October 16, 2019

Memo from Europe: Europe’s Shrinking Military Budgets Scrutinized

That was two years ago. Since then, with the Afghan war winding down and pressure from the European Union to limit budget deficits, Europe has only cut deeper.

Now, as President Obama wrestles with his own huge budget deficit and military costs, the responsibility for keeping NATO afloat has fallen disproportionately onto the United States, an especially untenable situation as priorities shift to Asia.

The United States finances nearly three-quarters of NATO’s military spending, up from 63 percent in 2001. And yet among the alliance’s 28 nations, experts note, only the United States, Britain and Greece are meeting NATO’s own spending guidelines of 2 percent of gross domestic product. Even Britain and France — the two leading European nations willing to project military might — are slipping further. France says that by 2014 it may cut deeper still — to just 1.3 percent of G.D.P., down from 1.9 percent this year. By comparison, the United States spent 4.8 percent of its G.D.P. on the military in 2011.

In 2012, for the first time, military spending among Asian nations, in particular China, exceeded that of the Europeans.

“We are moving toward a Europe that is a combination of the unable and the unwilling,” said Camille Grand, a French military expert who directs the Foundation for Strategic Research. “European countries are continuing to be free riders, instead of working seriously to see how to act together.”

Increasingly, without United States assistance, military experts said, Europe’s armed forces have trouble carrying out basic operations as its dwindling financial and political commitment has derailed multiple initiatives intended to make the continent more self-reliant.

NATO’s deputy secretary general, Alexander R. Vershbow, a former senior Defense Department official, said that “the financial crisis has been corrosive to the alliance” and that relations between the European Union and NATO remained “dysfunctional.”

Even as Britain and France have boasted of operations in Libya and Mali, those interventions have revealed Europe’s weakness more than its strength. In Libya, the United States supplied intelligence, drones, fighter and refueling aircraft, ammunition stocks and missiles to destroy air defenses, and in Mali the French required American intelligence, drones, and refueling and transport aircraft.

Senior American officials have warned that unless European countries spend more on defense, they risk “collective military irrelevance.”

A senior American official said that Washington was eager for partnership in the Middle East and Asia, but that “Europe’s decision to abdicate on defense spending increasingly means it can’t take care of itself, and it can’t be a valuable partner to us.”

While the United States would like to be able to rely more on its European allies, many experts doubt that even the strongest among them, Britain and France, could carry out their part of another Libya operation now, and certainly not in a few years. Both are struggling to maintain their own nuclear deterrents as well as mobile, modern armed forces. The situation in Britain is so bad that American officials are quietly urging it to drop its expensive nuclear deterrent.

“Either they can be a nuclear power and nothing else or a real military partner,” a senior American official said.

The challenge is particularly acute as NATO pulls its forces out of Afghanistan after a long, wearying and unsatisfying war, with results widely seen as fragile, even unsustainable. After Afghanistan, with Europeans looking inward and the Russian threat considered more rhetorical than real, some wonder once more about the real utility of NATO.

James M. Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, thinks that NATO has some considerable soul-searching ahead if its European members become increasingly unwilling to operate abroad.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/world/europe/europes-shrinking-military-spending-under-scrutiny.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Asian Cities’ Air Quality Getting Worse, Experts Warn

Clean Air Asia, a regional network on air-quality management, aggregated data from more than 300 cities in 16 Asian countries and found that levels of fine particulate matter — a key pollutant in terms of its impact on human health — were below targets recommended by the World Health Organization in just 16 cities, most of them in Japan.

Pollution levels in 70 percent of the cities, mostly in fast-growing, less developed countries like China, India, Bangladesh and Mongolia, exceed even the most lenient of several targets recommended by the W.H.O., the organization said.

“The economic rebound in Asia following the global economic crisis of 2008 has accelerated sales of both passenger and freight vehicles as well as power generation,” Sophie Punte, Clean Air Asia’s executive director, said in a statement. This “is putting pressure on urban air quality in the region,” she said.

The number of people living in cities in developing Asian nations is expected to swell by 1.1 billion over the next 20 years, making urban air pollution a particularly relevant issue for the region.

A study by the World Health Organization published in 2008 estimated that outdoor air pollution caused 1.3 million premature deaths worldwide per year, 800,000 of them in Asia.

Similarly, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year warned that air pollution could become the biggest environmental cause of premature death by 2050 if action is not taken to improve air quality. The number of premature deaths from exposure to particulate matter is projected to reach 3.6 million a year globally by then, with most of the deaths occurring in China and India, the report said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/asia/asian-cities-air-quality-getting-worse-experts-warn.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Clinton Urges Asian Nations to Compete Fairly in World Markets

HONG KONG — In remarks clearly aimed at Beijing’s leaders without explicitly criticizing China, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called in a speech in Hong Kong on Monday for Asian nations to compete fairly in international markets and to include the United States in regional economic agreements.

Mrs. Clinton urged governments not to draft market-shaping regulations in secret and not to favor state-owned enterprises. She called for strong protections for intellectual property and for government contracts to be open to foreign and domestic companies alike.

“All who benefit from open, free, transparent and fair competition have a vital interest and a responsibility to follow the rules,” she said. “Enough of the world’s commerce takes place with developing nations that leaving them out of the rules-based system would render the system unworkable. And that, ultimately, would impoverish everyone.”

Mrs. Clinton called for regional economic integration to be pursued through groups that include the United States like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, whose annual gathering will be led by President Obama in Hawaii in November.

In economic policy, as on security issues, China has preferred to address issues in Asia either bilaterally or through agreements with small numbers of Asian countries, without the United States. That approach to negotiations has allowed greater influence for China, the region’s largest economy and leading military power.

But the hazard of bilateral trade agreements within Asia is that they may create further layers of bureaucracy, Mrs. Clinton said.

“There is now a danger of creating a hodgepodge of inconsistent and partial bilateral agreements which may lower tariffs but which also create new inefficiencies and dizzying complexities,” Mrs. Clinton said. “A small electronics shop, for example, in the Philippines might import alarm clocks from China under one free trade agreement, calculators from Malaysia under another, and so on — each with its own obscure rules and mountains of paperwork — until it no longer even makes sense to take advantage of the trade agreements at all. Instead, we should aim for true regional integration.”

Mrs. Clinton also made an implicit criticism of China’s two-month embargo last autumn on shipments of rare earth metals to Japan, which extended to a brief halt on shipments to the United States and Europe as well. She warned on Monday that international faith in the fairness of the current global trade system is threatened, “when vital supply chains are blocked.”

Departing briefly from the Asian economy themes of her speech, Mrs. Clinton also offered an assurance that Congress and the Obama administration would find a way to raise the ceiling on the national debt.

“The political wrangling in Washington is intense right now, but these kinds of debates have been a constant in our political life throughout the history of our republic,” she said, later adding that she was “confident that Congress will do the right thing and secure a deal on the deal ceiling, and work with President Obama to take the steps necessary to improve our long-term fiscal outlook.”

Chinese officials have been watching warily the debt debate in the United States. With more than $1 trillion in United States Treasuries, China holds roughly a tenth of the American national debt.

China’s precise holdings are unclear, as monthly data for foreign holdings of Treasuries are highly unreliable because the notes are frequently held in the name of various banks in other countries, while the most recent annual data is from last summer and is not fully comprehensive.

Mrs. Clinton spoke in Hong Kong to a gathering of the local branches of the American Chamber of Commerce and the Asia Society.

The secretary of state praised Hong Kong’s commitment to free markets and light regulation. She conspicuously avoided any mention of the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong residents or their concerns about one of the world’s highest levels of economic inequality, which some local critics have attributed to limited regulation of oligopolies and to real estate deals between large companies and the government.

A march on July 1 by protesters calling for more democracy and more populist economic policies drew 54,000 people according to the final police estimate and 218,000 people according to the organizers.

Mrs. Clinton offered unalloyed praise for Hong Kong’s success, and put it in the context of the system of one country with two economic and legal systems that China and Britain created when Britain returned the territory to Chinese rule in 1997. China has objected strongly over the years to any American advice on how to run the territory, contending that this amounts to foreign interference in China’s domestic affairs.

“Under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, this remains a city that bridges East and West and looks outward in all directions, a place where ideas become businesses, where companies compete on the merits, and where economic opportunity is palpable and real for millions of people, a place that defines the fierce and productive economic competition of our time,” she said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b27e65d68a597da26699a5fba51f5f65