Understanding the relationship between military spending cuts and military capacity: European states 2000-2012
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Europeans have been spending increasingly less on defense. This trend is puzzling on two accounts. Empirically, 30% of defense spending cuts correlated with a net increase in military capacity, contradicting conventional predictions of military degradation under budgetary pressures. Theoretically, it is unclear why cuts happen and whether conscious policy choices can translate spending cuts to favorable military capacity outcomes. Is the decline in defense spending a strategic choice to demilitarize, or is it intentionally managed to improve military capacity? I evaluate three conditions under which reductions in military expenditures can lead to favorable outcomes in military capacity: defense reform, defense collaboration and buck-passing. I investigate 30 defense spending cut periods (DSCP’s) in the 27 European states between 2000 and 2012. This group of states presents a hard case for my argument: decline in European military resources is most-likely intentional. Through Qualitative Comparative Analysis, I group DSCP’s by military capacity outcomes. I then evaluate presence of the three mechanisms by operationalizing necessary but insufficient conditions, and determine whether these potential explanations are sufficient by process-tracing select case studies. I find that defense reform presents the most compelling, collective collaboration less compelling and buck-passing least compelling explanation of a potentially non-detrimental relationship between DSCP’s and military capacity. Under declining defense spending, governments routinely chose to produce savings by eliminating redundancies, consolidating structures, and reinvested savings in operational readiness and quality of military forces. States increased defense collaboration in 47.3% of the DSCP’s, but initiatives still appear divorced from affecting robust military improvements at the national level. Under declining defense spending, buck-passing increased only modestly (8%-13%), with ongoing deployments supporting continued investment in the military. These findings imply that defense spending decline does not mean a European choice to demilitarize, but a choice to reform, sometimes in tandem with defense collaboration or buck-passing.