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Defense Europe. Be careful not to confuse the objective and the tools, be careful not to disappoint

(B2) Facilitating defense research and technological innovation, planning joint purchases, developing military mobility... that's good. It may be desirable to encourage countries, manufacturers and research institutes to cooperate with each other. But that does not in any way constitute a Europe of defence. And it's even dangerous, if it becomes the only path to development.

An inevitable investment deficit

That there is a defense funding deficit in Europe in the Member States is a fact, an unavoidable fact. That European industry is sparse, fragmented is also a fact. But to go from there to claiming that this industrial consolidation will make it possible both to consolidate Europe's robustness on the world market (so that it is no longer just an instrument of the soft power) and to satisfy public opinion, there is a difficult step to take. We seem, here, to confuse the tool and the objective.

What do European citizens want?

Certainly " luropean security and defense are high on the agenda of citizens ". But we cannot deduce from this assertion that the citizens demand a strong defense industry, which exports armaments in a dynamic way all over the world (1). What they demand, above all, is security. They want that the day when there is a catastrophe (human, natural or technological) in the world, Europe arrives grouped to the rescue of its citizens. They want that the day when there is any threat (terrorist act...), Europe can react not in a dispersed but organized way. They want Europe to take care to stabilize its close neighbors or the countries with which it maintains numerous historical, economic or human ties (2). They want to be able to be proud to be able to say: I am a European ". In all these desires, the consolidation of the defense industry does not really appear.

Tools already available

To be able to react, you need tools. But these tools that are lacking today are well known: a few drones, a few helicopters, one or two medical antennas, a bit of strategic transport, intelligence and satellite imagery, etc. Some of them are quite basic and are already available either in the armies or on the (European) market, it is enough to invest and acquire them but, above all, to have the will, and the possibility, to use together. When we look closely at the existing shortcomings in certain European missions / operations: medical support, secure cyber communication, public procurement specialists or French-speaking officers (3), we are far from high tech!

Sluggish peacekeeping missions and operations

Similarly, the existing sluggishness in the European Union's peacekeeping missions and operations is not due to a lack of capabilities. Such sluggishness is exceptional since the launch of the European security and defense policy. In four years, since the start of the Juncker Commission in 2014, a single operation launched: Operation Sophia — which is more of a border protection operation than a peacekeeping operation — and a mini-mission of advice in Iraq. It's weak! whereas the previous rate was one or two missions launched per year. The number of missions currently deployed (sixteen) should not be misleading. Half of them are in a mode of self-justification rather than in a mode of real usefulness in the field (4). Europe is absent in the settlement of the crises in Burma, Colombia and Yemen. Ditto in Africa, to support the French operation Barkhane. Even in UN Minusma-type operations, the Europeans arrive in dispersed order, instead of providing a contingent as such. These absences are all signs of European weakness which are analyzed as such by the other world players.

possible dissatisfaction

If, tomorrow, Europe spends almost 3 billion euros per year from 2021 — as the European Commission is proposing this Wednesday — for defense research and military mobility (5), and that it remains unable to act in a coordinated, decisive and rapid manner (as today), it will not fulfill the objective requested by the citizens. On the contrary. It will generate a dissatisfaction that will break a certain unanimity and will turn against its designers with the argument: why spend money in a useless way? There are many expectations, let's not disappoint them.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) In addition to State orders, exports are one of the vectors of balance in the defense industry. It would be difficult to consolidate a European defense industry without this element, which does not arouse consensus either in European opinion or in governments.

(2) There is near unanimity on this point among Europeans on the right and on the left, passing through the centre, the Greens, for the extreme right.

(3) A serious problem to the point that an internal note from the European External Action Service (EEAS) has been devoted to it.

(4) For years, B2 has observed what is happening in CSDP missions and operations. Gathering interesting information on what is happening in missions/operations is a difficult task. Much of the information available concerns inaugurations, awarding of medals, official visits. We are more into activism than activity. Read also: A certain reorganization of the missions and operations of the CSDP … as of NATO?

(5) The figure mentioned is in current prices (19,5 billion euros over a period of 7 years from 2021 to 2027). Military mobility is essentially a NATO project, intended to facilitate the defense of European territory on its eastern borders, facing Russia.

Updated on 4.5 with the amount in current prices and the notion of military mobility.

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).