On Thursday and Friday the heads of state will meet again to discuss the next steps towards comprehensive Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). According to the agenda the discussion will focus on enhanced cooperation within the member states and on how to guarantee the necessary military capabilities in times of shrinking defence budgets. Also on the table is the question about the role of Europe’s defence industry in this matter.
By doing so, the European Council continues to make a big mistake: They talk about the means and, once again, forget about the ends. What is again missing on the summit’s agenda is a discusson on the actual strategic goals and the role the Union should play in the world politics. This debate is long overdue both in terms of the allocation of military means and the adjustment to new realities in international relations.
In the last years, representative from Poland, Sweden, Italy and Spain have been trying, time and again, to initiate a debate on the strategic ends of the CSDP. But all those efforts failed due to the unwillingness of member states like Germany, France and the UK stop striking out on their own and subject their foreign policy to a common approach led by EU’s institutions.
Needless to say, it’s all but easy to reach an agreement among 28 member states, especially when if it requires big thinking. No national government is happy to see its power fading, much less in a field like defence policy, which remains to be the ultimate manifestation of nation sovereignty, and still less if a member state is on the front seat of world politics as veto power in the UN Security Council.
But all those circumstances do not address the changing realities in international affairs, shifts of power on a global scale, new dangers and an effective protection of one’s own interest, nor do the answer the question if the member states are still able to meet those challanges on their own – regardless of veto power status.
In providing for defence, Europe still relies to large extend on its treaty allies, mostly the United States. With the military operations in Afghanistan, NATO’s last important mission comes to an end, leaving the alliance with the question of the meaning of its existence – a question that has already been overdue in 2001, but postponed by the mission for another 13 years. It will re-appear. The United States are shifting their focus in foreign affairs towards the Pacific. Europe will have to able to deal with the respective issues. In addition, old dangers like terrorism are still threatening, new dangers like cyberwarfare are emerging.
The European Union, however, today does not lack the means nor the power to meet these challenges. The EU as a whole is not only the strongest economic power in the world, it is also among the strongst in terms of military capabilities. Its member states have spent around 195 billion Euros for their militaries in 2013. Today only China is providing more military personal than the EU, it is the biggst naval power and only the US is superior in air forces.
That does not mean that the heads of states should not deal with the longterm security of supply of military means. The summit’s discussion is everything but irrelevant. Especially in research, every form of enhanced cooperation is more than welcome.
But the member states would be better advised to come to an agreement to which ends to use this means, first. They should to define the Union’s role and goals in international affairs, develop appropriate strategies and, as a last step, procure and coordinate the military capabilities according to this strategy.
With the shifts of power among and strategies of other global players, the EU and its member states simply won’t be able to avoid creating a common security architecture much longer. The Union in its entirety does not lack the necessary military capabilities, nor does an enhanced Common Security and Defence Policy require changes in the treaty or other institutional measures. To put it bluntly: The European Union is ready to go, the member states are not.