Defence Cooperation: Is it the way to build peace?

“The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples”.
Article 3 – Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union

Steering Board of the European Defence Agency: Credit: European Defence Agency

Steering Board of the European Defence Agency: Credit: European Defence Agency

Europe is said to be slowly losing its global influence. The continent, which undoubtedly has its economic woes, is alleged to be on the decline politically and militarily, not least because of the significant reductions in defence spending taking place in countries across the continent. Europe is now often warned that it must invest in its military capabilities or face global decline. A recent commentary from the European Policy Centre, suggested that “the time has come for European Union (EU) leaders to get more serious about defence integration in Europe – or they will simply have to live with its [Europe’s] continuing, and quite dangerous, military decline”.

This gradual wane in power is often mentioned alongside a shift in American foreign policy to the Asia Pacific region. As the US becomes increasingly sensitive to the rise of China (and others), and thus focuses more on building alliances in that region, so, it is said, those in the corridors of power in Washington are becoming less willing to provide security guarantees to Europe and European interests. The US, facing defence cuts of its own, would like to see European states working together on issues of defence so as to ‘share the burden’ of looking after EU-US mutual geo-strategic interests.

Armed forces from European countries cooperate in a joint military exercise in Italy in 2011. Credit: European Defence Agency

Armed forces from European countries cooperate in a joint military exercise in Italy in 2011. Credit: European Defence Agency

Both US pressure and squeezed European defence budgets have moved many to call for increased defence cooperation on the continent. If European governments could work together on defence procurement, they could reduce duplication and spend more efficiently; improving military capability without increasing costs. This idea is still in the early stages of development.

This story was the backdrop to a debate hosted by ‘Madariaga – College of Europe Foundation’ that I attended on behalf of QCEA last week. The panellists were each invited to answer the question, ‘Is Europe ready for an American disengagement’? They were Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO, and Sven Biscop, Director of the “Europe in the World” Programme at the Egmont – Royal Institute of International Relations.

Is the US really disengaging?

The event began (as such events often do) by challenging its own terms of reference. Both speakers questioned whether the US was indeed ‘disengaging’ at all. Whilst there has been a shift in the ‘geopolitical axis’ to the Asia Pacific region, it was agreed that Europe remains of strategic importance in Washington. This was demonstrated by the recent NATO-facilitated deployment of US patriot missiles in Turkey; the fact that 40,000 US troops are still based on European soil; the Sixth Fleet of the US Navy being based in Naples; the significant contribution of the US to the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR); and the fact that for the first time the US is on good terms with all NATO members.

There is a different story to be told however. The speakers noted that warnings of an American disengagement are not without foundation. First of all, there are no longer any ‘big projects’ for the US and Europe to work together on. With operations in Afghanistan slowly drawing to a close and no other immediate ‘wolves at the door’, the scope for transatlantic military cooperation is diminishing. Secondly, the US is now investing more time in developing and strengthening alliances elsewhere and this inevitably means less focus on Europe. Thirdly, the US, seeing stability in Europe after the Cold War, now considers the continent ready to look after its own interests, and to do more ‘burden sharing’ in foreign policy areas of mutual importance. This US pressure on Europe to do more is manifested in calls by senior US officials to reverse defence cuts. These pleas are made all the more urgent by the prospect of deep cuts to the Pentagon budget over the coming years. For now, America is quite some way off ‘disengaging’ from Europe, but it does want Europe to spend more on defence, and to be willing to project and to use its military power.

 Austrian, Belgian, Czech, German and Slovenian troops on a joint training exercised organised by the European Defence Agency. Credit: European Defence Agency

Austrian, Belgian, Czech, German and Slovenian troops on a joint training exercise organised by the European Defence Agency. Credit: European Defence Agency

More defence cooperation in Europe?

The speakers mentioned two obstacles to an increased focus in Europe on defence and military issues. The first and most obvious stumbling block is that Europe is facing economic austerity. The major defence spenders (UK, France and Germany) are cutting budgets, not increasing them.  The second is that Europe is far from having a coherent collective foreign policy; national governments are very unwilling to give away sovereignty on matters of defence.

The most oft cited solution to the first problem is to increase the level of defence cooperation between European states, so called ‘Pooling  and  Sharing’, within the EU or ‘Smart Defence’ in NATO. By working together governments might reduce duplication and increase efficiency, both in research and development expenditure and operational costs. It is said that Europe could work together to increase operational capacity without increasing costs. The European Defence Agency (EDA) is the EU organization created to advance this goal within the EU. Its mandate, as described in Council Joint Action 2004/551/CSP, is fourfold: to develop defence capabilities; to promote defence research and technology; to promote armaments cooperation; and to create a competitive ‘European Defence Equipment Market’ and strengthen the ‘European Defence, Technological and Industrial Base’. The EDA describes itself as offering “multinational solutions for capability improvement in a time where defence budget constraints foster the need for cooperation”[i]. It has facilitated joint projects on air-to-air refuelling and counter Improvised Explosive Device (IED) technology for example.

Members of the EU Military Committee during its meeting in October 2012. Credit: Council of the European Union

Members of the EU Military Committee during its meeting in October 2012. Credit: Council of the European Union

If we are seeking a solution to the second issue, that of a coherent collective foreign policy, it is less obvious. Sven Biscop highlighted that without a collective strategy for security and defence, how can European states make collective decisions? Put another way, it will be difficult for European states to cooperate on issues of defence when they don’t all agree on what they need defending against. The EU, in documents such as the 2003 European Security Strategy and its subsequent updates, is moving towards a more integrated approach, but this is still, as with defence cooperation itself, in the early stages. (See this QCEA background paper on the European Security Strategy.) Despite its relative youth, security and defence cooperation within the EU is not without substance however. There have been twenty five Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions since their inception in 2003. Other CSDP structures include the EU Military Staff, the EU Operation Centre, and the EU Military Committee. It is quite clear that the EU is slowly but surely becoming a forum for military and defence cooperation.

How might Quakers address this issue?

The European Union began as a peace project (or a peace process, see September’s Around Europe), but there is now the obvious worry that parts of it are being co-opted by military interests. Increased defence cooperation is worrying for those advocating nonviolent and peaceful solutions to conflict.  There are some difficult questions to be asked of the EU. Primarily, how does an increased focus on defence and security, or ‘militarisation’ as it is sometimes called, contribute to its role as an actor for peace? The EU, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, was described as the “most successful example of peacebuilding ever achieved in world history”. But the question is, will it remain so?

Further Reading

The Brookings Institute, a US-based foreign policy think-tank, released “The Implications of Military Spending Cuts for NATO’s Largest Members” in July of last year. Whilst the angle is very much of the ‘geopolitical’/’strategic’ nature, it has some interesting statistics and analysis on defence budgets in the UK, France, and Germany.

For an example of serious hesitation by a MemberState to cooperate on issues of defence, see this report by (you guessed it) the UK House of Commons on the European Defence Agency.

For more information on the relationship between the EU and the US (as well as some over the top Flash graphics) see this website created by the European External Action Service.

Finally, see this thorough analysis here by the German Marshall Fund of the United States asking (and answering) the same question as the Citizen’s Controversy debate:  “A Post-American Europe? Not Just Yet”.


[i] Taken from the website of the European Defence Agency. http://www.eda.europa.eu/Aboutus [Accessed 16/01/2012]

About Chris Venables

Chris was a Programme Assistant at the Quaker Council for European Affairs from September 2012 to September 2013. He researched and wrote on the militarisation of the European Union.
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