Assessing European Military Capabilities

Since the mid-1990s, most European states have cut substantially both their militaries and the budgets that support them. More than half of NATO’s member states suspended compulsory military service in favor of all-volunteer forces, and the others generally reduced the length of service for conscripts and placed new emphasis on volunteers. Conventional wisdom holds that smaller, professional forces will be better suited to high-technology operations, and more deployable for operations of any kind. Yet sheer numbers of troops may matter more than technology for peace-keeping in failed states, for stability and counter-insurgency operations, and for territorial defense operations.

The shift from a conscript force to one based fully on volunteers can be rocky. On the other hand, military recruiters in countries where the economies are hard-hit are already finding their jobs easier than in the past, because young people without jobs are turning to the steady pay and training opportunities their armed forces offer.

The future capacity of European militaries to deliver useful capability in support of global engagement will depend on these and other budgetary and organizational realities. This project explores the progress and prospects for ongoing military reforms in European countries, NATO, and the European Union and examines their implications for U.S. global engagement.

Related Publications:

Curtis L. Gilroy and Cindy Williams (editors), Service to Country: Personnel Policy and the Transformation of Western Militaries (MIT Press 2006); also author of two chapters of the book.

“Who Will Serve: Personnel Needs for Future U.S. Forces,” paper presented at international conference, Who will fight? Issues, challenges, and solutions for military recruitment in contemporary all-volunteer armed forces, organized by the Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI) of Sciences PO and sponsored by the French Ministry of Defense, Paris, France, June 25, 2010.

Cindy Williams and Curtis Gilroy, “The Transformation of Personnel Policies,” Defence Studies Vol. 6, No. 1 (March 2006), pp. 97-121.

Cindy Williams, “From Conscripts to Volunteers: NATO’s Transitions to All-Volunteer Forces,” Naval War College Review, Winter 2005 (Vol. 58, No. 1), pp 35-62.

Cindy Williams, “From Conscripts to Volunteers: The Transition to All-Volunteer Forces in NATO Countries,” in Kristina Spohr Readman (ed.), Building Sustainable and Effective Military Capabilities (Amsterdam: IOS Press NATO Science Series V, Vol. 45, 2004), pp 79-96.

Cindy Williams, Vincent Medina, and Sylvain Daffix, “La Gestion des Ressources Humaines Militaires: L’Apport de la Théorie des Incitations,” ECODEF, Direction des Affaires Financiéres, Observatoire Economique de la Defense, Ministére de la Dèfense, France, No. 28, July 2003.

Managed by Dr. Cindy Williams, a Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Security Studies Program.