The rest of the EU is in debt to the UK when it comes to the defence of Europe

The rest of the EU is in debt to the UK when it comes to the defence of Europe

At the end of the Second World War, the situation on the continent was bleak: European civilisation – or what was left of it – was profoundly disturbed and razed almost wholly to the ground. Germany was in abject desolation, almost universally loathed. And Central and Eastern Europe, while temporarily ‘liberated’ from the Nazis’ genocidal dictatorship, soon fell victim to the inane brutality of communist tyranny.

Into this carnage leapt the Atlantic democracies: Britain, Canada and the United States. Their objective was simple: reorder the affairs of the continent to prevent German resurgence and stop Russia from extending its iron curtain further still. Institutionalising their power within a robust security architecture – ultimately realised through NATO – these Atlantic democracies provided the foundations for a defanged and impotent continent to stand once again upright. Much of Europe has been blessed by peace for the past seventy years.

Only from this secure environment could the process of European integration emerge. Integration was a product of peace and security; it was not their cause. It is therefore galling to hear European officials and politicians claiming – since the British people voted to leave the European Union – that Britain has become an unreliable and uncommitted country. Some even seem keen to position the United Kingdom as a kind of European pariah. For example, Guy Verhofstadt MEP recently compared Theresa May to Machiavellian opportunists in mediaeval Florence, while Michel Barnier accused the British of reneging on their commitment in the ongoing fight against religious extremists.

However, as is made clear in a new report by the Henry Jackson Society, What the European Union Owes the United Kingdom, makes clear, these attacks are hypocritical and wrong. This is because Britain remains deeply committed to the defence of Europe. Aside it substantial deployments as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, its defence spending contrasts dramatically with most other European countries (i.e., the NATO/EU 19 – the member states of both organisations), almost all of which have shirked their military obligations for many years now and generally show no sign of viable improvement.

In the past five-year period (2012-2016), British military spending – totalling a considerable (though inadequate) US$285.5 billion – accounted for 32% of spending by all NATO/EU states. In conjunction with Greece, the UK (currently a member of NATO and the EU) is the only state which has spent more than 2% of its national income on defence consistently over the same period, contributing 87% of the European NATO overspend. This means Britain has effectively subsidised European security by an additional US$23.9 billion between 2012 and 2016.

In astonishing comparison, most NATO/EU countries have failed to keep up with their commitments, as agreed at NATO’s Newport Summit in 2014, in turn short-changing the alliance by US$96 billion alone in 2016, and a shocking US$451 billion over the past five-year period. Whereas France missed the spending target by 9%, Germany fell short by 39%; and whilst Poland and the Baltic states – far poorer – managed to boost military expenditure as a proportion of their own national incomes, Italy and Spain short-changed European security by US$90 billion (43%) and US$75 billion (54%) respectively.

The same applies with Official Development Assistance (ODA), otherwise known as foreign aid: a vital means, which, if spent effectively, can prevent threats from arising at source through the generation of resilience and prosperity amongst vulnerable societies beyond the Europe’s southern and eastern peripheries. Having established the principle of spending 0.7% of national income on ODA during the 1970s, to which the EU recommitted in 2005, mainland Europeans have persistently missed this target too. Consequently, they have short-changed the world’s poorest people by over US$199 billion over the past five-year period.

Whilst Britain has also missed this target by US$3.25 billion over the same timeframe, the majority of this underspend occurred before the UK committed through an Act of Parliament to spend 0.7% of its GDP on ODA. Nevertheless, London allocated (on average) 0.67% of its national income on ODA during this period; the rest of the EU allotted less than half as much.

It is clear then, that as they accuse Britain of leaving them in the lurch, European officials and politicians stand like an emperor stripped of all his clothes. The United Kingdom still stands as a European sentinel. And it will almost certainly be called on by its European allies to provide assistance in the future. So rather than sniping at Britain and spreading a fictitious narrative of peace, Europeans – and particularly EU officials – would do well to offer their goodwill to the British by establishing the foundations for a new and lasting relationship.

Written by James Rogers with Jack Wright, who is Senior Research Assistant for the Henry Jackson Society’s Global Britain programme.