Biden’s new military deployments in Europe are well-intentioned but a big mistake

Jhe United States will send a significant number and type of additional military forces to Europe.

Two of the measures announced Wednesday by the White House are positive. One is the permanent deployment of a V Corps command post in Poland. This represents too late a transfer of forces from Germany to Poland. Unlike Berlin, Warsaw is a very reliable American ally. The deployment of an additional army brigade in Eastern Europe should also be welcomed.

Unfortunately, President Joe Biden’s other promises are seriously flawed. These include an increase in the number of Navy destroyers stationed in Spain from four to six, the deployment of two additional F-35 squadrons to Britain and the stationing of additional air defense units in Germany and Italy.

To be clear, Biden’s motive is pure. He wants to secure the treaty allies against future Russian aggression. To the same extent, Biden wants to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin by reminding him that America’s commitment to NATO is ironclad. In an ideal world, these deployments would therefore deserve to be supported. But this is not an ideal world. As well-intentioned as they are, Biden’s new deployments are a big mistake.

First, the nudges will encourage European allies to build their sustained momentum against new military investments. Why take precious money from generous welfare programs when the United States will do the hard work of protecting against Russia? Second, these deployments will drain the US military of critical and limited assets it needs to deter and, if necessary, defeat China. (To be fair, the Biden administration deserves credit for getting NATO to acknowledge the “systemic challenges” posed by China.)

With regard to the first concern, the White House fact sheet is not very factual. After all, the White House claims that “many allies are now spending well above the NATO benchmark of 2% of gross domestic product, which is increasingly seen as a floor, not a ceiling. Nine allies will meet or exceed this commitment this year, 19 allies have clear plans to achieve it by 2024, and five additional allies have made concrete commitments to achieve it thereafter.”

It’s dishonest. Indeed, the insincerity is belied by the White House’s reference to three separate spending groups of “nine allies”, “19 allies” and “five allies”. Nine plus 19 plus 5 adds up to 33. But there are only 30 NATO members (Finland and Sweden will add that number to 32 later this year). Some creative math is at play here.

As I pointed out on Tuesday, the real facts are clear.

The latest official NATO statistics, released this week, prove that far from “many allies” who spend “well above the NATO benchmark of 2% of GDP” on defence, only nine allies the are currently doing. And only two of these allies, Greece and the United States, spend more than 2.5% of their GDP on defence. I would say that 2.5% of GDP is the minimum figure that could justify a description of spending “well above” the 2% benchmark. The suggestion that 24 allies have “clear plans” or “concrete commitments” to achieve this spending by 2024 or soon after is also unserious. Just look at the table below. It proves that eight years after NATO members pledged to move to 2% of GDP defense spending, the vast majority are still far from doing so.

Top line: The only way to get these allies to do their fair share for NATO is to make them choose between unacceptable vulnerability and appropriate defense investments. This means qualifying US naval, air and air defense deployments in Europe so that Europeans invest in those same capabilities.

(NATO Headquarters, 2022 Summit Communique)

Biden’s second mistake is draining the US military of capabilities needed to deter China.

The deployment of two additional Navy destroyers and Air Force F-35 squadrons is particularly noteworthy in this regard. As China rapidly builds more and more of its most capable warships, missiles and aircraft, it threatens to dramatically surpass the United States in combat scale. Indeed, the People’s Liberation Army already has a vast portfolio of fighter jets, bombers, ballistic missiles, and surface warfare and submarines that it can deploy. It produces far more than the United States each year. But putting more US assets in Europe means fewer assets for the Pacific. And while the F-35 is grossly overpriced and Congress can’t fathom that the United States already has a serious warship deficit in the Western Pacific Ocean, sending more of these things to Europe risks making critical a serious problem. Given the PLA’s doctrinal interest in surprise, there is no guarantee that the United States would have enough warning time to move assets from Europe to the Pacific during a crisis.

But the crisis is coming.

After stepping up its immediate military aggression against America’s closest allies, threatening to invade Taiwan, and exerting ever-increasing military control over trade routes worth some $5 trillion, the China should be seen as America’s primary national security concern. If China can dominate these interests, it will usurp America’s position as global hegemon and replace the post-1945 democratic sovereignty order with that of communist feudal authoritarianism.

The era of hard choices has arrived. By retaining the U.S. umbrella of nuclear deterrence and ground forces for NATO, Biden should recognize that the United States cannot do whatever it wants wherever it wants. China must be the target of deployment, and wealthy Europe must finally take over.

Mary I. Bruner