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It's a long walk to closer European security and defence cooperation

By Adomas Abromaitis - posted Friday, 23 February 2018

Meeting in Brussels on February 14/15, NATO's defense ministers once again discussed the main threats confronting the globe. NATO consists of 29 member states-but 22 of them are simultaneously European Union member states. In general, decisions taken by NATO are binding on the EU, but NATO and its main financial donor, the US, often have different goals from the EU. Their interests, and even their views on how to achieve security, may not be the same. Such differences also exist between members of the EU.

European military ambitions have grown significantly in recent times. A clear indicator of this trend was the decision to establish a European Union defense pact, known as the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defense (PESCO), at the end of last year. This is the first real attempt to form an independent EU defense-one that doesn't rely on NATO.

Although the EU member states actively support the idea of closer European cooperation in security and defense, they do not always agree on the scope of the European Union's effort in this area. Also, in reality, not every member state is ready to spend more on defense even within the framework of NATO, which requires defense spending of at least 2 percent of a country's GDP.


According to NATO's own figures, only the US (which is not an EU member state), Great Britain (leaving the EU), Greece, Estonia, Poland and Romania met the requirement in 2017. While other countries might be inclined to strengthen their defense position, they are not capable of paying, or simply don't want to pay, additional money for a new EU military project.

It should be noted that of the others, only those countries with the greatest dependence on NATO support, and that have no real option for defending themselves, plan to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense or show a readiness to increase spending: e.g., Latvia and Lithuania. EU member states France and Germany are ready to "lead the process", but without increasing contributions. These states have a higher level of strategic independence than do the Baltic states or the countries of Eastern Europe.

France, for example. The French military-industrial complex is capable of producing all kinds of modern weapons-from infantry weapons to ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and supersonic aircraft. As well, Paris maintains stable diplomatic relations with Middle East and African states. France also has the reputation of being a long-standing partner of Russia and so is able to find a common language with Moscow in crisis situations. France pays great attention to its own national interests beyond the republic's boundaries.

Recently Paris presented a highly elaborated plan to create, by 2020, integrated pan-European rapid-reaction forces primarily for use in expeditionary operations to enforce peace in Africa. President Macron's military initiative contains 17 points aimed at improving European troop training, as well as increasing the combat readiness of national armed forces. This French project will not be a part of existing institutions, but rather implemented in parallel with NATO projects. France intends to "promote" its project among its EU allies, and to do this in a persistent manner.

The interests of other EU member states are not so global. Their security and defense policies are intended to strengthen EU's capabilities in order to to protect themselves. They attract attention to their own shortcomings: they can offer nothing but a few troops. Their interests do not extend beyond their own borders and they are not interested in dispersing military and defense efforts beyond their borders, for example into Africa.

The EU leadership and its member states have not reached any agreement on the concept of military integration beyond the decision to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defense (PESCO) pact.


So far, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, has proposed a long-term approach to stimulating a closer integration of Europe's military planning, procurement and deployment capabilities, as well as the integration of diplomatic and defense functions. Such slow progress is a comfortable pace for NATO officials, who are alarmed by the revolutionary French project.

Secretary General Stoltenberg has warned his French counterparts against taking rash steps toward European military integration, which in his mind could lead to unnecessary duplication of the alliance's capabilities and, most dangerously, generate competition between the leading weapon manufacturers (of France, Germany, Italy and some other European countries) as they sought to reequip the European army with modern weapons that would bring the forces of all the EU states up to the same standard.

Thus, while supporting the idea of closer cooperation in the military sphere, the EU member states have no common strategy. A balance or compromise will take a long time to formulate. The aim is to create a strong EU defense system that will complement and not collide with NATO's existing structure. For Europe, this long walk toward common views means Europe is a long distance from owning a truly European defense.

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About the Author

Adomas Abromaitis (b. 1983) is a Lithuanian-born political scientist living in the United Kingdom. A former teacher, he mostly writes about his home country in specialised publications.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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