Russia is Giving Europe the Willies. America’s Response?

In the U.S., there’s a longstanding debate about whether or not to cut back or expand our military. After all, we invest more money in the armed forces than any other country; hundreds of billions more than China, Great Britain, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and France combined. We’ve developed a status quo, and though many Americans believe we should be putting more of that “gratuitous” amount of money into things like education or welfare, having a military at the top of the food chain is something to be admired. And it’s something we’ve taken for granted.

Over in Europe, countries have been pouring continually less money into their militaries. But there’s never been much debate about these cuts. Ever since the Cold War ended, Western Europe has enjoyed a time of peace. With less international threats to worry about, they started funneling their military budget into education reform, universal healthcare, and clean transportation. Some of them were still working on rebuilding after World War II. In any case, if something seemed threatening, they could always rely on America, the undeclared policeman of the globe. Recently though, things have started to change for Europeans. And Russia is at the head of it.

Between the massive country’s increased military budget and it’s governments lack of transparency, Russia has the U.S. on its toes. But we are no where near as close in proximity to them as our European friends, who are becoming more and more anxious. One such country is Sweden, who led an “international cat-mouse game” when a foreign submarine poked it’s head into the waters of Stockholm a few months ago. The primary suspect for whom this “mouse” belonged to, was Russia (Shapiro). In April, Russia had simulated a bombing raid on the same city, complete with fighter jets zooming over the civilian population. And just last month, a Russian military aircraft flying in stealth almost collided with a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen.

Admiral Jan Thornquist, the chief of staff for the Swedish navy, is worried that Russia’s antics could lead to an international crisis. And with tensions this high, especially after their intervention in the Ukraine, all it would take from Russia is a small slip up.

“If you’re doing an exercise close to a border of another country, you could easily pass that border by mistake,”he told NPR on Tuesday morning, “You point out another ship with a radar system, that could easily be interpreted as a threat.”

The worst part is that nobody seems able to do anything about it.

“I’ve been in the armed forces since the early ’70s, and I’ve only experienced reductions,” says Jan Solesund, the secretary of state for Sweden’s Ministry of Defense, “Europe as a whole, of course, downsized their forces… We tend to forget that things can change quicker than we thought.”

Indeed, with Russia’s recent expenditures, there isn’t a country in Europe who can hope to compete with the post-Soviet military. In fact, the only country whose military remains superior… is the United States.

So what are we going to do about it? Ariel Cohen, a PhD in political science at the Heritage Foundation, has a few ideas. Throughout the research he published this May, Cohen outlines the strategic motivations behind Russia’s newly expanded military, some of which Vladimir Putin has openly addressed, including the pursuit of multilateral international relations, and increased defense against emerging threats. Other motives were not mentioned publicly, such as redemption after the Cold War, and the ability to become the leader of a number of anti-West forces in the East.

With Russians motivated by both logic and pride, it doesn’t seem as though they’ll be backing down from getting the military back in gear anytime soon. According to a Levada Center poll, 46% of Russians were in favor of increasing military spending even if it led to an economic slowdown (versus 41% opposed if defense increases caused economic hardship). These opinions have no doubt shifted now that the value of the Ruble has dropped off by half due to sanctions and military spending (Ormiston). However, expansion is already underway, and it’s causing problems with many of our allies. Not to mention that Putin has already invested way too much money to turn back now. And if all goes according to plan, by 2020 Russia is projected to have a million active-duty personnel in place, backed up by 2300 new tanks, and 1200 new helicopters and planes. They’ll have a navy sporting fifty new surface ships and twenty-eight submarines, with one hundred new satellites designed to augment Russia’s communications, command and control capabilities (Gvosdev). These advances will bring them closer to America’s military might anyone country in the 21st century ever has. A little too close for comfort?

In his abstract, Cohen notes that it is vital that the U.S. increase intelligence gathering on Russian military growth, as well as their tactical goals, programs, and plans. He also strongly encourages U.S. military modernization to continue, with defense spending remaining 4% of the GDP. Normally I’m one of the people advocating for cuts in our military spending, but looking at the facts here, I think I could get on board with some of the conservatives in our country. I’m not trying to rouse fear or anything, but I think it’s obvious the U.S. needs to start taking Russia more seriously. Do you think Cohen’s suggestions are a step in the right direction for the American government? Is it too much, not enough? Do you have any other ideas? Leave your answers in the comments.

Bender, Jeremy and Macias, Amanda. The 35 Most Powerful Militaries in the World. Business Insider, July 2014.

Cohen, Ariel. A U.S. Response to Russia’s Military Modernization. The Heritage Foundation, May 2014.

Gvosdev, Nikolas K. The Bear Awakens: Russia’s Military Is Back. The National Interest, Nov. 2014.

Ormiston, Susan. Ruble’s Dramatic Drop Inflicts Economic Pain in Russia. CBC News, Jan. 2015.

Shapiro, Ari. Russian Threats Expose Europe’s Military Cutbacks. NPR, Jan. 2015.

1 comment

  1. This is a very well researched post! I am wondering what you think is the right thing for the United Stated to do. Cohen’s advice at the end sounds like war preparations to me. Do you think there is anyway to reason with Putin or should we just brace ourselves for whatever he is planning? Russia’s build up in arms is certainly alarming especially compared with other European countries. Germany barely has an air force and most other European countries are content with their small forces. Do you think the United States would be obligated to save Europe if Russia did attempt something?

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