in the 114th Congress.  A greater focus will be put on international trade agreements meant to jump start the economy.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that this is an area where he is willing to work closely with President Obama.  However, the President is an staunch advocate of the “Pivot to Asia”, which could mean that Europe, especially a Europe not willing to carry its share of the defense spending burden, could fade into irrelevance.  A Republican majority is likely to call for Europe to stay true to its word or fall from American favor.  Only time will tell.

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