Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

In the neighborhood of Europe, dead calm?

(BRUSSELS2) Take a map of the European neighbourhood, banal, the one distributed for example by the European Commission. And start putting on the map three four areas of conflict.

10 conflict zones

First of all, the conflict areas open = real war (Syria), then highly conflictual instabilities (Libya, Iraq, Gaza) and political instabilities (Egypt, Palestine and perhaps tomorrow Algeria). You will see that the "southern" border is not the most reassuring. Especially since we did not mention Tunisia (with a proven risk of terrorism), Lebanon (shaken from time to time by an attack, and affected by the conflict near Syria). Add them to it frozen conflicts - where Russia is a seasoned player: Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Crimea today... And one could also mention "our" frozen European conflict with Cyprus and Turkey.


Europe = haven of peace 

And we can understand that Europe appears today as a haven of peace with threatening or threatened neighbours. The "belt" of instability that started from Afghanistan and went to the Gulf of Guinea via Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Mali etc. - in the early 2010s! - has now been doubled, with another much closer belt, much more sudden and just as risky. We can only be quite surprised by a certain European unconsciousness in debating certain subjects (pooling and sharing, appointments of commissioners, etc.), as if time and politics had stopped outside the borders, whereas 'we are witnessing a frenzied acceleration. It is not in January 2015 that Europe will have to start ...

A debate completely overtaken in a few days

Even the results of the debate at the last "Defence" summit in December (3 months ago!) are now totally outdated. Its calendar, considered interesting, like its ambition, which can be described as "pragmatic", must be revised, or at least enhanced. Today we can no longer think of European security and defense as matters for reflection, for slow agglutination. There must be an update of European defense structures and speed up. Many countries are ready for it - probably the smallest and even the middle ones. France must take the measure of this evolution and propose solutions, that is to say make concessions (which it will have to make anyway in 2 or 3 years). Once the municipal tornado has passed, the main parties will have to look into it. Because a solution cannot be partisan. It will have to be shared, at least, by a large majority.

A necessary update

What we could have thought of doing in 10 or 20 years, must be accomplished in 2 or 3 years, or even less. That is to say drastic reforms: reviewing the functioning of "our" European armies, in a planned, organized way, which does not duplicate one another; re-examine the functioning of our defense structures. It is not a question of creating "a" European army but "European armies". The time when everyone had their own navy, air force, artillery and tank brigades is now over. The tasks must be distributed according to the political contingencies of each country, their geographical position, their particular nature of intervention. Clearly to move from an "isolating" sovereignty to a "shared" sovereignty. The Belgian Ministers of Defense Pieter de Crem or his Italian counterpart, Deputy Minister of Defense, Dominico Rossi each said it in their own way today at the meetings "European Defense mattersorganized by the European Defense Agency.

A healthy distribution of tasks

Between NATO and the European Union, the war of leaders and the race for pants must also end. We must arrive, willingly or by force, de jure or de facto, at a sharing of tasks. The two organizations today cannot seek to do the same thing all the time. It therefore appears urgent and necessary for NATO to return to its primary function: territorial defence. The time of expeditionary forces installed for ten years in a country (ISAF in Afghanistan) is now over. And we will soon see the cost to our defense structures... It is up to the EU to do what it is most willing to do: send peacekeeping missions or operations . It's up to NATO to quickly review the functioning of these European armies, 3/4 of which are useless! It is up to the EU to strengthen the common space, to create a market and a defense industry worthy of the name, capable of producing modern defense tools, such as drones (the big European industrial failure of the last 20 years) , but also to set the necessary legislative and regulatory framework (for drones, but also for private arms companies, etc.).

A singular throwback

It is thus astonishing today that Europe finds itself in the position not of the 1980s as some say but of the 1950s when the Europeans were incapable of assuming their own defence. Reduced to begging for a dozen fighter planes from the Americans to monitor the borders in Poland or the Baltic States and suddenly relieved when 300 GIs land! If Ukraine was severely humiliated by Russia by having to cede Crimea (a political but also a military defeat since its defense system completely collapsed and some of its soldiers preferred to stay rather than leave!), the Europe like NATO were also humiliated, reduced to waiting for the United States to ensure the own defense of the continent like 1944-45!

A collective humiliation

Obama's visit to Brussels on Wednesday could not be more symbolic. The American leader was excellent, a fine talker and a fine haranguer. But this kind of lascivious fervor of Europeans (politicians, journalists, lobbyists) waiting for the Messiah was more than irritating, confusing. By leaving, as in a time that we thought was over, Washington and Moscow to set the timing and conditions of a conflict (above all economic), Europe has everything to lose...

Change gear, and quickly!

We must throw overboard the precautions of yesterday and the day before yesterday, renovate our way of thinking and decision-making. There is no need to think about major institutional or treaty changes. Just decide and apply. And quickly... To take a cycling image, you have to change gears, change gears, and pedal!

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

NB: this map was published by the European Commission on its immediate vicinity. I added some small annotations. I leave all responsibility for the positioning of the "Ukraine" title, placed only in the western part of the country, and revealing (geography imposes) an eastern part, to the European authorities. Map error or revealing slip? 😉

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).