This article was originally posed by the Istituto Affari Internazionali on 3 August 2017.
When it comes to European defence, more has been achieved over the last year than in the past decade. Some would go as far back as 1950, the fateful year in which the French Pleven Plan on a European defence community was rejected by the French themselves. In turn, the Union’s founders devised a roundabout to make war on the continent unthinkable: the integration of coal and steel, which kicked off the functionalist logic at the heart of the European project six decades ago. Seventy-seven years later, talk about a European defence union is rife within and beyond the Brussels bubble. But what does such a union consist of? Why is it coming about now? And how should Italy position itself in this process?
The EU Global Strategy (EUGS) presented by High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini to the European Council in June 2016 triggered renewed work on a security and defence union. As noted by the EUGS: “The EU Global Strategy starts at home”: the first priority for the EU’s role in the world is the security of the Union itself, achieved through systemic defence cooperation. The implementation of the EUGS in its first year concentrated heavily on security and defence. The establishment of a permanent headquarters – a military planning and conduct capability in Eurocratese –, and the preparatory work to activate a coordinated annual review on defence between member states, or a permanent structured cooperation between a group of member states (PESCO) are all mentioned in the EUGS. These are necessary tools to travel the long and bumpy road towards a European security and defence union, which would feature more systematic defence cooperation as a first step, potentially going all the way to a common defence, as allowed for in the Lisbon Treaty.
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 6 April 2017.
Ahead of the Donald Trump-Xi Jinping summit this week at Mar-a-Lago, Taiwan is understandably anxious. Trump’s ascendance to the American presidency has injected uncertainty into the U.S. approach to China and Taiwan — an element of foreign policy that is traditionally carefully calibrated to avoid upsetting the precarious cross-strait arrangement. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s unprecedented phone call with then-President -elect Trump in early December seemed to herald a new, more muscularly pro-Taiwan approach. This impression was subsequently belied by Trump’s suggestion that Taiwan could be traded away as part of a grand bargain with China. Speculation about Trump’s interest in upending this long-standing U.S. policy died down after the president affirmed his support for the “one China policy” in his first conversation with Xi. The next month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adopted China’s verbiage regarding a “new model of great power relations” during his trip to Beijing.
Whether and how Trump and Xi will address the one China policy remains to be seen. “We are preparing for every scenario,” one unnamed Taiwanese official told The Washington Post. Yet the underlying problem is clear. As Taiwan’s recently released Quadrennial Defense Review argues, Chinese military power is increasing at the same time as the new administration’s plans for “the United States’ Asia-Pacific strategic direction and troop deployment” remain uncertain. These shifting geopolitical currents come at the same time as growing strain between Taiwan and China. Beijing regards Tsai’s traditionally pro-independence political party as antagonistic to its interests and, since her inauguration last May, has undertaken a campaign of increased economic, political, and military pressure.
This article was originally published by the East-West Center on 27 February 2017.
The recent story of Australian defense policy is straightforward. Faced with an increasingly adverse strategic outlook, Australia has been bolstering its defenses since the turn of the century. In the past 15 years defense spending has increased by 75% in real terms, defense personnel numbers are up by 18%, and military modernization is underway across the board. At the same me, Australia has demonstrated its alliance credentials through stalwart support of US‐led operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. As a result, there is little doubt that the Australian Defense Force (ADF) is now more capable and more inter‐operable with the US, and the Australia‐US alliance is stronger than at any time since at least the Vietnam conflict.
But the strategic environment has continued to deteriorate on multiple fronts. Most alarming has been China’s annexation and militarization of contested territory in the South China Sea. It is hardly surprising then, that Australia unveiled plans last year to further expand and modernize its own defense force. Just about every aspect of the ADF is slated for expansion and/or enhancement over the next two decades, but the centerpiece is a US$50 billion naval construction program. In addition to new classes of anti‐submarine frigates and offshore patrol vessels, 12 new French‐designed submarines — much larger than any extant conventional submarines — will replace the six existing boats. To pay for this large‐scale program, the government has promised to increase defense spending to 2.1% of the GDP by 2020.
This article was originally published by Carnegie Europe on 16 December 2016.
Explaining EU defense policy is not easy. But poor communication by the Brussels-based institutions plays into the hands of Euroskeptics and can damage public trust in union policies. In particular, there is no more misleading or damaging phrase than “European army.”
Federalist politicians, like European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, often declare their support for this idea. But like Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, they will wait for an eternity before an EU army becomes a reality.
There can be no European army without a European state. And a federal superstate is not in the cards. Those who propose a Euro-army may think that they are furthering their federalist fantasies, but it is not a credible solution to today’s security challenges. If anything, it is easily perceived as either an evil plot or a useless distraction—or both.