NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Former Great Powers are Fat and Lazy

March 24, 2003

France and Germany no longer have the means to conduct protracted military operations, and rather than exhibit their weakness for the entire world to see, they pretended that their objection to military action in Iraq was based on some ill-defined principle, according to Bruce Bartlett.

Moreover, the welfare state -- and the high taxes that go with it -- have so weakened them economically and technologically that they couldn't afford a 21st century military even if it were a matter of national survival, Bartlett says.

According to a recent report from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), last year the United States spent 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product on national defense, while France spent 2.5 percent and Germany spent just 1.5 percent. At first glance, the difference may not seem that great, but the United States spends much more of its defense budget on weaponry and equipment, while France and Germany spend most of theirs on personnel.

  • France and Germany spend over 60 percent of their defense budgets on pay and benefits, while the United States spends only 34.7 percent.
  • The United States also spends 24.9 percent of its defense budget on equipment, while France and Germany spend just 19.6 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively.
  • Germany's budget for equipment is so small that it had to lease old planes from Ukraine just to send a few troops to Afghanistan to help out with peacekeeping last year.
  • Germany spends $1 billion per year on maintaining its aging fleet of trucks, but spends just $40 million buying new ones.

If France and Germany want to be fat and lazy welfare states, that is their choice. But if so, they should have the decency to resign from the world stage and not pretend to be major powers any longer, Bartlett says.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Former Great Powers are Fat and Lazy," March 24, 2003, National Center for Policy Analysis.

For NATO text


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