WASHINGTON – Demands for expanding the international force in Iraq (search) are unlikely to be met with greater numbers of troops from Europe — not only because America's traditional allies lack the political will, but because they also lack the troops to fight.
"I think that we've probably reached the limit of the number of European troops that we will see on the ground in Iraq. The only other nation that can contribute a substantial number of troops is France, and they have categorically rejected that," Nile Gardiner, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation (search), told Foxnews.com.
A common moniker for Europe is that it is an economic giant and a military midget. While many European militaries are transforming and modernizing, few European countries have significant armies. For one, those countries don't spend the cash needed to maintain large numbers of soldiers. Two, much of the money that is appropriated goes to salaries and training for conscripts, who are only in uniform for nine to 12 months and can do little to expand each nation's capabilities.
"If you separate Britain and France, there are very small numbers of combat troops available," said Gardiner. "I don’t believe that European nations really have the quality of troops required for combat situations in Iraq apart from major players like Britain and France."
Britain, which many analysts say it is in a league of its own in Europe, has long had a professional army. Gardiner estimated that the British could deploy 40,000 to 50,000 troops in a combat theater if needed.
France, though unrelenting in its opposition to the war in Iraq, has been a leader in modernizing its military and boosting its budget. It ended conscription in 2001.
Spain has also ended conscription and Italy plans to stop mandatory military service in 2006. But conscription is still a common feature in Germany, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Greece and other nations despite debates in some countries to end the practice.
NATO (search) Supreme Allied Commander Gen. James Jones told Congress in January that only 3 to 4 percent of European forces are "expeditionary deployable." NATO officials have nudged, sometimes not so gently, other allied nations to boost their capabilities.
"Out of the 1.4 million soldiers under arms, the 18 non-U.S. [NATO allies with militaries] have 55,000 deployed on multinational operations ... yet they feel overstretched. ... We must generate more usable soldiers and have the political will to deploy more of them in multinational operations," former NATO Secretary General George Robertson said in an October 2003 speech.
By contrast, the United States has a far higher percentage of deployable troops. Of the 1.4 million-strong U.S. military, 135,000 soldiers — almost 10 percent of the overall force — are stationed in Iraq. Additional troops are deployed in Afghanistan, South Korea, the Horn of Africa, Haiti and elsewhere.
According to the Department of Defense, in 2002, the United States devoted 3.4 percent of its GDP to defense spending, more than any other member of NATO except Turkey, with 4.9 percent, and Greece, with 4.4 percent. Overall, non-U.S. NATO members spent an average of 1.9 percent of GDP on defense in 2002.
If it is not possible to plunk down more euros, Washington would like to see the countries at least spend more wisely. Europe spends 60 percent of what America does, but has just a tiny fraction of America's military might, said Julianne Smith, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (search). Smith said that European militaries spend a tremendous amount on bureaucracy and personnel and very little on material, leaving them with minimal war-fighting capabilities.
"You just can't imagine the bureaucracy that surrounds their militaries. ... It's just incredible. You see 10 people doing the job one person would be doing here," Smith said.
Currently, other nations are contributing almost 25,000 troops to the Iraqi theater with the largest contributions coming from Britain with 7,500; Italy with 3,000; Poland with 2,400; and the Ukraine with 1,650.
Smith said it is hard to see which countries could contribute more troops in Iraq. Germany is maxed out with 8,000 troops deployed abroad — primarily in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. France would be the best fit, but the political barriers seem impossible to scale, Smith said. Spain and Turkey also have some excess military capacity, but neither is likely to send troops due to political considerations.
But even in the rosiest political scenario, Smith said she could not imagine much help coming from Europe. The French could match British troop strength in Iraq, but countries like Spain would not be able to send more than 2,000 to 4,000 soldiers even if they wanted to do so, which the new prime minister has made clear he doesn't.
"The bottom line is that if everyone woke up in Europe and wanted to do this, we wouldn’t get 100,000 troops," she said.
Radek Sikorski, director of the American Enterprise Institute's New Atlantic Initiative (search) and former Polish deputy defense minister, said the paucity of deployable European troops is partly due to Cold War military structures.
"The number that could be dispatched out of area is still very low because of the legacy of the Cold War. Remember that this was the bargain that Europe struck with the U.S. — Europeans developed large standing armies in agreement with the U.S. The rest of the world was the U.S.'s responsibility," Sikorski said.
Sikorski said that despite its weak combat readiness, Europe's peacekeeping abilities are a different story, with significant assets — for instance, the police-style training of the Italian Carabinieri (search) — and greater willingness to participate. Were a U.N. flag to fly over the mission in Iraq, more European troops would be available, Sikorski said, adding that the United Nations would foot the bill and peacekeeping is less hazardous than war.