Could Europe survive a war against the US?

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The unpredictability of President Elect Donald Trump is making a great deal of people around the world extremely nervous. He has previously expressed both his approval for ‘mad dog’ posturing on the international stage and reviewing traditional alliances. With this in mind, if the worst were to happen and the US and Europe were to go to war, would the armed forces of the old continent stand a chance? We spoke to Justin Bronk, a Research Fellow specialising in combat airpower and technology in the Military Sciences team at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Editor of the RUSI Defence Systems online journal to find out more. 

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For this thought experiment we imagined a war following a deteriorating relationship over a five year period.  As those who know Betteridge’s law of headlines will have anticipated, the answer was bleak for European readers.

“To be honest there would be absolutely no contest – the US, even with a five year warning period – could take on all of Europe twice over without breaking much of a sweat in the military arena…” 

Despite politically-motivated complaints to the contrary, the US military remains supremely well funded and well equipped.

“Even without the nuclear option, Europe has no ability outside the UK (and at a pinch Germany) to deploy division scale ground forces – far less command them and support them, nor to move heavy equipment fast at scale. The US can deploy multiple divisions with heavy armour support and full combat enablers (e.g. dynamic targeting support, SATCOMs etc). Without the US, we in Europe have almost no access to SATCOM, GPS targeting, strategic mobility etc etc.”

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Non-US NATO forces are also essentially ancillary parts of the US war machine, dependent on US support to fight large wars and tied to US-made and supported equipment to function.

“In air force terms, the US have a large advantage in relevant frontline types, whilst European fighter forces are chronically dependent on US tanker, AWACS, ELINT and EW support. What’s more, even the few top-tier European air forces have no answers to the F-22, B-2 or the high-end jamming that the US deploys with the Growler, B-52 etc.”

If the air offers Europe a chance, the sea does not. “In naval forces…. It’s around 15 nuclear attack submarines, mostly British and French capability, with a smattering of littoral-based but capable electric boats from Sweden and Germany vs 57 nuclear attack boats from the US. The surface combatant ratios are even worse and doesn’t even contain the 10 CVN’s with associated air wings.”

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Even the US’ Navy’s army is the match for two of the most powerful European nations: “Then there’s the USMC which alone can field almost as much combat power as Britain or Germany…”

In summary, Bronk declares it- “No contest”

We must all hope that this subject remains firmly in the armchair.

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12 comments

  1. Ferris

    Kinda like how – on paper – USA vs North Vietnam was no contest. There’s more to “victory” than pure brute force and numbers of combatants / ships / aircraft and technological advantage of said vehicles and troops.

  2. John Usher

    From the UK, I sincerely hope any war – between NATO and Russia, between the US and non-Russian Europe (or even the US and a Europe which inculdes Russia – that’s a thought, not beyond the possibility of historic geo-politics in time) – indeed remains firmly ‘in the armchair’, but perhaps puts the EU concept of a European army, separate from NATO, into context, i.e. independence from the US.

    Couple that with Trump’s desire to make Europe pick up more of the bill – why indeed should the US pay for us? – and the dynamics change again,

    However, the fact that Europe relies on so much US militiary equipment and technology (Britiish nuclear missles are US, British drones are flown from the US, US transport aircraft, AEW, anti-submarine, heavy helicopters, F35 to come, etc, etc.) would seem to negate the possibility of a war, but is perhaps a spur to Europe to become more self-reliant over time, if that is possible, politically and financially. Airbus did it with airliners – perhaps it is possible with defence?

    • brengauz

      – the US can keep “paying for you,” because we are really paying ourselves, or rather our defense contractors, who would be reaping the rewards for increased European military spending. It’s a shakedown.

      – Europe is already “self sufficient” in that it can more than adequately repulse any current credible threat to it’s borders. There is no ideological divide between “West” and “East” any more, especially as both Russian and American rabid-right wingers are finding more common ground each day. Nigel Farage called Putin the world leader he most admires. So why does Theresa keep scaring children with stories of Russkies overrunning Dover Castle without her Trident?

      Please remember, unlike Airbus, Lockheed Martin doesn’t produce a single usable aircraft. But they are the largest government contractors in the US, and thus the world. Where do you want your tax receipts going? Arm-chair battles, or the NHS?

      • John Usher

        In an ideal world I’d much rather defence spending was zero everywhere, and health, welfare, education, housing, environment etc. were priorities for spend, but failng that, then the appropriate spending Iwhich is what?) on miltary programmes should be nearer to home, and that means europe, as those programmes are simply too big for a nation like the UK (and even more so if/when it breaks up!) alone.

        I take the point I think you are making that increased european defence spending would probably still get back to US defence contractors, even if the US didn’t pay, hence my thoughts on reiliance on european equipment.

        As to who would we be likely to fight – between the 1st and Seond World Wars, the UK had to have an assumed enemy, and that was, I believe, France (until Germany re-armed) – the US was considered too! Britian and France have been in conflict on and off for 900 years! Spain and Britain fought for years. Britain and fhe Dutch fought for years (then Britain got a Dutch King!), France took on most of europe in the Napoleonic era. Britain, France and the Ottomans fought Russia in the Crimean. Prussia and Austria-Hungary fought each other, then Germany and Austria united (for a while) in 1938. Cold War we stared across eastern europe. And so it goes on. There has to be a potential enemy, in order to justify spend and development.

        However, if the UK ends up (however unlikely!) toe-to-toe militarily with the Spanish over Gibraltarian sovreignty in Brexit, it will be fascinating to contemplate a Spanish carrier moored in Algeciras/Gibraltar (take your pick) bay with a complement of Harriers (of Anglo-German-US origins, powered by a French concept engine), with Spanish escort vessels of US origins, whilst the emerging British carriers still await the F-35, and the power systems of the escorting British destroyers break down – again. And all Nato.

        It’s a funny old world…

  3. wobbles

    All this article does is prove exactly how right Trump is about how much NATO takes advantage of the US to spend the lion’s share of money and troops to protect Europe. This alliance has turned into a fleecing of the American tax payer, while European members with the exception of the UK hardly contribute at all to their own defense.

  4. David K.

    What a stupid irresponsible premise for an article! The US, regardless of who the President is, has no interest or motivation to even consider a war with Europe. This irrational paranoia over Trump needs to stop. Ever hear of self fulfilling prophecy?

    • Hush Kit

      Hi David K, thanks for your point. I think you raise some interesting questions: articles that compare US military assets with Russian or Chinese equivalents are uncontroversial, yet straying outside of these nightmarish scenarios to other, equally nightmarish, subjects garner more attention. The reasons for this should be discussed. Regarding your final point: if the more alarmist prophecies did come true, then the ‘paranoia’ would be rational. Thanks for getting involved, HK

  5. DisThunder

    Interesting idea. It’s at the very least an effective lampshade on the usual European theater wargame. Honestly, though, I actually think there’s even less chance of a large scale conflict than we’ve had in nearly two decades- you finally have a guy, obnoxious and pig as he might be, who didn’t make his money off of defense contractors or oil. For the first time in almost 2 generations, there might not be a major money incentive for an administration to go to war.
    All wargaming aside, though, the one thing I really wonder about with Trump is if, outside of posturing, he could actually ever take on the F-35 project….

  6. F35 Lightningfart

    I think europeans would wipe out the aircraft carriers very quickly (as demonstrated by the germans ans swedes often in exercises) and france would nuke ny city, the brits nuke los angeles (destroying the mexican wall as well).

  7. Fabien

    As j’y showed in actuel French army, quantity don’t allow availability. U.S. can erase Europe with a massive blow. .. certainly but in actually, U.S. air carrier are unavailable. For the first time since 1945…

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