Thursday, February 13, 2003

Waffling Armies

Interesting piece in today’s WSJ about the combat readiness of the various European armies. Shockingly enough, they aint.

The article says that the European armies spend most of their meager budgets on benees and pay for their soldiers, as opposed to gear or weapons. To wit: the US spends about 36% of its budget on personnel expenditures. Germany is at 61%. Italy 72% and Portugal a whopping 80%. It makes it somewhat hard to update your weapons systems when your budget is going down the gullet of the soldiers like so many weinerschnitzel.

It was also somewhat (only somewhat--this IS Europe after all and there was a reason our ancestors ditched the place) surprising to learn that the average age of a Belgian soldier is 40, compared with 28 for US forces. The thought of pretty much any Belgian army hardly strikes fear into it’s enemies, but an OLD Belgian army is even more of a joke.

The armies of Europe have become an extension of the generous welfare state most of the governments have already wrapped their citizens in.

“Once you enter the military, you are in for life” says one Belgian solider. By contrast, the US has instituted a “up or out” policy for officers that boots them after a certain time if they have not been promoted after years of abuse by slackers who wanted a free ride until retirement.

Another solider commented: “I have lots of free time and good job security”.

I was less surprised to read that military labor unions are the force behind this goofiness. Belgian soldiers recently protested in Brussels demanding more vacation time, apparently feeling 6 weeks was not sufficient for continentals. Naturally, the Belgian cabinet capitulated.

You really get the idea that many European countries don’t really care if they get invaded every few hundred years. If freedom is not really that big of a deal to you, then it might actually make economic sense to save the defense money and spend it elsewhere. Roll the dice that you’ll be able to get along with the conquering forces and they won’t rape TOO many of your women, eat ALL of your food or kill THAT many members of your family.

Belgium got through WW2, right? And France didn’t really lose that much (if you aren’t counting self-respect and world opinion). Norway didn’t seem to mind too much that Germany was using it’s country to produce the heavy water Hitler needed for his nuke.

It seems nuts to us, but perhaps they are just making a calculated bet that they can get by without a competent army.

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