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3/27/16

Can NATO finally be made obsolete in Europe? : European Defense Cooperation needs to be expanded and reinforced

It is high time for a strong EU Defense Force
It has become quite obvious that European governments need to cooperate more seriously on defense matters .

European nations face an unprecedented confluence of security crises, ranging from unpredictable US and to a lesser extend also Russian military involvements across the Middle East and Eastern Europe, which are generating internal security dangers, including terrorist attacks and a large influx of refugees .

Since it is obvious that no EU country can cope in putting this together it has to be a defense force which includes all the military forces of the EU nations, with a central command.

One new but key dimension of the security challenges facing the EU is that the EU now has to simultaneously defend not only the territories of the EU, but also manage external crises. Another important aspect in this picture  is that the lines between internal and external security have become  increasingly blurred.

Against this backdrop, at a summit in June 2016 the EU is expected to adopt a new global strategy, which will set out priorities and guidelines for EU foreign, security, and defense policies.

This summit and other institutional processes are important, even though right now European defense cooperation is being pushed more by the amalgamation of national priorities than just by the efforts of the EU.

European defense cooperation will continue, but it is mainly bottom up—driven by national governments—not top down, meaning directed and organized by the institutions in Brussels.

For example, although the previous decline in European defense spending has stopped, national budgets have fallen by around 15 percent since 2008. Institutional orthodoxy holds that reduced national budgets, especially for military equipment, should spur more cross-border collaboration. In fact, the opposite has been true.

Between 2006 and 2011, EU governments spent around 20 percent of their equipment budgets on pan-European collaboration each year. By 2013, this figure had fallen below 16 percent, according to the European Defense Agency.

Similarly, European governments have become less willing to send soldiers abroad for peacekeeping operations and more selective about which missions they participate in. All the European members of NATO contributed to the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan during the 2000s, but less than half took part in NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya. The EU has deployed over 30 peace operations since 2003, but 24 of these were initiated before 2009, and the pace and size of new missions has dropped considerably since then.

European funding of NATO’s central role in European territorial defense has been reinvigorated since 2014, mainly as result of the Ukraine tribulations between the US and Russia. Conventional deterrence is back in Europe as a core task for European governments. But so far, even these efforts have remained relatively modest.

With a strength of only 5,000, the multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, under the flag of NATO prompts questions about the unit’s usefulness in an event of a military confrontation  with Russian forces.ccording to one recent war-gaming study, the longest it would take Russian military forces to reach the Estonian and Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga is sixty hours.

However, even if the EU is struggling to encourage much deeper collaboration among their members, it would be wrong to think that there is no progress on European defense cooperation. There are now nearly 400 ongoing military cooperation projects in Europe. These include initiatives such the European Air Transport Command in the Netherlands, which manages the missions of almost 200 tanker and transport aircraft from seven countries, and the Heavy Airlift Wing based in Hungary, which has helped eleven European countries procure and operate a fleet of C-17 transport planes.

Some countries are also working more closely in regional formats, such as Baltic, Nordic, and Visegrád (Central European) cooperation. And a number of European governments are pursuing deeper bilateral cooperation, including the integration of parts of their armed forces in some cases. Examples include Franco-British, German-Dutch, and Finnish-Swedish initiatives.

European governments are increasingly picking and choosing which forms of military cooperation they wish to pursue, depending on the capability project or military operation at hand. Sometimes they act through NATO or the EU, but almost all European governments are using other formats as well, whether regional, bilateral, or ad hoc coalitions. The combination of more complex security crises and reduced resources has meant that European governments are more focused on their core national interests than before, and both more targeted and flexible about how they wish to cooperate with the US or even among themselves.

The success of European defense cooperation will depend on the convergence or divergence of national policies, in particular the abilities of France, Germany, and the UK ( who collectively account for almost two-thirds of EU defense spendin)  to not only agree among themselves but to also convince other European governments to support a common approach.

It is high time for the EU to get their act together in the area of military cooperation, so it won't continue to be at the mercy of NATO and dragged into military adventures based on US foreign policy objectives. 

The expansion and improvement of an independent EU Defense force must also become an integral part of well defined Global EU foreign policy objectives, in order to become truly effective.

EU-Digest

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