On 13 November, EU member states – with the exception of Denmark, Ireland, Malta, Portugal and the UK – signed a joint notification launching Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the defence field. The announcement, made by 23 EU member states, is an important political decision for two reasons. First, it represents a tangible effort to answer the growing demand by EU citizens for more European-level cooperation to address security concerns, ranging from terrorism to instability in the Union’s southern and eastern neighbourhoods.
Since the 2016 British vote to leave the EU, European governments have agreed on a number of new initiatives to improve their military cooperation. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in June 2017 that the EU had “moved more in 10 months than in the last 10 years.” European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen went even further, claiming that Europeans had made more progress on defense issues in six months than in the previous sixty years.
These statements are exaggerations. But, Brussels bluster aside, the EU has recently agreed on some useful ideas to improve European military cooperation. They cover a range of activities, from funding for military research to better planning for EU operations, which could add real value to European military efforts.
Germany and the UK are likely to remain dependent on U.S. defense, because the alternatives are currently too daunting for Berlin and London.
It is obvious that the European members of NATO depend on the United States for their defense. And why wouldn’t they want that dependence to continue? Only Russia currently poses a direct military threat to Europe. However, for all its meddling—both military and nonmilitary—in European NATO members, Russia would hardly want to risk a shooting war with the United States, the world’s only military superpower. Plus, American protection allows Europeans to spend relatively less on defense and more on other things.
Yet, because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s vacillating rhetorical commitment to NATO’s mutual defense, it is becoming fashionable for some European politicians to argue that Europeans will increasingly have to look after themselves. Explaining the rationale behind the need for the EU to expand its military role, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told an audience in Prague on June 9 that the United States was “no longer interested in guaranteeing Europe’s security in our place.”
This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 1 March 2017.
The first EUISS Security Monthly Stats (SMS) brings together defence data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from 2016. Aggregating figures from the 28 EU member states, the graphics answer a series of questions about defence spending levels and arms exports.
This week Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis delivered some tough love to America’s allies in Europe. Addressing NATO defense ministers, Mattis offered “clarity on the political reality in the United States.” If the allies do not want to see America moderate its commitment to them, he said, “each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.”
On its face, Mattis’ call for NATO to spend more on defense is hardly new, and his words echo the public warnings given by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others. This year, however, after President Trump’s repeated questioning of NATO’s value, the allies are listening especially closely. The new administration is right to call for a boost in European defense spending, but the right measure of our allies’ value is in fact much broader. An overweening focus on budget metrics risks distorting, to NATO’s detriment and to America’s, what it means to be a good military ally.