On May 9, the skies over Moscow’s Red Square filled with aircraft as Russia marked 70 years since the end of World War II. In the streets below, crowds watched as a new generation of armored fighting vehicles rumbled past the country’s leaders in one of the largest displays of military might since the end of the Cold War.
During the last five years, a resurgent Russia has increased its defense spending by 50% and plans to modernize its conventional air, sea and land forces and, perhaps more worryingly, firm up the posture of its nuclear forces.
In the same period, Europe’s defense spending has fallen – in some countries by as much as 20% – as governments attempt to recover from burgeoning deficits and indebtedness resulting from the global economic crisis.
These same countries were caught largely off-guard when well-armed troops without insignia deployed into the Crimea following the Ukrainian revolution of early 2014. “Ukraine was really a wake-up call, it reminded Europeans that we cannot any longer take peace and stability for granted,” explained Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former secretary general of NATO in an interview with Aviation Week.
With the Russian bear re-awakened, Europe’s governments have been scrambling to renegotiate budgets and find additional funding for new equipment to improve readiness, but they are likely to struggle after years of cuts and the costly nation-building exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My assessment is that 2015 will represent a low point in defense investment; from here we will see a gradually reversed trend that will see increased defense spending,” says Rasmussen, who led calls for NATO members to boost their defense spending back up to the NATO target of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) at the alliance’s summit in Newport, Wales, last September.
Germany’s plans to raise spending by an additional 6.2% over the next five years may only partially mitigate the impact of previous cuts. In France, the country’s defense ministry has a huge shopping list of new capabilities it wants to purchase, but the defense spending increases are mainly about countering extremism in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo last January.
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