The Euro crisis is already eroding the EU's ambition to become a new kind of global superpower. Even before the economic crisis entered into its current phase, Europe's leaders refused to turn to the EU's military and security institutions when some of them chose to intervene in Libya. Instead they chose to allow their successful anti-Gaddafi campaign to be lead by the US-dominated NATO alliance.
The Libyan campaign also showed, once again, the profound military weakness of both Europe's national military forces and the nearly complete lack of effective transnational combat forces. The reports of the European air forces running short of smart bombs and missiles may have been exaggerated, but no one believes that the stories were wholly without foundation.
Just a few months later, European military strength is being dramatically cut once again due to the perceived need for "austerity" in the face of the currency and debt crisis. Reports from Germany indicate that the EU's strongest economic power will be slashing large parts of its planned military modernization plan. Britain has already demoted itself to a third-rate military power, and it is hard to see how France can maintain its ambitious military build up during the economic crisis. The new governments in Italy and Spain are inheriting already weak military forces and will find it difficult to stop the situation from getting worse.
Prolonged austerity in the European Union, in combination with an ambitious Turkey and turmoil in the Middle East can translate into strategic vulnerability for Greece, Cyprus & Israel
The crisis is also beginning to have an impact on several Pan-European military and quasi-military technology projects, including the NH-90 helicopter and the A-400 military transport aircraft, both of which may be drastically cut in the new German military budget. So far the most notable casualty seems to be the the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), a planned network of satellites, ground stations and analysis centers that would give Europe its own space-based intelligence-gathering system. In September of this year, the EU Commission decided hat it would not fund the next phase of the program; the survival of the whole project, including two half-built satellites, is now being questioned. Stephano Bruzzi , the head of the Committee on Earth Observation, was quoted in Space News as saying that, "It is disastrous for European cooperation in the Earth observation area, and for the European Union of the international scene."
For most Eurozone nations, the dramatic collapse of their military strength will have few immediate consequences -- at least at first. Their aerospace and defense industries may have to shrink, but, thanks to NATO, their national security will not be seriously harmed in the immediate future. Unfortunately there is one significant exception: Greece.
Across the Aegean Sea, Greece faces its old foe, Turkey; and since the Islamist AKP took power in 2002, Turkey has been shifting its strategic orientation from the more or less pro- Western stance it had chosen under Ataturk and his successors, to a new, so-called "Neo-Ottoman" posture. The medium-term goal is to reestablish Turkey's power and influence throughout the Islamic Middle East, in the lands once controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Although this new posture is certainly popular among Turkish Islamist nationalists, it is creating problems with some of Turkey's neighbors, most notably on the divided island of Cyprus,
The Greek part of Cyprus is an EU member, and naturally enough has a close relationship with Greece. It has also recently joined Israel in an effort to exploit the massive finds of natural gas that have been found on the nearby Mediterranean seabed. Turkey is upset about this, both due to its new-found hostility to Israel, and also to its role as protector of the interests of the Turkish part of Cyprus - not to mention the lure of the oil fields themselves. While the government in Ankara may be distracted by the bloodshed in Syria, Turkey nevertheless seems determined to flex its naval muscles in the waters around Cyprus.
Before the Euro crisis, Greece would have been in a position to use its naval and air forces to protect the Greek Cypriots from Turkish bullying. This may no longer possible.. Greece's military may be too hollowed out by spending cuts. In April 2011 the Greek Socialist government announced it was cutting 1.5 billion Euros from its defense budget -- possibly just the first of a series of cuts.
While it is clear that Greece will not be making any major weapons purchases in the near future, the true danger for Greece in these cuts is to what is termed: "readiness": spare parts, maintenance and training. In a year or two, the Greek armed forces could largely consist of ships that cannot sail and planes that cannot fly. This condition could become common throughout Europe's forces and, as we know, "weakness is provocative." After a couple of years of austerity, European military weakness will be publicly evident. By then the US will be in the process of reorienting its forces to the Pacific. Will the states of Northern Europe, especially Germany, which have been reluctant economically to bail out their fellow EU governments, be ready radically to increase their military budgets to protect their southern neighbors?
By the autumn of 2013, between Casablanca and Istanbul, the only country with a non Islamist government will most likely be Israel. These nations will be full of young, hungry, broke, angry people who will not passively await their fate. When combined with the collapse of Europe's indigenous military power, this is a recipe for trouble.