Thank you, Mr Putin...

Investing more in defence is undoubtedly of the essence, but overcoming the reluctance of European citizens to take up arms in their own defence will be an infinitely harder struggle

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

In a 20 September 2017 op-ed piece in Malta Today entitled “When push comes to shove”, I put forward that a liberal cosmopolitan elite had set out to “systematically dismantle Western European nations’ capacity to attend to the most basic function of a nation state, namely, ensure that territorial integrity is respected by both other nations and uninvited individuals.” I went on to write that “The clearest indicator of this are the pitiful amounts dedicated to defence, with leading

EU members like Germany, the UK, and Italy spending considerably less than the average of 2.2% of GDP spent worldwide while assertive neighbours such as Russia spend more than 5.3% of GDP on defence.” I concluded that “Peddling ‘soft power’ unilaterally in a rough neighbourhood is foolish and this is an issue that will come to haunt Europe as the century unwinds...”.

Much to my regret the day of reckoning has come around sooner rather than later; as these last few weeks have shown it is useless peddling EU soft power and being a mover and shaker as regards the future of the environment, the rights of women and LGBTIQ+, and the many other similarly laudable causes with which the EU has come to be associated – and for which it has rightly been applauded if we cannot ensure that others who do NOT give two hoots about such goals do not simply steamroll us using that well-proven influencer, good old-fashioned brute force.

Weighed down by centuries of colonising and warmongering Europe seems to have lost its nerve and unilaterally went pacifist or perhaps simply soft. Lulled into a feeling of security by the protective mantle laid over Europe by the US after the II World War, some European countries have looked the other way as Russia re-armed.

In the meantime, the USA has shifted its attention to an increasingly assertive China and despite its NATO commitments it is doubtful that it would do much more than huff and puff and apply sanctions in the event that Russia continues to put pressure on Europe’s Eastern border, whoever is in the Whitehouse in 2024. Bottom line is that Europe would seem to have to look increasingly to its own resources to defend itself and we have Mr Putin to thank for focusing our representatives’ minds.

To talk of Europe is to talk of Germany, the Old Continent’s economic powerhouse, but regrettably, in this case at least, economic power does not equate military power. Much has been made of Germany’s recent decision to increase military spending by €100,000 million to reach the 2% that had been agreed by NATO countries back in 2014 but it will take a while before this increased investment starts giving results.

Concerning the situation at the moment, I could cite sources from Germany itself on how, for example, only 40% of the country’s combat helicopters are in a position to go into battle because of inadequate repair facilities or shortage of spare parts or how only 65% of her 350 Puma tanks are combat-ready.

But the current state of affairs is best summed up by the declaration of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a former Defence Minister, who in a 24 February 2022 Twitter said, “I’m so angry at ourselves for our historical failure. After Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas, we have not prepared anything that would have really deterred Putin.”

Investing more in defence is undoubtedly of the essence but overcoming the reluctance of European citizens to take up arms in their own defence and changing the negative perception which Germans and other Europeans have about service in the armed forces will be an infinitely harder struggle.

Prof. Carmel Vassallo,