First, the United States will have markedly fewer capabilities in major and minor contingency operations in the region. That means Europe will have to increase its level of responsibility for the continent’s security and its periphery’s stability. Argued often both currently and in the past by politicians and experts, this imperative, which has now been forced on Europeans by the Obama administration’s near unilateral decision to pivot, encounters one significant obstacle. Europe has been taking less responsibility, not more. As previously noted, defense budgets across Europe have been repeatedly slashed since 1990 as governments drew down force levels after the Cold War and more recently, favored sheltering social programs from austerity. Furthermore, these cuts have continued even after knowledge of the pivot. This trend indicates that Europeans are reticent to adopt more security independence, and this possibility bodes poorly for prospects of containing simmering threats and unknowns beyond the horizon.
Second, EUCOM has been the source of major strides in interoperability and a platform far beyond the borders of Europe, both of which provide immeasurable benefits to all stakeholders in the transatlantic partnership. For example, Dr. Charles Barry notes that generations of officers became highly experienced in interoperability as a result of their interaction during the various operations in the Balkan region. This opportunity, however, will likely cease in 2014. And, it is unlikely that enough training will replace this skills gap (though, there is some effort to fill this gap). This is because, as he most eloquently stated, “training isn’t sexy.”
It seems that very little is sexy, at least in comparison to Asia’s burgeoning allure. The United States is even walking back its commitment of one brigade to the NATO Response Force. This decreased participation links to a lost opportunity for the United States. Dr. Barry argues that, through NATO’s twenty-eight member states and over forty other partners, Europe could serve as the United States’ “springboard” to the world.
It is, however, in this latter challenge of a looming decrease in capabilities and missed opportunity that one path forward and out of the part pivot, part austerity recipe for the demilitarization. The future of EUCOM, NATO, and thereby transatlantic security lies in an alternative raison d’être for American forces in Europe. Rather than a force for the security of Europe and its immediate neighbors, EUCOM, NATO, and European forces can serve as multilateral “springboard” to spread peace across a vast reason. Accordingly, a significant focus on interoperability will guarantee forces’ capabilities. Interestingly with Afghanistan and even more so Libya, we have already seen operations trend toward this security exporting-driven mission. In this sense, the remaining obstacle is convincing politicians and policymakers to support this mission with sufficient funds, particularly for joint officer training and exercises at multiple levels. Or, as Dr. Barry puts it, “for every ally, that is one less of [Congress’] constituents sons or daughters out there.”