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Defence remains healthy in times of economic crisis

The economic crisis causes defence-budgets to decrease which brings some circles in alert modus. It is a subject that is dealt with in many speeches of NATO secretary-general Rasmussen who is talking about a growing and dangerous gap both inside NATO and with the rest of the world.

The economic crisis causes defence-budgets to decrease which brings some circles in alert modus. It is a subject that is dealt with in many speeches of NATO secretary-general Rasmussen who is talking about a growing and dangerous gap both inside NATO and with the rest of the world. The defence industry talks about a matter of survival. However, reality shows a kind of different picture.

General Patrick de Rousiers, EU Military Committee's chief, thinks Europe is 'disarming', because its part in the global military expenditures fell from 29% tot 20%. The same sound is coming form the defence-industry. “How can we survive?” wonders  Christian-Peter Prinz zu Waldeck, director of the German federation of defence-industries, for whom a solution should be found in more export.
According to these comments one could think that military Europe is a sinking ship. But behind this drama-propaganda hides another reality.


Growing European arms exports

A report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS – December 2012) shows that the European defence-industry's income between 2001 en 2011 grew with more than half, from 58 billion euro to 91 billion. Between 2001 and 2006 defence expenditures increased with 10%.  The recent cuts in defence-budgets focus mainly on personnel. According to the latest European figures all EU member states together granted in 2011 exportslicenses for 37.5 billion euro, which stands for a 20% increase compared to 2010.

To guarantee this comfortable situation in harsh economic times, defence-industry is pulling out all the stops. Leaders of many European member states turn into real supporters of this industry by honouring all requests for export-licences and by quasi ignoring the 8 ethical criteria of the binding European Common Position on arms exports. In the year 2012 only 0.82% of the applications for export licences were refused. Before the start of the Arab Spring weapons were sold to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Until today the Arab market remains the most important destination for European arms exports. When GUE/NGL MEP Sabine Lösing finished as External Commission rapporteur  her report, including proposals to deal with this problem, it was so weakened by the conservative EPP faction that she distanced herself from her own report.

High defence-budgets

No other sector is so intermingled with state politics as the military industry. In absolute terms  military budgets of the most EU member states are higher than in 2001. The 2011 joint defence-budgets of France, Germany and the UK (172.9 billion $) ended up higher than that of China (143 billion $). NATO still stipulates that 2% of GNP should be dedicated to defence. Although most member states remain (sometimes far) below this standard, it generates extra political pressure in favour of the defence-apparatus. Defence-circles use to point at the growing gap with the US. But they easily forget that this extreme high American defence-budget (4.7% of GNP in 2011) caused an enormous deficit while poverty and unemployment are up high. European defence-budgets may have dropped, they still represent 20% of world expenditure for only 7% of the world population.

Military expenditures weigh on government budgets

Defence-budgets and arms contracts still receive a priority treatment in these difficult economic times. Social programmes are cut severely but the defence-apparatus enjoyed new purchases. An inquiry of the Dutch Campaign against Arms Trade shows that high military expenditure contributed substantially to the phenomenal debt crisis in which countries as Portugal, Cyprus and Greece were drawn into. While France and Germany were demanding heavy cuts in Greek public spending, they spoke another language when they talked about handling current military contracts, worth billions, with this country. The Greek defence-budget stood in 2009 for a nice 3.2% of GNP. The sharp decrease that followed was mainly the consequence of general savings in the defence personnel wages and pensions.

While Europe is suffering from an economic crisis, defence-apparatus keeps consuming big parts of public expenditure. If all countries were to put their defence on the level of Ireland (0.6% of GNP) one could safe many billions or reinvest them in an ecological and social friendly economy creating jobs. NATO is keen to point at the many global threats in order to justify the high defence-budgets, but the social-economic situation, as the scandalous high unemployment amongst youngsters, is the real challenge for human security in Europe.


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