On page 9 of the new US military strategic review report, the Secretary of Defence argues that the US can draw down US military presence in Europe because “most European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it” It’s a disturbing formulation.
It’s disturbing not because of the notion of the US drawing down its enormous military grip on the European continent. 67 years after the end of the Second World War, the US retains at least 80,000 military personnel in Europe operating hundreds of military sites. In Germany and Italy—the main ‘losers’ of that war—the US military footprint is literally noticeable from an airplane. The density of military airfields in the Southern half of Germany and parts of Italy is astounding, and can be seen when flying over the continent.
Loosening the US military grip on Europe wouldn’t harm anyone. If it leads to a re-evaluation of the nature and relevance of NATO, all the better! 67 years after the War, it’s about time ‘Europe’ dealt with its security infrastructure in a mature way: Not relying on the US that is. This doesn’t mean that transatlantic relations should end. It means that they should be more balanced. It took occupied Iraq ‘only’ nine years to get most of the American victors out. And that in a hyper-volatile region. There is no reason why countries in Europe shouldn’t welcome a similar drawdown so much further on in their development as stable, independent countries.
No, it’s not the notion of US withdrawal that’s disturbing. It’s the reason given: European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it. It is a euphemism with a dangerous twist. Occupied countries now become ‘security consumers’ while occupiers become ‘security producers’. This way, Thales, EADS and Finmeccanica are no longer producers of military hardware allowing buyers the use of raw power. They are now producers of security, just catering to consumer needs on the security market.
The sentence is the most open exposure of the darker side of the ‘security approach’ that has in many ways pushed out the older ‘defence approach’. Countries no longer aim to protect their citizens just by ensuring proper defence, no, they now have to go out and ‘maintain security’ by ‘providing it’ to others. At gun point if necessary. Europe, as a bloc, is the second most prolific arms exporter globally, after the US. In many incidents in which countries disagree about who should provide security to a specific group of consumers, both sides now fight with European or US arms.
In a previous era, the US and Russia were the only two powers ‘producing security.’ They provided a lot of it. In Europe, through NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan where they violently disagreed on the division of security consumers. In Latin America the US for decades tried to create markets for providing security, through military coups, interventions and arms deals.
Let’s hope that this time, the sound US intentions to draw down its military presence in Europe make it past the interagency rivalry, a problem that thwarted previous attempts. As for Europeans: regardless of US military force levels in your country, please don’t fall for the logic of ‘security producers and consumers’. It’s rhetoric reminiscent of the days when your countries occupied and colonized much of the globe. You may have forgotten, but most security consumers have not.
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