The rise of European Defence: From Option to Necessity

2013-03-18 latvia, nato
Author: Dr. Artis Pabriks, Minister of Defence of the Republic of Latvia
The rise of European Defence: From Option to Necessity

During the last years of global economic crisis, the European Union has been hit the hardest. As a result, its formerly famous global “soft power” for what it received Nobel peace prize last year, is on the decline. Apart of economic challenges, in the forthcoming future the Europeans are going to face increasing security challenges arising from global shifts of power and new threats in Middle East, North Africa, and many other places. In the meantime, the United States are decreasing its presence on the European continent and increasingly demanding Europeans to take more responsibility in the defence spending of NATO where European share is only about 28% of total, remaining being the US contribution.

If the European countries will remain deaf to these signals, the decreasing EU "soft power" will be joined by non-existent "hard power" capabilities, which in combination will pose increasing challenge not only to European global role but to European welfare system and public security as well. The urgent change in political attitude needs to take place on the continent if we want to avoid this scenario.


There are a number of reasons why bolstering European defence capabilities is a necessity. First, it is not fair to put a financial burden on the US taxpayer for European defence when Europeans themselves have enough resources available taking into consideration the fact that Europe remains the richest region in the world despite the economic crisis. Second, the “rising powers” of Asia (and not only Asia) respect “hard power” as much as they do respect “soft power” and they act accordingly. More specifically, China, India, Brazil, Pakistan and Russia are increasing their defence expenditures. Some of them combine their increasing hard power with active use of soft power as well, thus challenging Europeans in both areas. Their military expenditures and increasing assertiveness are seen as an integral part of their foreign policy and therefore, constitute a challenge to the existing global political system. As an example, one can mention the deepening tension around Senkaku or Diaoyu islands. Third, asymmetric and non-state threats of various types are increasing progressively geographically approaching EU borders or even crossing them already. 


As Kupchan points out in his most recent book "No One's World", we are seeing the return of an increasingly multi-polar world system. This means that a system is emerging where “no one” dominates in the short term however, it is important to find out who is “no one” is in the long run. In my understanding, it is extremely important that Europe stops the decline of its global influence and reassess its attitude towards defence capabilities. This is the more important since a multilateral world per se is more conflict prone compared to a bilateral or unilateral one. Despite of our wishes to stay out of conflicts, Europe, and the West more broadly (EU and NATO), will be unable to avoid positioning themselves when the necessity will arise to influence global security developments with the support of soft or, if required, hard power.


Indeed, EU and NATO as major international institutions must find a new, mutually integrative way how to tackle the rising challenges. One of the ways towards solution would be a serious discussion on security and defence issues not only at the NATO summit but also among the heads of the states of EU. The leaders of EU should find a way how to bolster the defence capabilities of their EU nations and put a stop to the ever decreasing defence spending of the European members of NATO. I see the necessity to define our ambition in the EU on defence issues and determine how we Europeans assume our fair share of the burden for regional and global security. The EU security challenges do not stop at our borders as well as we are "not entitled" to eternal security guarantees by the US which is becoming increasingly frustrated by their "free riding" European partners. 


After the failure in Kosovo, Libya was the first successful example of a European-lead operation in its immediate neighbourhood. However, also this operation would not have been possible without American support. Moreover, the current situation in Mali and the N-African region will demand increasing European resources and attention for our own security sake as well. If the EU seriously takes into consideration the above-mentioned lessons, it should decide to develop its own military capabilities aimed at strengthening both the EU and NATO. The emphasis should be put specifically on capability development, avoiding the creation of new institutions. Until now, we have not been successful in the attempts to integrate NATO and EU planning processes.  The attempt to coordinate between the NATO and EU in the development of smart defence and pooling & sharing projects is a promising start, but it is clearly not sufficient.


Insufficient awareness or conscious negligence of defence issues in Europe is a fundamental problem per se. European post-World War II generations somehow believe that security challenges to their societies and countries belong to the past. I strongly believe that those are wrong and misleading assumptions. However, the prevailing attitude has direct implications on defence policies and defence spending. It is difficult to find a political leader who wants to run against these popular beliefs, even if they are wrong. However, this discussion has to start. In other words, we politicians have to address public opinion; we are the ones who have to initiate the discussion on a common EU defence budget. No doubt, it will be a huge challenge as it requires a change of current attitude of large number of our populations. Still, the task is crucial if we Europeans want to stop being wishful thinkers and continue to be relevant not only for ourselves and the US but also globally. Where do we start from?

First, my suggestion is that the leaders taking part at the possible mini-summit of NATO in June and European Council in December should discuss whether Europe continues to disarm or if there is the political will to increase defence spending in the future and adopt a common threshold of the defence spending.

Second, it is necessary to pursue the issue of a common defence budget–even if we are aware that no quick decisions are possible. In the meantime, though, we should expand common funding to develop capabilities which are on both - NATO and EU`s - critical shortfalls list and we should take a project-oriented approach to solve it. As an example, I can mention the necessity to improve the European capability to acquire, analyse and exploit operational intelligence; or, to enhance the connection between the EU and NATO forces by jointly funding training ranges and facilities. A common budget in the long term and project-based common funding in the medium term will deliver new common capabilities available without national restrictions.


Common European defence funding is increasingly becoming a necessity rather than an option, therefore I would like to initiate a discourse about the short and long term attitude and policy changes required to develop EU defence capabilities that supplement NATO, support developments on the continent and allow the EU to remain a visible player in the changing global world. European security interests just like financial and economic interests require leadership and political vision and ability to act timely. I hope that European political leaders will find stamina to address these issues in the upcoming meetings of EU and NATO. 


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