A Sight on European Defence

Some months ago I read an article written by J-P Maulny, deputy chairman of a French think tank (IRIS). The title, rather provocative, was: European Defence is dead, who has killed it?

According to Mr Maulny, France and the UK are convicted having killed European Defence, while the USA are suspected having inflicted the same to NATO. Before putting in jail those countries, let us review the arguments proposed by J-P Maulny.

-France come back to the NATO command structure has bound the country, leaving the outsider position and the attached freedom of movement to promote European Defence. He is not wrong. For more than two years (year 0 of France come back), nothing has really moved on European side. However, the paralysis started many years ago, 1998 and Saint-Malo being often presented as the golden age of European Defence.

-The British blockade regarding European Defence and its constant refusal to set up a permanent headquarters and command structure in Brussels has driven European Defence in a cul-de-sac and then forced France to renounce to its old project. I would say that the British attitude is may be the most European one: they do not want of a mammoth, big, slow, and with a limited adaptability. They want something that works, or at least could work without needing an extensive and expensive structure.

When looking at some European countries, having a very limited operational capability, or not willing to commit their assets beyond the level of a symbolic contingent, or even looking exclusively at the operations and tasks where the risk is limited, I can understand the British constantly renewed opposition to the reinforcement of European Defence. Such a defence would really be a paper tiger.

I will always keep in mind that the participation of Great Britain at the side of France during WWI was not the consequence of a formal military alliance, but only the implementation of some vague agreements. So, if Great Britain finds an interest in promoting European Defence, it will, immediately and with a resolve that may impress its allies, join the movement. Current discussions on mutualisation or pooling of assets are the clear expression that the UK is ready to look at Europe at the moment it is worth the game.

-The USA have killed NATO, because they don’t need it anymore and prefer looking for ad hoc partners. As well I would support this opinion. The point is that, effectively, the USA are not that much interested in NATO. They will never renounce to their technological superiority to simply be interoperable with their allies. For instance, in Afghanistan, they set the pace and naturally impose their technology, like the Rover system. As well, ISAF commander does not speak on behalf of NATO, but as an American General: NATO SecGen did not fire Gen Petraeus, his commander in chief did. It is then quite logical to think than the time of NATO and its structure is over. I will not remind the reader that the USA are may be looking more at the Pacific area than at Europe.

-Last but one assessment of Mr Maulny is that the countries scrap their defence budgets without coordination and retain their investments for their own industry. As well he is right, but I would say, partially. Apparently European countries stick to their national industry and their own projects in order to preserve their jobs, buying as much as possible homemade armaments. However, industry has largely started consolidating on a European basis, like Thales or EADS. International cooperation is not so visible but seems to go forward: the Finnish corporate Patria is a good example of successful international cooperation as it has exported its armoured infantry vehicle allover Europe through ventures with local national companies.

Furthermore, cutting the costs has a positive effect: companies have to find allies to survive. Eurofighter and Rafale could develop separately because at that time partner countries had too much money to be compelled work together. My previous post on mutualisation of our defence forces is an illustration of this new trend.

-Finally, Mr Maulny thinks that European defence is not dead. Where Mr Maulny is calling for a collective defence structure, I would rather promote a protean construction, adapting itself permanently so that it becomes acceptable to the eyes of all European, even the more eurosceptic ones.

Sometimes I feel that European Defence has not been killed (yet). The financial and budgetary crisis is so huge that our countries will have to find savings wherever they can. In such situations, intangible principles may fall and pragmatism gives European Defence a beauty you did not suspect beforehand.

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