US arms sales to Europe soar as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to rage

Thanks to Russia’s protracted war in Ukraine, US military arms sales to Europe are skyrocketing.

Since the end of February, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine, the countries of the European Union have committed themselves to strengthen their arsenals by some 230 billion dollarsonly Germany planning to modernize its army $100 billion this year. And the United States arms industry, which produces and exports more weapons than any other country—selling more than 39 percent of global arms sales estimated at $210 billion from 2017 to 2021 — was the largest beneficiary.

In many European countries, more than half of recent military spending has gone to US arms manufacturerswith Norway spending 83% on American purchases, the United Kingdom 77%, Italy 72% and the Netherlands spending 95% on American-made weapons between 2017 and 2021, according to the International Peace Research Institute of Stockholm. (SIPRI), with total European arms imports jumping 19% during this period compared to the previous five years. And that was before the recent wave of arms purchases in Europe.

“This is certainly the largest increase in defense spending in Europe since the end of the Cold War,” Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Center for European Reform, told Yahoo News.

British soldiers in front of a Multiple Launch Rocket System (M270 MLRS). (Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia’s war in Ukraine has shaken countries and “people who have been used to peace for a generation,” Bond said. Many Europeans, he said, “had fundamentally convinced themselves that war on the Continent had become an impossibility. They realize that not only is it very possible, but it is happening, and it is happening within a few miles of them.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, defense spending in many countries in Europe plummeted, he said. But that is changing rapidly.

“Many European countries are planning to increase their military expenditure very significantly and to increase their arms purchases within this framework,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “And in some countries they are accelerating” the purchases originally planned for the end of this decade.

According to William Hartung, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, since President Biden took office, European countries have accounted for some $33 billion in arms “deals”, as the initial phase of negotiations on the arms, with $21 billion in deals on the table since February. Although some sales have yet to be officially contracted, Hartung told Yahoo News that the $21 billion estimate is surely low because it only represents government-to-government deals, not direct commercial sales, which are more difficult to follow.

Joe Biden

President Biden speaking on the economy in Carlsbad, California on Friday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Even before the war, according to SIPRI, European arms imports from 2017 to 2021 had increased by 19%. “They’re growing at a rapid rate,” Hartung said. The amount of European arms deals negotiated since February, he said, “has almost doubled compared to last year. And we still have a few months left.

Thanks to Putin, Europe is now seen as a hotspot for American arms dealers.

“All of this is strongly driven by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the realization in Europe that defense stocks have been drastically reduced over the past 30 years,” Bond said. He added that one of the reasons so many countries turn to American arms manufacturers is that the American defense industry is so important that countries do not have to wait for advanced weapons to be produced. developed. Another reason, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe “want to keep the United States on their side and show that they value the transatlantic alliance”, including NATO. “And supporting American defense manufacturers is one way to do that.”

By far, the most popular high-end US item in Europe is the US F-35 fighter jet – Finland has ordered 54 in 2020, while Poland has ordered 32. Another 71 aircraft were ordered by Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and even neutral Switzerland ordered three dozen fighter jets in Septemberfor over $6 billion.

These types of big-ticket sales “cause a lot of tension” with European arms manufacturers, Hartung said, because across Europe the American F-35 often outsells European-made fighter jets.

A British Royal Air Force F-35 Lightning

A British Royal Air Force F-35 Lightning. (Department of Defense via Getty Images)

Based on what arms buyers told him, Wezeman said the F-35 had more bells and whistles than domestic designs such as the Eurofighter Typhoon or the Saab JAS 39 Gripen.

“It’s stealthier, it makes more use of advanced electronics, advanced communication systems and networking systems,” he said. “Maybe you pay a little more, but overall you get something that is often considered better than European alternatives. I can’t judge if that’s true, but that’s the message we usually hear.

The United States, however, does not dominate all arms sectors in Europe, where countries tend to buy tanks from Germany and artillery from France and submarines from Germany. , France or the United Kingdom. But due to their high price, F-35s often take a big chunk of a country’s defense budget pie.

With a listed price of approximately $79 million per plane, it often outperforms other combat aircraft, including the French Dassault Rafale fighter jets. “The French are not very enthusiastic about the idea of ​​other European countries buying [F-35s] of the Americans,” Bond said, and were particularly upset when Germany announced in late July that it wanted to order 35 of the F-35 fighter jets in a deal worth $8.4 billion.

Analysts in Europe are relieved to see Germany building up its military might again, despite its dark history of starting World War II. West Germany, Bond noted, had one of the largest and most powerful armies in NATO during the Cold War. If the Soviet Union had attacked Western Europe, “the Bundeswehr would have been very the front line,” he said.

Two Leopard 2 A6 heavy battle tanks and a Puma infantry fighting vehicle of the Bundeswehr's 9th Panzer Training Brigade

Two Leopard 2 A6 heavy battle tanks and a Puma infantry fighting vehicle of the Bundeswehr’s 9th Panzer Training Brigade. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Over the past 30 years, however, Germany has largely neglected its military – failing to meet NATO’s requirement to spend 2% of its GDP on defense, a loud complaint by former President Donald Trump who was taken up by many Europeans.

“Most of us have been trying to persuade the Germans to spend more on defense for a long time,” Bond said. This year, Germany should reach the 2% mark, he added, or even exceed it.

Devoting 2% of GDP to defense spending, he said, “is no longer seen as a ceiling. In countries that feel particularly vulnerable, it’s seen more as the floor, the starting point.

Poland, considered a satellite state of the Soviet Union after World War II, could soon spend 3-5% of its GDP on defense — he’s spent $6 billion this year on US weapons aloneaccording Security Assistance Monitor, which tracks US arms sales around the world. Bond said other countries, from the UK to Lithuania, from Finland to Greece, were also increasing their arms budgets.

“American presidents,” Hartung said, “always talk about burden sharing, saying that European countries are not spending a large enough part of their economies and that the United States is paying disproportionately for the defense of Europe. . But that doesn’t take into account all the money coming in from US arms sales to Europe. I think it’s a closer balance than American politicians would like to admit.

A fleet of helicopters is part of a large military transport operation between the United States and Germany

A fleet of helicopters is part of a large military transport operation between the United States and Germany. (Bas Czerwinski/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Hartung and Wezeman are two arms analysts who believe Europe’s surge in purchases is only part of a growing global arms race. On the one hand, Hartung notes, if European arms purchases are coordinated, “there could be less dependence on the United States, and perhaps more of a balance of power.” On the other hand, countries seem to buy without an integrated approach to European security. “So it’s possible that this new wave of sales won’t effectively increase Europe’s defense capability,” Hartung said.

“How do you decide what is enough to deter Russia?” asked Wezemen.

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