hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

European Defence: The Old Unreliables versus the New Contemptibles

“It is my Royal and Imperial command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate purpose, on one single purpose, and all your skills and the valour of my soldiers to exterminate the treachery of the English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army”.

Army Order from Kaiser Wilhelm, Headquarters, Aix La Chapelle, 19 August, 1914

Reflections on European Defence

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 June. The cat is out of the bag. Queen Angela suggested on 28 May, in the wake of President Trump’s less than successful visit to NATO that “we Europeans have to take our own [defence] fate into our own hands”. She also suggested that America and Britain were now unreliable allies. On 7 June, the day after the anniversary of D-Day, the European Commission launched a “Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence” which called for a “Security and Defence Union” to be realised by 2025.  Will it work?

Now, I can reasonably claim to be somewhat of an expert on this subject as I wrote my doctorate at the European University Institute in Florence on the issue, together with a book for Oxford University Press, both of which are (of course) brilliant and very reasonably priced. Add to them countless articles all of which can be said to follow a similar theme of ‘for effing’s sake Europe get your effing defence act together before it is too effing late’.  On the face of it, the ‘reflections’ paper is an important statement designed to kick-start yet more discussions about the future of Europe’s defence. The central tenet of the paper that Europeans really must do more and spend more on their own defence is undeniable.

Taken together with the 2016 Global Strategy and the European Defence Action Plan, as well published plans for a new European Defence Fund which came out the same day as the Reflections paper, the EU is certainly not short of security and defence jaw jaw these days.  The Commission paper does not lack for ambition. “This reflection paper considers the issues that matter for the future of our security and defence. It does so by looking beyond current debates and decisions. Instead, it considers underlying structural trends, presents different scenarios of possible futures for European security and defence by 2025, and maps our possible ways forward”. The paper then offers a series of strategic and political ‘drivers’ supported by a convincing set of figures to reinforce the central case of more Europe doing more defence.

Three EU Defence Scenarios

The Commission offers three scenarios. “Security and Defence Co-operation”, calls for a more EU-focused security and defence effort, albeit on a voluntary basis. “Shared Security and Defence” goes a step further and calls for greater financial and operational “solidarity” and some form of defence integration, whatever that is. “Common Security and Defence” calls for fully-fledged European defence integration with a European Security and Defence Union to be realised, possibly as early as 2025. It is this scenario which is the Commission’s real objective as all three scenarios are embedded in a chapter entitled “Europe in 2025 – Moving towards a Security and Defence Union”.

It is also the eventual creation of a European Army for which this scenario implicitly calls that the logic starts to become self-defeating and a cold reality “in russet mantle clad” begins to dawn.  First, the paper rightly highlights the fact that whilst the US spends 3.3% GDP on defence, the average across EU member-states is only 1.34%, a figure inflated by the roughly 2% GDP spent on defence by the UK, France, Poland and a couple of others.  In other words, to make an ‘independent’ EU security and defence union credible (and that is the ambition of the paper) with all the forces, resources, infrastructures, headquarters, assets, logistics, and enablers ALL EU member-states would need to spend at least between 3-4% GDP on defence, even if the synergies the Commission claims for a common defence were realised. And, by the way, the member-states would also be expected to give all their defence money to some form of defence Commission. Funny that. NATO is finding it hard to get most of the same states to spend 2% GDP on defence under the agreed-to Defence Investment Pledge.  Any takers?

The paper also points out that whilst the US currently spends €108,322 per soldier, sailor and airman on equipment procurement and research and technology, EU member-states spend on average only €27,639. In fact, the situation is even worse than the paper suggests because some 90% of the EU figure is made up of Britain, France and Germany alone.  NATO is also having trouble getting the same states to spend 20% of their annual defence budgets on new equipment. To even begin to match the Americans each EU member-state would need to spend upwards of 40% of massively increased defence expenditure on new equipment each year. Again, under Commission planning member-states would also be expected to provide the EU with all that money and decision-making powers over defence planning and decide which defence industries in which to invest as well as those to cut. Any takers?

The paper also includes the UK in its figures.  Britain has now triggered Article 50 to leave the EU by 2019, and even if there is a transitional period by 2025, which is the date the Commission is targeting for a European Security and Defence Union, Britain will no longer be in the EU. Without the UK the figures the Commission bandies around in the paper become less fact and more a great work of European fiction.  As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in March, the hard reality for an EU that seeks to take on the mantle of defending Europe is that “…collective defence in Europe is NATO’s main responsibility and especially after Brexit I think it’s obvious that we need NATO and the European Union working together, not competing, because 80 % of NATO’s defence expenditure will be non EU”.

Ultimately the paper fails precisely because it identifies the enormity of the security and defence challenges Europeans face and in so doing unwittingly confirms that security and defence can only be provided by a strong transatlantic alliance. That means an adapted NATO should and must remain the epicentre of Europe’s security and defence, albeit in close partnership with the EU. It will be an adapted NATO that takes as its start-point not the creation of European Security and Defence Union, but rather the equitable sharing of risks and burdens with the US and Canada (Ottawa last week committed to spending 2% GDP on defence by 2025).

Defending Europe or dismantling it?

In conclusion, the Commission’s reflection paper is wholly unrealistic even as a premise for a discussion over the short to medium term future of European security and defence. As such it is yet another doomed-to-fail attempt to re-create the failed 1952-1954 European Defence Community. The likely outcome of this demarche will be some form of hybrid common and collective force which would see European states pooling and sharing far more of their defence effort, and in so doing making them ever more interdependent. On the one hand this would be good, but come a crisis all member-states of the future British-less EU 7 would need to agree to its use. Agile? Responsive? No chance.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong about the EU considering its role in the future defence of Europe. The problem with this paper is that it is has everything to do with the Euro-federalist ambition to replace the nation-state and very little to do with the sound defence of Europe. Indeed, for the Commission’s vision of a European Security and Defence Union to be realised it would need a fully-fledged European government. I wonder who that might be.  Consequently, this latest attempt to lead Europeans to defence ‘independence’ from the Americans would result at best in a contemptible European army, held in particular contempt by those two Old Unreliables American and Britain, and dismissed with disdain by Russia, China and much of the rest of the world.

There is a twist to ‘ESDU’. It might actually help strengthen European defence if it goes no further than ‘Security and Defence Co-operation’ or ‘Shared Security and Defence’, especially if by promoting synergies it helps Europeans achieve NATO’s 2%/20% Defence Investment Pledge. However, for that aim to be realised the EU would have to accept that its defence ambition must go no further than becoming the European pillar of the Alliance, and ultimately during crises subordinate to it. Any takers?

The question the paper poses is the right one; how to get Europeans to generate more defence. The answer, sadly and irresponsibly, as is so often the case when the Commission uses defence as a means to a super-state end, completely wrong.

Julian Lindley-French 

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