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Europe needs to do more for its own defence: US Republican senator warns

US Republican senator JD Vance has issued a warning to Europe’s leaders, urging them to pull up their socks and take greater responsibility for their own security, characterising their failures as “an implied tax on the American people” with broader implications aplenty.

US Republican senator JD Vance has issued a warning to Europe’s leaders, urging them to pull up their socks and take greater responsibility for their own security, characterising their failures as “an implied tax on the American people” with broader implications aplenty.

From the moment Russian troops crossed the borders into Ukraine in early 2022, Europe’s “long holiday from history” was utterly shattered, if it wasn’t already.

Whether it was the unrestricted liberalisation and “globalisation” of the global economy resulting in a hollowing out of national economic bases or the hubristic belief that liberal democracy had once and for all triumphed over the archaic models of autocratic governance, ultimately culminating in the “End of History” as championed by Francis Fukuyama.


Fast forward to today, and we now know that the heady days of optimism and hubris have been shattered with autocratic nations on the march across the globe and the post-Second World War economic, political, and strategic order in retreat, with the world’s formerly great imperial powers not far behind.

Across Europe, whether in the major powers of the United Kingdom, France, Germany or Italy or even the smaller yet equally consequential nations like Spain, Denmark, Finland or Sweden, the increasingly contested and multipolar nature of the world is presenting major challenges to the security of the European continent.

Yet, this isn’t exactly a recent development, as each European nation, especially the larger powers like Germany, Italy, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, France, and Spain, among others, effectively abrogated their responsibility, preferring instead to rely on the seemingly inexhaustible might of the United States in the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This was reinforced by the collective security provided by the protective umbrella that is the multilateral North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Europe’s once-great military, economic, and industrial powers were content to live high on the hog, providing niche forces and developing fabulously expensive and questionably effective platforms that could only be procured in small numbers.

That approach has resulted in increasing levels of discontent, particularly in the United States where the increasing consensus among the working and middle class of America – the demographics typically responsible for providing the vast bulk of the “blood and treasure” for US military might – is fast becoming: Why should we keep doing this?

Enter venture capitalist-turned Republican senator for Ohio, JD Vance, in an opinion piece, titled, Europe must stand on its own two feet on defence, highlighting this growing sentiment.

An implied tax on the American people

In a provocative manner, Senator Vance articulated what many across America are increasingly feeling, particularly as the domestic political situation continues to deteriorate and the emergence of the multipolar world further drains American “blood and treasure”.

“The United States has provided a blanket of security to Europe for far too long. In the aftermath of the Cold War, European nations made deep and lasting cuts to their defence budgets.

“Estimates suggest the continent would have spent an additional $US8.6 trillion (AU$13.2 trillion) on defence over 30 years had they maintained Cold War levels of military expenditure. As the American defence budget nears $US1 trillion per year, we ought to view the money Europe hasn’t spent on defence for what it really is: an implied tax on the American people to allow for the security of Europe,” Senator Vance explained.

For those who would seek to label Senator Vance as a Trump-esque, “America First” politician, it is important to remember that this criticism of Europe dates back to the Obama administration.

With President Barack Obama repeatedly chastising major European powers, namely Germany, France, and even occasionally the United Kingdom, for not pulling their financial weight in the alliance.

Free riders aggravate me” – one could be forgiven for thinking this statement is from the maligned Donald Trump, but it is in fact the direct, disparaging assessment by Obama to his most important global allies.

Indeed, even in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union, he remarked, We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it’s done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it’s the lesson of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now … on issues of global concern, we will mobilise the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

Building on this precedent of US political frustration with Europe, Senator Vance added, “Nothing in recent memory demonstrates this more clearly than the war in Ukraine. There is frankly no good reason that aid from the US should be needed. Europe is made up of many great nations with productive economies.

“They ought to have the capacity to handle the conflict, but over decades they have become far too weak. America has been asked to fill the void at tremendous expense to its own citizens,” he explained.

Broader implications for the allied defence industrial base

The vulnerability of Europe has not gone unnoticed, as many in the defence policy community have recognised the increasing vulnerability of the European powers and a severe disconnect between their repeated public commitments and their capacity to deliver.

However, it isn’t only the Europeans who are having their weaknesses revealed, with the increasingly unstable global order and its implications on security progressively straining the once immense and unquestioning might of the US industrial base to serve as the “Arsenal of Democracy” being revealed.

Senator Vance explained, saying, “Behind the price tag, this conflict has revealed the shocking weakness of the defence industrial base on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe and America, fragmented defence industries make limited quantities of the most advanced weapons on Earth, but struggle to produce heavy weaponry at the speed and scale needed to win a major conflict.

“For all the talk about who spends the most on defence by percentage of gross domestic product, Russia currently makes more than twice the amount of artillery shells each month than Europe and the US combined. Defence spending and defence readiness are two different things. For example, Germany spends considerably more than France on defence each year, with little to show for it. The French army includes six highly capable combined-arms brigades ready to deploy and perform combat missions, but the Bundeswehr can barely scrape together a single combat-ready brigade,” Vance explained.

Senator Vance leaves a question for European consideration, asking, “The question each European nation needs to ask itself is this: are you prepared to defend yourself? And the question the US must ask is: if our European allies can’t even defend themselves, are they allies, or clients?”

However, the US doesn’t escape Vance’s criticism, particularly from then lens of its defence industrial base and America’s enduring capacity to maintain global order and stability in the era of great power competition.

Allies v vassals and the need for everyone to step up their game

Importantly for Vance, the US, like all of its allies, whether in Europe or the Indo-Pacific, needs to step up its game when it comes to building, or in most cases, rebuilding its industrial capacity, particularly its respective defence industrial bases.

Senator Vance stated, “Starting with matériel: we don’t make enough of it. At current production rates, it will take years to rebuild military stockpiles after this war – even if we stop sending critical defence stocks today, as we most certainly should. A firm commitment to Western re-industrialisation, to training skilled workers and rebuilding production capacity is needed.

Unpacking this further, Senator Vance added the growing need for honesty between allies, “We owe it to our European partners to be honest: Americans want allies in Europe, not client states, and our generosity in Ukraine is coming to an end. Europeans should regard the conclusion of the war there as an imperative. They must keep rebuilding their industrial and military capabilities. And Europe should consider how exactly it is going to live with Russia when the war in Ukraine is over.

All of this conveys one message not only to Russia, but also to the broader revisionist” powers whether Iran, China or even asymmetric threats across the globe: Europe is weak.

Only enhancing this is a comment made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 22 December 2022, when he stated, When it comes to Russia’s war against Ukraine, if we were still in Afghanistan, it would have, I think, made much more complicated the support that we’ve been able to give and that others have been able to give Ukraine to resist and push back against the Russian aggression.”

Arguably, the same can be said for Australia.

Sounding a little familiar?

If this lack of preparedness and, indeed, acceptance of the seriousness of the geostrategic environment sound a little too familiar, don’t worry, I have thought so too.

Closer to home, the Albanese government’s Defence Strategic Review, released in late-April 2023, has moved to fundamentally reshape the Australian Defence Force and is a recognition that it is no longer fit for purpose in the era of increased great power competition and multipolarity, heralding a shift away from a “balanced force” towards a “focused force” in the face of mounting great power competition in the Indo-Pacific.

First and foremost is the rapidly deteriorating geopolitical, tactical, and strategic situation emerging across the Indo-Pacific, necessitating the development of a flexible, future-proofed force capable of reliably responding to the tactical and strategic requirements placed upon the service by the nation’s policymakers, yet the dial doesn’t seem to have shifted all that much.

It is clear each and every day the wolves are getting closer to our door – the dog is barking, the silhouettes are visible on the house walls and yet, we collectively seem to be sitting down to watch television.

So why the delay?

Final thoughts

Australians seem reluctant at best or indeed, even oblivious at worst that the world is increasingly becoming “multipolar” and our own home, the Indo-Pacific, in particular, is rapidly becoming the most hotly contested region in the world.

As we grapple with the challenges presented by the rapidly evolving global geopolitical order, enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic economic, diplomatic, and military capability serve as a powerful symbol of Australia’s sovereignty and evolving responsibilities and commitment to supporting and enhancing the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific Asia.

Equally embracing this approach presents the Australian people with exciting opportunities to embrace and take advantage of collectively, while serving to reinforce the post-Second World War order upon which our wealth and stability are built, because without it, many Australians will blindly simply go with the flow and watch as we fade into the pages of history.

Our economic resilience, capacity, and competitiveness will prove equally as critical to success in the new world power paradigm as that of the United States, the United Kingdom, or Europe, and we need to begin to recognise the opportunities presented before us.

Expanding and enhancing the opportunities available to Australians while building critical economic resilience, and as a result, deterrence to economic coercion, should be the core focus of the government because only when our economy is strong can we ensure that we can deter aggression towards the nation or our interests.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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