Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

European defence. A turning point, an awareness? (To analyse)

(credit: EMA/DICOD)

(B2) Defense Europe is about to begin its transformation. Until now we were mainly talking about operations which would forge a spirit of common solidarity and gradually bring about a European awareness of defense, a desire to act together, through a sort of political voluntarism. We had defined ambitious objectives – a little excessive perhaps – with the idea of ​​mobilizing up to 60.000 men to maintain peace somewhere in the world (1). This voluntarism was shattered with the economic and financial crisis at the end of the 2000s. Today, Europe has decided to change its approach. It is relying more on a policy of industrial consolidation to preserve its strategic autonomy and has decided to unblock, point by point, what is blocking or threatening its operational capabilities.

We should not trust the rather conventional language of the conclusions that the European Council will adopt this Thursday. Without being emphatic or lyrical, the 28 Heads of State and Government, gathered at the Summit (including the United Kingdom), could thus approve a real change of priority, a small revolution which could in some way begin.

Towards a shared defense policy, despite everything

Realism is, in fact, essential today. This return to reality is a double trigger. Firstly, Defense Europe is not intended to replace the role of States nor to constitute an alternative to NATO. Second, states — even the most powerful — can no longer face all the challenges alone. Today, everyone is well aware of this double dilemma.

The scarecrow of the European army

What is sought is not really the creation of a European army - used by some as a vision, by others as a scarecrow -. Ultimately, what is about to be put in place is rather a shared policy, with a convergence of certain actions. This policy is far from being a monolithic design, a single model like the Euro, but rather a set of cooperation, accompanied by a series of community financial instruments. The objective being to strengthen links in à la carte arrangements (two, three or four, or 28).

Solitary or/and united?

This shared policy is not, and will not be, a long, quiet river. The situations between European countries are so different, geographically, historically, economically, or simply psychologically, that they cannot be erased by a simple “paper” agreement. States are ultimately quite “lonely” in their conception of defense. And solidarity is not a reflex. The economic crisis that began in 2007-2008 proved this. During its first phase, it rather led to a withdrawal into oneself, a large propensity towards selfishness, to preserve one's national industries, one's own interests, rather than a broader intention of cooperation. As much as possible, everyone has outlined projects, more or less elaborate, with nearby countries. A second phase seems to be emerging, concomitant with a more profound political crisis which began in 2014-2015, with a desire which goes beyond a few cooperative frameworks but aims for greater integration.

Successions of cooperation rather than a single cooperation

This is evidenced by the functioning of the air transport command, the EATC, between six European countries, the structural links between London and Paris on nuclear research (dealing agreements). Lancaster House) and the integration of MBDA — which distributed the costs of these industrial units on both sides of the Channel — and exchanges between staffs, the strengthening of cooperation between the Benelux (navy, air, special forces ) as between the ex-Czechoslovaks (air, training) while Germany is weaving with several countries the integration of units: land and logistics ship with the Netherlands, submarines with the Poles, Super Hercules with France , etc. This development is not spontaneous... The economic crisis which has drained budgets, and the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan which have exhausted some armies, do not explain this development.

An evolution under the weight of threats

A violent sword of Damocles above the Europeans

In two years, Europe has been hit by three successive, serious crises, far from being resolved: the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and tensions in the East - which sound like a tragic resurgence of a dark period of European history -, the migrant/refugee crisis and the tensions at the South-East and South borders - a real trauma for many European countries hitherto little confronted with this type of crisis -, and a new wave of terrorism which is hitting the West from Europe.

A belt of instability in the first and second line

The two major “border” civil conflicts in the south – Syrian (Iraqi) and Libyan – and the two or three African zones of instability (Horn of Africa, Sahel, Nigeria) sound like so many threats. This conjunction has a political effect: whatever the crisis, no state today feels safe... nor capable of facing it alone.. The triggering in November 2015 by France of article 42.7 (mutual assistance clause) undoubtedly did not have the hoped-for effect of triggering a wave of short-term commitments. On the other hand, it has undoubtedly marked the end of a certain inconstancy and forced medium-term political reflection.

All available means

All vectors are necessary this time to ensure a response to these crises: reconnaissance aviation but also fighter aviation (for aerial surveillance in the Baltic and in almost all of Europe as well as for bombings in Iraq) as well as transport, maritime assets (in the Baltic or Mediterranean, even the Black Sea) and submarines (for intelligence), land elements and special forces (in the Sahel in particular), intelligence (in the face of terrorism), satellites and radio surveillance -electronics, cyber (on which the future now depends), means of strategic communication, etc. A range of means which cannot be available to a single State (or in a very exceptional way).

Two political traumas

Added to this, the British stall with the Brexit (even if they have not yet left, the British seem rather to want to save the furniture for possible participation), and lastly Trump's clarion call (2). So many additional signals encouraging Europeans to now work a little more together. They no longer hesitate to shatter the few principles which until now have scleroticized all evolution.

Taboos are shattered

1. Provide Europe with an industrial policy

In this panorama, it is no longer the missions and operations of the CSDP which are the alpha and omega of European defense today. Operational is no longer popular. Europe is now relying more on capacity and industrial consolidation, with the establishment of a real industrial policy: funding for research (under the community budget!), loan possibilities for the manufacturing sector defense (if the European Investment Bank wants to remove this exception), financial engineering for capabilities developed jointly. All with a possibility of an exception to the stability pact for investments in defense, and a certain benevolence from the European competition authority with regard to industrial mergers in the sector. Which is a real little revolution!

2. Building strategic autonomy

The idea is to build European champions capable of assuming the strategic autonomy of Europe, of giving a little vigor to what is currently only an economic agglomerate. For some, it's just a sharing of interests; for others, it is about having a deterrent force. Whatever the reasons, when we look back — even if only two or three years ago — when it was totally taboo to talk about any military use for Galileo (the European GPS) (3), we see the importance of progress: community budget, strategic autonomy, industrial policy... so many big words before, impossible to pronounce, except at the end of a well-watered banquet of 'missionaries' of defense Europe 😉

3. Realism in operations

The operational dynamic has not disappeared. But it wants to be more pragmatic. It's about unblocking, point to point, all the blockages and points of rigidity. The major objectives defined in Helsinki have been put under a bushel: too unrealistic (4). The principle of battlegroups — all together or never — will be shattered in favor of a more modular approach (5). We will seek to have more solidarity, with a greater dose of joint financing of operations (currently 10% or 15%). Prior authorizations which block any rapid departure for external operations could be relaxed (6). A mini command structure for non-executive military missions and a stronger support structure for civilian missions will be put in place. To some, this might seem inglorious and ambitious. It is undoubtedly better than big declarations with no more effective follow-up.

4. NATO – EU reconciliation

NATO and the European Union are reconciling. We are now talking openly about exchanges of information between the different structures, about the implementation of similar policies on both sides (notably on Russian disinformation). The two organizations are now on an equal footing with a distribution of tasks. There can no longer be a question of an adult organization and an adolescent organization, which would not have the right to operate at the military level but rather a distribution of tasks. NATO's karma is territorial defense and, today, this mission is not purely formal. The European Union, for its part, ensures the civilian aspect of this defense, internal security (with the European Border and Coast Guard). On the other hand, any EU military operation or mission under the CSDP (civil or military) cannot be deployed within the territory of its Member States (prohibition of the Treaties requires). Talking about duplication is therefore an illusion…

5. The end of a certain idea of ​​duplication 

NATO has on its side its military technicality which it can put in place for the benefit of its allies (Coalition in Iraq or Europeans in the Mediterranean). The EU has in its favor the plasticity of its organization (a nice word to indicate that it is a bit 'messy') which allows it to adapt to particularly complex situations where the military tool is only one ( small) aspect of the solution. It has thus taken the lead in maritime operations — which are very global — and in (small) army training missions in Africa (the EU's precedence and financial power on the continent oblige). While NATO has on its side — in addition to territorial defense — its planning tool, the Shape, quite heavy but powerful, entirely suited to operations of higher intensity or over a long period of time (7).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Financing the defense industry. A taboo is broken

Read also:

(1) The Member States had defined a " overall goal » to can " deploy quickly » and " to support " forces “capable of carrying out all of Petersberg’s missions (…), including the most demanding of them ", in operations that may " reach 50.000 to 60.000 men”, the equivalent of an army corps and up to 15 brigades. Read our factsheet: the Helsinki summit an ambitious military objective

(2) It doesn't matter what Trump ultimately decides. The simple fact of having cast more than a doubt on the transatlantic link will force the wisest supporters of this link to provide at least a small spare wheel... just in case. Betting everything on the transatlantic link is today proving risky.

(3) Jacques Barrot, the former European Commissioner for Transport, always indicated with a gesture on his mouth. “ We know that there will be a possible military use... but, shh, don't say it. And I won't say it because it would be used against this project. »

(4) NATO made the same turn, putting in place a more realistic force, the VTJF of 2500 people, rather than an NRF which found no application.

(5) Much more intelligent approach than the all together or never principle which only produced one answer: “never”.

(6) The Czech Republic is thus preparing an amendment to its constitution to allow the commitment of troops for a short period (60 days) by the government alone with simple information from Parliament (and not authorization).

(7) Since the end of the major NATO operation in Afghanistan, its external operational workload has been reduced. The Alliance has one major operation underway — KFOR in Kosovo — and a few missions — training in Iraq, maritime in the Mediterranean.Sea Guardian” (support to EUNAVFOR) and information exchange activity in the Aegean Sea (support to Frontex)

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).