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European defense out of breath?

(BRUSSELS2) To this iconoclastic question which nevertheless deserves to be asked, Dimitry Queloz answers in the affirmative in the Swiss daily Le Temps. The crisis in Libya – and the military intervention – has “ highlighted, once again, the political weakness of Europe and its lack of military capabilities ". For this military historian, the fundamental element to remember is Europe's incapacity to put in place a real security policy. »

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Europe's inability to put itself in battle order

On the one hand, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, ruled out the possibility of using the meager military tools of the Union and limited her action to economic and trade sanctions and to humanitarian aid. On the other hand, the main member states have been unable to speak with one voice. » And Queloz added: “ This cacophony clearly shows that the Atlantic Alliance constitutes today, and probably for a long time to come, the only credible “European defence”! »

Cacophony and military weakness…

We know the ins and outs of this division, between France and the United Kingdom, interventionists, Germany, in opposition, and a large swamp of wait-and-see countries. Detailed at length on this blog, we will not return to it. But the other no less important element noted by Queloz is that the “ military operations in Libya also reveal to what degree of weakness the various European armies have reached ". " The decrease in human and material numbers, which began after the Cold War and continued due to the economic crisis of 2008, led to a real “overheating” in the use of conventional military means. » France could “at most deploy 30 aircraft”, and its aircraft carrier “the only one existing in Europe”, and the United Kingdom “around twenty combat aircraft”… A little weak for the historian. “ The military weakness of Europe – European Union and member countries – is thus exposed, at a time when the United States is forced to adopt a new strategic position.. "

…force a reaction

For Queloz, it is clear: “ The Libyan crisis therefore shows, once again, the need to have conventional means of warfare in sufficient quantity. And ' Europe will therefore no longer be able to systematically take refuge behind American military power and will be forced to take greater control of its security (…). This support will have to be accompanied by an increase in conventional military resources, and therefore arms expenditure, if it really wants to be credible. The economic crisis, undoubtedly lasting, which is shaking Europe at the moment, however, risks making this effort very difficult. »

Comment: This “opinion” sums up the general feeling today quite well and deserves to be developed. However, if I share many of the points of analysis, we could add certain nuances. On the one hand, each crisis is different; and the next one will perhaps require a different reaction, particularly in terms of means. What Europe lacked for Libya was not so much conventional means (boats, planes, men), but satellite, intelligence and logistical support (resupply) tools. As for the use of special forces and other intelligence forces, although we do not yet know all the elements, it is undeniable that they played a role that is difficult to replace. Finally, I think that aside from the cyclical elements, the European Union still has a place to play in security policy, even if NATO undeniably has strategic superiority in a “traditional” conflict.

To read in Time

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).