CORRECTION: In this commentary, David Frum refers to the Eurofighter as a Franco-German plane. In fact, it is a product of a German, Spanish and Italian consortium.
TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his NATO counterparts wrapped up a two-day meeting in the Netherlands today. They’ve been talking about everything from the missile shield President Bush wants to build in Eastern Europe to how many troops European countries are willing to send to Afghanistan.
Europe spends less on defense than the United States does — considerably less. But commentator David Frum says when Europeans do spend, they don’t always spend wisely.
David Frum: When it comes to trade, hypocrisy is business as usual… But there is one form of trade hypocrisy that carries a special, potentially lethal, cost, and that’s what we see in defense industries.
The NATO allies will soon reach a crucial decision about their next-generation air-to-ground fighter plane. Two candidates have emerged as finalists: the US-UK-Dutch-Italian-Norwegian F-35, or an update of the Franco-German “Eurofighter.”
Just about everybody agrees that the F-35 is the better — and probably cheaper — plane. It’s the plane that will be bought by the Israelis, who tend to be choosy about things bearing on national survival.
The Eurofighter is built on four separate assembly lines in four Western European nations. This redundancy creates more jobs, but at very high cost. High cost, in turn, reduces the number of aircraft the European allies can afford to purchase.
The United States offers its allies a very sweet deal on defense. Relative to national incomes, Americans pay three times as much for defense as most Western European nations — more than 4 percent of national income. Almost half of all the defense dollars spent on Earth are spent by the United States.
It is the United States that pays to sustain the stable world order in which Europe prospers. Americans have accepted this disproportionate burden since 1945. In return, Americans do ask is that those few defense dollars spent by the Allies be spent as efficiently as possible.
When European governments spend defense dollars unwisely — when they protect their home market, rather than buying the most advanced available
weaponry — they do not just sin against free trade. They waste scarce resources that ought to be husbanded for the supreme mission of any
government: national defense and the preservation of peace.
If the security of Europe is ever seriously challenged, Europe’s defense protectionism will carry a cost that cannot be measured in money.
RYSSDAL: David Frum used to be a speechwriter for President Bush. He’s now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
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