A Sight on European Defence

On 8th June, Mr Rob Dover published on ‘Kings of War’ a post dedicated to European Defence. At that time, he had proposed the visitors to feel free to challenge and correct him. For sure my answer comes a little bit late. But it’s OK, at least in my opinion: I will never comment immediately a post, and European Defence is moving at such a pace, that we can take some time, even months to think over the different subjects, which pop up in the media.

Now let us start with this answer. I will try to do it paragraph after paragraph, therefore I recommend you to display both posts, side by side, on your screen.

Mr Dover reminds us that European Defence has been going forward at snail’s pace for the past fifty years and nothing significant and efficient has been reached since then. Effectively, anybody looking backwards can only support such a view, as the most relevant steps forward have been done with a bi-lateral or multi-lateral approach, in no way in Brussels, which needs unanimity. The best example of the ill conceived top-down institutional approach being the Euro battlegroups, so conceived that they are not usable. However, I would not say that European Defence is a dead parrot. Indeed, until now it has not been a historical institutional success, but as I already wrote, the commitment of Great Britain at French side during WWI has never been the result of a formal and institutional alliance. The Washington Treaty did not formally create the NATO, as well. Therefore, I would think that the European Defence is well moving ahead, however under a format, which makes it very difficult to identify among all those bi-lateral and multilateral arrangements and initiatives which flourish in Europe.

Until recently the European governments had still enough money to let believe that their defence systems were embracing a scope large enough to avoid binding tasks sharing with their allies. This behaviour was dominant until now, especially among the countries ready for robust interventions, like the UK or France. Among the other ones, that would have liked war to be banned of their field of vision, their national regulations and political risk encouraged them to intervene in a way they would not be at great military risk.

As a direct consequence, the more active countries were extremely reluctant to have to rely on a partner for the core tasks and maintained in service expensive assets, even in a limited amount, which would guarantee them their autonomy of action and therefore their autonomy of decision. Then they maintained as well the illusion they could do it on their own, what Mr Dover names, I suppose, “the free-riding of Cold War” and neglected the slow but irremediable decrepitude of their armed forces, of which less than 10% can today be committed against the present enemies.

Two things have opened a breach in this principle of autonomy in assets and decision, which had been sufficient until now: Afghanistan and the financial crises. The cost of ISAF is such that our defence budgets have been dried even before the financial crises. comes Some countries, like France, Germany and the UK, are now ready to study mutualisation or pooling of assets, which means that you may absolutely need your partners for major issues. In the past, the only ally we absolutely needed in case of major operation were the USA. Now, the UK is in such a shortage that, to the eyes of the British soldier, even France or Germany could be sexy.

As a direct consequence, if institutionally the concept of European Defence should not go forward, an indirect approach offers more credibility. That is a closer cooperation, a growing integration of the armed forces in order to avoid the whole system to collapse. To compare with the Lisbon Treaty I would name it “a shadow permanent structured cooperation”.

Of course, one major issue will remain the interoperability of our systems. I would not make a case of it. I have just read some books on WWII. Looking at the different models of tanks, vehicles, shells, etc that the German army had to fight against allies which were in a comparable situation, I remain relax. Of course, interoperability should remain an ideal, but again, our ministries of defence had until now enough money to order specific assets, vehicles. Let us see what will come out of the current French- British discussions on UAVs (lead in the UK by Thales Group) and other weapon systems. May be, both will go further than other major European countries over the past 50 years.

More to follow in some days.

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