What if defence companies had to contribute to peacekeeping?

(B2) The idea may seem foolish, or obvious, a priori. But it deserves to be thought about for at least three minutes. Why not ask the defence industry to make a contribution to the maintenance of peace in the Middle East?

(credit : European Commission)

A good boost

At European level, the European defence industry will receive a major boost in the form of the European Defence Fund — between 1 billion and 1.8 billion euros (1) per year for research and development of new equipment. That is a significant percentage of the current overall public budget of the member states. With an additional advantage: the European budget is more secure, as it is less prone to political upheavals than national budgets.

… with budgetary stability

On the one hand, because political institutions are established for at least five years, with a very low probability of its leaders being overthrown. On the other hand, because the budgetary framework, once it has been hotly debated between elected members of parliament and government representatives, is established for seven years. This is rare and valuable. The defence companies have not been wrong about that. Conferences, symposiums and other seminars on the topic have been multiplying. Even industrialists who mock or are ironic about Europe are rushing to Brussels, setting up shop there or strengthening the existing structures.

A sector not a market

However, the defence industry is not exactly like any other market. The client-buyer-user is not the final recipient of the service. The ultimate goal of these industrialists is not happiness. Their buyer will be satisfied when the equipment is effective. If it is a lethal weapon, effective means ‘to kill’, precisely but as safely as possible. If it is a ‘cyber’ weapon, it means neutralizing a site considered ‘enemy’, regardless of the target’s function. If it is a ‘technological’ weapon, it means having an effective listening system, regardless of who is being listened to at the end, whether a terrorist or a political opponent. For this industry, no matter what its shareholders say, peace is bad news and tension is good news. There is no denying that. One only has to look at the sales figures that have been skyrocketing in recent years.

A European gap on peacekeeping

At the same time, Member States and the European Union have difficulties in deploying peacekeeping missions or operations. There are many reasons for this. It is based on a lack of political will, a lack of human and material capacity and also a lack of budget. Without these three conditions, a mission does not go ahead or is merely a symbolic presence, which is not very effective because it is not endowed with the minimum of ressources that are needed. The discussion on establishing a European Peace Facility proves this. Of all the questions that arise, one is underlying: which pocket will the money come from? The national budget or the European budget? (2)

A possible contribution

It would therefore not be incongruous for companies that have made high profits in recent years to contribute a percentage to be determined — of their turnover or profits, for example — to this European Peace Facility, which is struggling to bring EUR 10.5 billion over seven years (EUR 1.5 billion per year) into line. That would only be fair.

A sector that is doing well

Companies in the sector are doing well. Just look at the stock market prices for listed companies (3). Safran: 60 euros in January 2015, around 147 euros in January 2020 (+145%). Dassault: 54 euros in January 2015, around 155 euros in January 2020 (+180%), Rheinmetall less than 40 euros in January 2015, nearly 105 euros five years later (+165%), etc. In 2014 the defence sector was worth almost 100 billion euros (97.3 billion according to a parliamentary record).

Necessary engineering

Of course, this requires some political and legal engineering. But it’s not an impossible idea. On the one hand, there is an important historical antecedent: the contribution of coal and steel companies to restructuring in the sector (ECSC Treaty). On the other hand, the European Peace Facility has the advantage of being outside the Community budget. This allows a large degree of flexibility. The regulation proposal on the Facility already includes the possibility of ‘voluntary contributions’ from third countries. Why not also consider the possibility of a private ‘voluntary’ contribution. The question now is whether Europeans want to take the plunge in order to play a real peacekeeping role.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Depending on the adopted hypothesis, the figure varies according to the Finnish or European Commission proposal.
  2. Read : Facilité européenne de paix : débat bloqué. Un mouvement attendu de la Haute représentante et du SEAE
  3. Companies often have both civilian and military activities. One is sometimes better off than the other.

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).