“Today the main, overriding purpose of the European Union is different : not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.”
So said British Prime Minister David Cameron in his long-awaited speech about Europe that he delivered in London this past Tuesday.
There was not a word about security. Not a word about defense. Not a word about Europe’s future strategy in promoting peace.
Yet winning peace still matters, and probably more than ever before for the EU.
Europe’s immediate neighborhood—the Balkans, the Caucasus, and North Africa—is far from secure. What happens in these regions has immense security and economic implications for Europe. Yet they mean little to Cameron’s view of Europe.
It’s a radically different view across the Channel.
In Paris, a commission established last July by French President François Hollande is finalizing a new White Book on Defense and National Strategy.
A preparatory document, called The International and Strategic Evolutions Faced by France has been published. It gives a thorough insight into how France sees Europe’s neighborhood, the rise of China, the re-orientation of U.S. policy away from Europe toward Asia, and of course, the future of European defense.
The euro crisis, apart from creating euroscepticism and opposition to further European integration, has taken its toll on defense spending, the document states. Defense spending has plummeted in most EU countries. This affects the ambitions of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
The CFSP matters to France. It is central to France’s defense ambitions. But CFSP is paralyzed. As the document makes clear, there is little debate in the EU or NATO for that matter, about the implications of the United States’ shift toward the Pacific.
Indeed, there is little debate in both organizations about Europe’s strategic interests.
And there is little debate about what should be done about the widening technological gap between the United States and EU. Its long-term implications are worrying, both for the interoperability of missions involving the United States and the Europeans and for the future of Europe’s technological and industrial base.
France wants more ambitious defense and technological projects at the European level, a role that it has traditionally championed.
But neither France nor the other big EU countries are prepared to sacrifice the independence of their defense industry for the sake of integration.
The reason is that national governments do not want other governments to be able to decide on their behalf. Essentially, they don’t trust each other’s judgment on when to use shared military capabilities.
The recent collapse of the BAE-EADS merger, the disputes over funding for the Eurofighter and the delays over the A400M heavy transport aircraft show how deep suspicions run. EU countries still lack the political will to put Europe’s strategic interests before national interests.
Smaller EU countries also cling to national interests even though it is surely in their interests to lobby for a much stronger CFSP.
Austria, for example, voted last Sunday to keep military conscription. One argument in favor was that conscription instilled a sense of citizenship—attained, supposedly, during six months and at great expense.
The other argument was that the emergency services or hospitals would lose out if conscription was ended. They have access to very cheap labor : over 14,000 young men choose community service, which lasts for nine months, over joining the army.
If conscription had been abolished, it might have precipitated a serious debate in Austria about the role of its armed forces.
Yet Germany, which abolished conscription in 2011, still has to decide on the strategic role of its armed forces and what they mean for CFSP.
The last time the Merkel government wrote a White Book was in 2006. It did not deal with strategic issues. In 2011, Thomas de Maizière, the defense minister, published Defence Policy Guidelines in which he attempted to describe the new security environment faced by Germany.
However, the 17-page document, unlike France’s pending White Paper, did not go into a serious critique of German, European, or NATO defense policy. Few answers were given to the question of what the purpose of the armed forces and their role in strengthening CFSP should be in the long term.
The role of Britain’s armed forces was always clear. They existed to fight. But now, they are subject to deep cuts that will certainly have an impact on CFSP.
By 2020, the British army’s strength will have fallen by a fifth—to 82,000. “It will have been dramatically reshaped, too, greatly reducing Britain’s ability to project force,” the Economist wrote in a recent and excellent analysis.
As a result, Britain’s influence as a military power in Europe will be further weakened.
With Britain in retrenchment and Germany looking inward, one of the few hopes left for the future of CFSP may rest with Hollande. Let’s hope his White Book is hard-hitting and forward-looking about Europe’s defense and security ambitions. If not, what hopes are there for CFSP ?