“If Article 5 beckons, the United States should and will be there.” Barry Pavel and Jeff Lightfoot of the Atlantic Council
It goes beyond saying that this statement is one of the few that all Americans agree on. But that is exactly the unsettling aspect of this reassurance. What necessitated this sentence? What placed this commitment fundamental to the transatlantic partnership in question even for the most fleeting moment? Drawn from their March issue brief and repeated countless times by experts at a recent conference on the Future of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), this statement responds to the growing unrest surrounding the January Defense Strategic Guidelines, which underpin the American pivot to the Pacific. Nevertheless, coupled with the Pentagon’s declining funding and more drastic spending reductions across Europe, this draw down of EUCOM forces reflects how austerity and geopolitical developments are driving a greater demilitarization of Europe.
Meanwhile, Europe’s periphery continues to demand attention and maintenance. Syria has threatened to use chemical and biological weapons on any “foreign aggressors” attempting to intervene in its growing rebellion and (as the presumed target of that statement,) Israel has publicly assured Assad, the rebels, and other regional actors that it will take action to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring these weapons. The recent rebellion in Libya, Syria’s immediate threat, Iran’s simmering potential for missile or maritime aggression, and indeterminate future hazards represent challenges for European and transatlantic security. Implicit to the trending demilitarization juxtaposed by this characterization of the regional security environment, however, lies both good and bad news. Europe’s unparalleled, lasting peace represents resoundingly good news, but Europe’s periphery tells a very different story.
In other words, the United States still has a large responsibility in Europe’s security. But, because we live in a world of limited resources (as we all painfully understand during this economic climate) the clear, undisputed need for increased U.S. military presence in Asia takes precedence. Next, politicians protect their district’s bases and the civilian and military jobs they provide. Thus, in a shrinking defense budget the pivot demands resources and although EUCOM is already lean, it will have to do more with less. This trending approach, however, poses multiple problems. Among them, two stand out in their challenges to Europe and the transatlantic partnership, respectively.