As US waivers, can Europe defend itself?


With Russia again a possible threat to European security and US President Donald Trump questioning some basic tenets of NATO, is Europe strong enough to defend itself?

The current geopolitical conditions ask that question, and also offer a unique opportunity to answer it. In particular Germany, France, Italy and Spain are trying to develop more active EU defense policies and cooperation despite their national differences. The continent is trying to raise its game on defense due to the deterioration of its security environment to the east and south, as well as in the heart of its cities.
Italian news: European security
Europe can count on a two-million-member armed force but spends one-third of the US and has a fighting capacity and strength of only 15 percent of the US.

“Europe can no longer afford to rely on the military might of others,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last fall. “We have to take responsibility for protecting our interests and the European way of life. If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us.”

But defense budgets in Europe shrank over the past decade even as other global actors upgraded their militaries on an unprecedented scale.

In 2016, the US spent $622 billion on defense while the EU including the UK invested $219 billion. China increased its defense budget by 150 percent over the past decade, spending $192 billion last year. The disparity is reflected in actual power.

“Europe can count on a two-million-member armed force but spends one-third of the US and has a fighting capacity and strength of only 15 percent (of the U.S.),” says Gianandrea Gaiani, director of Analisi e Difesa, a defense, intelligence and military magazine. In response, military expenditures in Europe went up a combined 2.6 percent in 2016.

Federica Mogherini, head of EU foreign affairs, has proposed a global strategy on security and defense that sets out a new set of goals for the EU and identifies actions needed to reach them. “The European Union always takes a soft approach to hard security, but we also have some hard power that we are strengthening,” says Mogherini.

Last fall the European Commission proposed a European Defense Fund (EDF) and other initiatives to help member states boost research and spend more efficiently on joint defense while fostering a competitive and innovative industrial base.

The European Defense Action Plan is not about creating an EU army or duplicating NATO, nor about replacing national military planning and command structures.

“Establishing voluntary European armed forces would mean that each European member state deprives its own armed forces, losing an instrument to prevail in its own interests,” says Germano Dottori, professor in strategic studies at Luiss University, Rome.

But without surrendering military sovereignty, EU members are moving toward more integrated efforts. The EDF will start on small scale this year to support joint R&D on defense equipment and technologies such as electronics, metamaterials, encrypted software and robotics.

Brussels has already proposed 25 million euros for defense research this year and expects the budget to grow to 90 million euros by 2020.The European Commission intends to propose a dedicated defense research program with an estimated cost of 500 million euros a year after that.

“The European defense industry is a competitive global player that offers good and innovative weapons and military equipment,” says Dottori. “We should adapt Obama’s slogan of ‘Buy American’ to ‘Buy European’ to protect our arms industry.”

“The EDF adds value to what member states already do,” says Francesco Laera, spokesperson for the European Commission in Milan.

“The European Defense Action Plan is about creating the conditions for more cooperation to maximize the output and efficiency of spending, and foster a strong, competitive and innovative industrial base,” he says. “Because the lack of such cooperation is estimated to cost between 25 and 100 billion euros annually.”

Spending on defense also has a knock-on effect. The European defense industry already generates 100 billion euros a year in revenues and 1.4 million highly skilled jobs directly or indirectly.

Germany has inaugurated a Cybernetic and Information Command in Bonn that “plans to bring together 14,000 people including strategic military intelligence and communications in the next few months”, says Gaiani. The new facility was created to meet the mandates of NATO and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who calls defense against cyber-attacks one of her main priorities.

France has also placed a priority on building better cybersecurity and specialized internal security units.

The new geopolitical course is now reflected in Sweden, which reintroduced military conscription. Italy also announced that might return to the draft in 2018.

But for now Europe’s defense capabilities are underdeveloped, says Gaiani. “Europe has adopted non-efficient policies against terrorism. Paradoxically, the EU speaks of integrating even penitent foreign fighters with programs of re-education, but treats them like junkies,” he says.

“The big threat to Europe comes from Libya not from Russia. Europe is incapable of defending its own borders,” he says. “In 1991, after the EU’s failure to properly respond to the Gulf Crisis, Belgium’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Mark Eyskens defined Europe as ‘an economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm’. This definition of its fighting capability is still very appropriate,” he says.

But “the fact that development of defense research and capabilities are now seen as vital strategic investments on behalf of the EU marks a radical shift in the way the EU thinks about and supports defense”, says Daniel Fiott, Security and Defense Editor at the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

This analysis first appeared in the Khaleej Times of Dubai.