Numbers are easier than strategies
Everyone seems to agree that Europe needs to strengthen its defence. The changes in the European security political environment are obvious and demand simultaneous action on various fronts. The UK’s approaching withdrawal from the EU forms another reason to consolidate defence cooperation among the remaining 27 member states. Hence, there is considerable support for the current initiatives in the EU’s security and defence policy, which are taking this policy in a more pragmatic direction. These initiatives are now taken forward by a renewed Franco-German tandem with a particularly strong commitment to a deepening EU integration.
The planning and production of military capabilities is first of all meant to become a more joint European project. The European Defence Fund will take cooperation in R & T and joint purchases to a new level. Together with other supportive measures being adopted, it aims to safeguard the vitality and competitiveness of the European defence industry. A more concerted production of capabilities necessitates more concerted planning when it comes to needs. Procurement cooperation is, consequently, expected to foster a more cooperative approach among European governments when it comes to identifying their capability requirements. The activation of the long dormant clause on Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) is expected after the German elections and should push both operational and procurement cooperation along.
A strong focus on capabilities is beneficial also from NATO’s perspective and makes its relationship with the EU much less strained. Using the EU’s policies and instruments to their full potential should increase the efficiency of European defence budgets and help European allies to reach their 2% targets within NATO. Enhanced cooperative planning and the production of capabilities within the EU should benefit all potential users of those capabilities, with NATO being the chief beneficiary among them.
The new approach to European defence policy revolves around money. It is not the first time that economic necessities have compelled the member states to move ahead with European integration. It seems to be much easier to formulate the common goals for European defence in terms of numbers, such as levels of spending, numbers of troops, and types of procurement, rather than by agreeing on the strategic needs. From a functional perspective, defining strategic needs should come first, however.
Nonetheless, the most recent efforts that have been made to agree on the EU’s strategic needs and to link them to its capability planning deserve recognition. The EU’s Global Strategy adopted in 2016 is very clear-cut in dividing the EU’s major security interests into the protection of its own citizens and territory, the resilience of its neighbourhood, and issues of global security. A historic step was taken in the form of the implementation plan on defence – and corresponding Council conclusions – translating these strategic priorities into needs in terms of policies and instruments.
First of all, the Global Strategy made it clear that it is no longer possible for the EU to rest on its laurels when it comes to hard security needs. European defence is a joint responsibility and the protection the EU requires takes a variety of forms. Second, the new documents made it obvious that there is a fine line between internal and external security.
That said, the EU should now adopt an equally bold approach in defining its strategic capability needs in terms of their nature and planned tasks. If the EU – in the atmosphere of its global strategy – wants to send a strong message to potential aggressors against its internal and external security – coherence between words and deeds is required to achieve the necessary credibility and deterrence. The EU has thus far been reluctant to step into this field in order not to undermine the role of NATO in European hard security. But in the same way that an EU that is well-resourced and solid in terms of its military technology can be seen to serve NATO’s purposes, so can an EU that is alert to its strategic needs and vulnerabilities.
With its common external borders and level of internal interdependencies, the EU will be an attractive target for multiple aggressors unless it is able to send a much more convincing message about its ability and willingness to take full advantage of its accumulated defence potential. The scene is now set for a strong Franco-German leadership on this issue as complementing the EU’s role in security and defence has to be built on their firm mutual commitment.
Teija Tiilikainen is Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs and Editor in chief of Ulkopolitiikka - the Finnish Journal of Foreign Affairs.