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Europe

EU Defense a Possible Victim of Financial Crisis: Analysts

With the global financial crisis taking hold and governments on both sides of the Atlantic rushing to the aid of banks, analysts have forecast a potential long-term downsizing of military budgets in Europe and the US.

German troops board a plan en route to Sudan

A European joint defense may be necessary to avoid stretching national budgets

The pressure that has been applied by the current crisis and uncertainty over whether the $700-billion US bailout scheme will in fact have a significantly remedying effect on the world's financial woes may make some military spending difficult to justify, the defense analysts, from London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Tuesday.

"I can't see defense is going to escape any kind of austerity measures," said defense economist Mark Stoker from the London institute, as quoted by Reuters.

"It would be very difficult for any government to justify cutting health and education in favour of, say, building two aircraft carriers and buying a load of planes to stick on them."

Military spending budgets for Iraq and Afghanistan would likely escape any re-rationalization as a result of global financial strains, the analysts also said.

"There wouldn't be an appetite to cut back on the pursuit of an important objective to the United States in the name of near-term economic gain," said Lieutenant-Colonel Nathan Freier of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, Reuters reported.

Europe pushed into unity?

The flags of the nations of the EU

Can EU leaders work together for the defence of Europe?

And with hundreds of billions of euros being wielded by European states to prop up flailing financial institutions and with excess budgets a possible rarity in the short-term, EU countries may be pushed into tighter military union in an effort to avoid duplication of the 27-member bloc's limited resources.

Governmental bail-outs were announced Tuesday, Sept. 29, for key banks in Britain, the Benelux countries and Germany as well as a state takeover of a bank in Iceland.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said last week that the current crisis showed the need for greater European military and defense cooperation.

Morin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have been pushing for a boost in Europe's defensive capabilities, insisting Wednesday, Oct. 1, that the financial crisis was creating a "new equilibrium" in world power.

"We must learn the consequences for us, Europeans, that there are a certain number of things that cannot be solved at the national level," Morin said before the start of an informal meeting with EU counterparts.

Russia steps up spending

A column of Russian armored vehicles, heading towards the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia

Russia's military spending is set to hit $58 billion by 2011

Further confusing the issue of the defense of Europe for EU states was news Tuesday that the Kremlin would boost its own defense spending by 25 percent next year, raising the figure from $40 billion to $50 billion.

Although Moscow's military budget remains roughly a tenth of that of the US for 2008, the West nonetheless harbours fears of a resurgent Russia, particularly in light of its August war with Georgia which saw Russian troops overwhelm the small Caucasus nation and recognize two breakaway Georgian enclaves as independent states.

Only Venezuela followed Moscow's lead in recognizing the rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Having emerged as an energy superpower, Russia has drawn Europe into near dependence on its resources, another sticking point in relations between the EU and Moscow.

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