There is a cost to maintaining peace in Europe

There is a cost to maintaining peace in Europe

The ghost of war haunts the German population, at least according to the media. Germans want to be neutral, a sort of larger Switzerland, and stay out of conflicts as Switzerland did during two world wars, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Russia’s aggressive behaviour is seen, rightfully, as a threat to peace. The word ‘war’ is back on the agenda. This is something Europeans have thought for the last 30 years would never happen again in Europe. As a result, defence - which is costly and disagreeable - was neglected. This was irresponsible.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (1990-1991) has warned of a return to the Cold War (1947 to 1991) between the Soviet Union and the West. He even used the term Third World War.

But the threat to Europe is not limited to threats from the East. Developments in North Africa and the Middle East are also a big concern. A conflict starting in the Far East could engage the US and leave Europe unprotected and offering an open opportunity for other aggressors to exploit.

But peace has a price. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Switzerland was not spared two world wars because it was a nice country, had good cheese or was a financial centre. It was spared because it was armed to the teeth, had accepted the cost of defending itself and was ready to fight. Any aggressor, especially Germany’s Adolf Hitler, knew very well what it would cost to attack Switzerland. The Swiss also maintained an elaborate civil defence to protect their population.

Countries with weak defences can, maybe, avoid becoming a warring party, but they can hardly avoid becoming a battlefield if they are in an important geostrategic area like continental Europe.

Europe has constantly cut its defence spending. There are legitimate doubts on the readiness of European armed forces to fight. Civil defence is at an unsatisfactory level as nobody has perceived the danger. Many European countries have refused to increase defence spending to the level needed for their forces to be a real deterrent - even in the face of the current crisis.

German fears are completely justified. The only remedy is an efficient defence force which is armed and ready to fight. This deterrence is expensive, but less costly and devastating than war. It is the price we have to pay for a sustainable peace. Concessions to a potential aggressor, which can be perceived as weak or even cowardly, may delay disaster slightly but will not prevent it.

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