Towards a European Defence 2.0?

By Jean-Pierre Maulny, Deputy director, French Institute for international and strategic affairs (IRIS)

Discussing European Defence necessarily requires questioning the usefulness of an organised European defence structure, given that a significant number of European states define their collective security within the NATO framework. Three rationales can be used to justify the existence of a European Defence:  

Firstly, NATO cannot address all the security issues that affect Europeans. NATO is a military alliance which also includes countries outside Europe, such as Canada and the United-States. Europeans may have security interests which differ from that of other NATO countries and which only affect them. Organising their collective security is, therefore, a legitimate endeavour which was codified as early as 1992, in the Petersberg tasks, and expanded under the Treaty of Lisbon. Today, a practice of burden sharing has emerged: the European Union (EU) leads crisis management operations, while NATO takes charge of collective security. 

Secondly, EU Member States need to develop their defence policies within a common framework to build their military capacities as efficiently as possible. More cooperation entails an increase in military capability as well as interoperability. 

Lastly, and most importantly, EU Member States chose to build a political union, not merely an economic prosperity zone. If Europeans were to elaborate their defence policies in a non-EU framework, they would forego the idea of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), consequently of a Common security and defence policy (CSDP), and by extension their ambition for the EU to become a significant player on the world stage. 

Nevertheless, we are a long way away from a European Defence as a common Foreign Policy will not be built in a day. Even so, the current developments seem to point favourably in that direction for two reasons: 

  The international security context carries more risks than it did fifteen years ago. Crises are multiplying in the Middle East and Africa, terrorism continues to spread, and Russia is a concern for many. Most other regions in the world have re-armed: Asia notably China, Russia, and the United-States during the first decade of the 2000’s and again since Donald Trump’s election. EU Member States have decreased their defence spending over the past 25 years and have thus engaged in significant disarmament, but this is no longer sustainable.

– Brexit emphasized the need to revive European dynamics. The European Union must demonstrate that it can offer its citizens specific protection guarantees that states alone cannot. How can we counter terrorism without coordinating intelligence policies? How can we develop satellite positioning capacity at the national level? In the future, how will we advance air combat systems, if not through cooperation? States do not possess the financial means to carry out these tasks alone. The Franco-German endeavour for European Defence has been developed with this in mind, in the hope that other countries will join. 

Since the European Defence summit in December 2013, a new era of European defence has begun. We are undoubtedly witnessing the birth of European defence 2.0.

 The first version of a European Defence was established towards the end of the 1990s and led to the creation of CSDP institutions:  the Political Security Committee, the EU military Staff (EMUs), the European Defence Agency (EDA), the CSDP’s first autonomous missions, and the 2003 European Security Strategy. 

European Defence 2.0 led to a new EU Global Strategy in 2016 which encompasses both military action and diplomacy. European Defence 2.0 includes three core initiatives: the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), and the European Defence Fund (EDF). Crucially, these initiatives will operate within the context of a generalized increase in defence spending. Whether this policy of increased spending, in the works for the past two years, will carry on under future governments remains to be seen. 

Initiatives aimed at launching a European Defence structure are independent from one another but nevertheless reinforce each other. 

PESCO was outlined in the Lisbon budget but was subsequently neglected by Member States. The objective is to develop military capacities and collective force to accomplish more ambitious missions under the CSDP. 25 Member States have chosen to participate in the initiative recently revived by France and Germany. Due to the high level of inclusiveness, there is a risk that PESCO projects won’t increase the capacities needed to achieve these ambitious goals. Participating states should thus commit to developing the capacities needed to ensure the collective security of the European Union even if this is not EU’s core mission. European citizens wouldn’t accept another course of action. 

The EU is certainly the best framework to develop joint defence capacities due to the creation of a european fund to engage in capacity building, which doesn’t exist within the NATO framework. 

Indeed, and this is the second novelty, the EU itself rather than individual Member States would pay for its defence through a European Defence Fund destined to finance both research and capacity building. In proposals for future EU budgets for the 2021-2027 period, the allocation of credits towards defence will be significant: 500 million euros per annum for the fund’s research window, and 1 billion euros for the capability window. These figures represent about a quarter of the current backing allocated to European defence research and 15% of the investments in European armament programs. This is far from being superficial, it is a real game changer. 

Collective financing for defence is therefore a genuine novelty and truly revolutionary. Moreover, these funds will exclusively support collaborative projects, thus creating incentives for cooperation in armaments and enabling the consolidation of the European defence industry. Furthermore, the EU’s other initiatives are complementary to the fund. For instance, only projects with at least two participating Member states will be included in PESCO. CARD’s goal, coupled with the Capability Development Plan (CDP) is to obtain more transparency regarding national military capacity planning, to identify gaps and possibilities for joint procurement. Participating Member States, through the intermediary of their Ministers of Defence, must genuinely commit to these future joint projects for CARD to be a success. This implies that the European Council might convene exclusive Defence Minister meetings. 

Participating Member States, with France and Germany at the forefront, have committed to joint projects: future combat air systems, future terrestrial combat systems, or future maritime patrol aircraft. Similar initiatives exist at the regional level such as the Nordic cooperation through Nordefco, or Central and Eastern European States cooperation through Visegrad. The Framework Nations Concept within NATO or the French project for a European Intervention Initiative should also lead to increased collaboration.  The proliferation of such initiatives is encouraging. The British desire to have access to FED funds demonstrates that the European schemes are attractive. However, coherence and coordination of all these different cooperation plans will be of the utmost importance to avoid the duplication of efforts and resources. 

What Europeans lack most today is the will to manage crises with the military means at their disposal. The traditional difficulties linked to cooperation in armament will also need to be addressed: defining genuinely common specifications, allowing contractors to choose their sub-contractors while multiplying cross-border business, etc. We probably will not be seeing the results of these policies till Eurosatory 2020 or 2022. Nonetheless, the strategic community, starting with state leaders, must strive for the success of these initiatives launched by the European Commission, the European Council, and the Member States.  European states should, at last, aspire to design defence policies within a collective framework. Our defence industries can only benefit from such an evolution.