con la colaboración de

European Defense Needs the EU

Max Bergmann

7 mins - 19 de Octubre de 2022, 07:00

(El Centro de Economía Global y Geopolítica de Esade ha programado, en colaboración con la Secretaría de Estado de la Unión Europea (SEUE) del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación  (MAEC) un ciclo de seminarios destinados a analizar y plantear propuestas sobre los desafíos estratégicos; económicos y monetarios; tecnológicos; industriales y energéticos, así como sociales en España y la Unión Europea con motivo de la asunción por España, durante el segundo semestre de 2023, de la Presidencia del Consejo de la UE
Defense and security policy is the final frontier of European integration. The European Union (EU) is now so large and impactful globally when it comes to economic, regulatory, trade, and climate that by extension it cannot help but be an increasingly powerful and important global actor. And yet there is a mismatch between the EU’s global economic strength and its global role. The EU is not nearly as powerful or influential on the world stage as it should be. This is because the EU is not institutionally set up to act to advance EU interests. Thus, the EU has done the hard part to become a global power - built an integrated economy that is equivalent to the US and China. But it has not done the easy part - organize itself diplomatically and militarily to harness its power. 

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The EU in many ways resembles late 19th century America. As the nineteenth century came to close, America had gained continental scale and had become one of the richest countries in the world. Yet it was largely dismissed as irrelevant by the great European powers of the day. The US had a weak military, a limited foreign policy apparatus, and an inward facing political culture that lacked geopolitical ambition. Yet in the course of 20 years from 1898-1918, the US reorganized itself, developed a navy and its military forces, becoming the most powerful country in the world. Similarly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could provide a catalyst to transform the European Union into a true global power. 

Europe’s Changing Strategic Environment
Strategically, Europe will need to take its defense seriously. With its invasion of Ukraine, Russia demonstrated its willingness to invade a neighbor in pursuit of imperial conquest and territorial annexation. The Ukraine invasion has been a military disaster for Russia. Nevertheless, Russia will urgently seek to rebuild its land forces. This will take time, likely at least five years, which also gives Europe time to strengthen its defense capabilities to deter future aggression. Russia’s naval capacity, however, is relatively unaffected by the war and could pose a real threat to Europe, especially to Europe’s offshore gas infrastructure. 

Meanwhile, the war has prompted the US to pivot back to Europe. America’s return to Europe has reduced momentum for EU defense initiatives. But America’s return is likely temporary. China remains Washington’s major preoccupation, as Washington sees China as the 'pacing threat'. The US is overstretched militarily, having to cope with both a rising China and hostile Russia. As such, Washington will increasingly want Europe to be able to deter Russia and for Europe to reduce its dependence on the US. Additionally for Europe, one of the most significant impacts of America’s pivot back to Asia is that America has also completely turned away from the Middle East and North Africa, ie Europe’s neighborhood. The US has dramatically reduced its focus and attention on the Middle East. Thus, a security crisis in these regions that impacts European security will have to be dealt with by Europe. This means European countries cannot stop investing in their expeditionary out-of-area capabilities in favor of their conventional land forces to deter Russia. They will have to do both. The 2024 election should provide further incentives to reduce their dependence on the United States, as it is possible that Donald Trump or another anti-Atlanticist president comes to office.


The Need for Defense Integration
Russia’s invasion has exposed the weaknesses of European militaries and European defense. One major problem is that Europeans do not focus on European defense; they focus on national defense. NATO helps try to coordinate European forces but ultimately the country that pays for European defense is the United States. It is the United States that provides the core enabling capabilities - the air tankers, air transport, the intelligence, the missile defense - that enable Europeans to fight together. 

Thus, the problem with European defense is not just about spending levels. It is also about how European defense resources are spent. As more and more European countries spend more on defense and hit the NATO 2 percent target, Europe’s collective defense will certainly get stronger. But simply hitting the 2 percent target will not solve European defense issues, as the spending is divided between 27 EU countries and 30 NATO members. In fact, there is a legitimate concern that 27 EU members all spending a bit more on defense will not significantly alter Europe’s defense outlook. Instead, Europe will be plagued by the same issues and problems and will remain dependent on the United States. 

Therefore, it is critical that Europe also seeks to leverage the integrative power of the EU and ensure that additional spending is coordinated and integrated as much as power. This is a role for the European Union and would be hugely beneficial to NATO. 

While NATO has balked at the EU playing a role in defense, there is a clear division of labor between the two. NATO has a clear top-down coordinating role, turning European forces into a cohesive fighting force and setting capability targets for NATO members. The EU by contrast can play a critical bottom up role, such as by coordinating, managing, and incentivizing joint acquisitions and possibly even by filling gaps in EU defense capabilities by facilitating procurements of defense systems that are beyond the scope of individual European countries (missile defense; air tankers). These efforts would advance EU strategic autonomy but would also significantly strengthen the NATO alliance. The EU’s proposal to allocate $500m euros to incentivize European countries to make joint procurements is crucial. 

It is also critical to revive Europe’s defense industrial base. More spending is needed but so are reforms. The EU should continue to be empowered to promote defense industrial integration. The EU after 2014 has developed significant institutional capacity through the European Defense Fund, the European Defense Agency, and PESCO. It is now time to dramatically increase the funding for these initiatives. The EU should therefore seek to fill some of the gaps in European defense, such as investing in the development of systems in critical areas. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s proposal for European missile defense could be one area. Ultimately integrating Europe’s defense industries will require common EU funding to incentivize cooperation. 

Lastly, the EU and its members need to push the United States to play a productive role. As former NATO Secretary General and EU High Representative, Javier Solana has written, “Paradoxically, while his [Trump’s] administration demands that we Europeans take charge of our security, it consistently strives to undermine every joint defense project that we pursue. Such prejudice and shortsightedness with respect to European security cooperation is not new.” The US has used its immense influence in Europe to oppose EU defense initiatives. EU leaders need to stress this point to senior US officials and to outline the obstructive role of the United States. In addition, EU leaders should explain the benefits to the United States of EU defense and to ask US leaders to publicly support EU defense ambitions. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine requires Europe to now make progress in the final frontier of European integration: security and defense. In Europe, national security is ultimately about European security. To do so, Europe must harness the integrative strength of the European Union and move forward on EU defense.
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