European Defense Integration

Defense Spending

 With defense austerity a fact of life during the global recession, many of us have been calling for more cooperative measures such as the recent French-UK accord.   Not only would this help rationalize the process and thus minimize the security impact of the cuts but it lessens the political damage that would stem from Europe being seen as a net security consumer in the US.

As my colleague Jorge Benitez documented today on the indispensable NATOSource blog, there are positive signs of movement along these lines.

First, EU defense ministers are calling for joint projects along the lines of the European Air Transport Command.   AP‘s Slobodan Lekic reports that they urge that the newly renamed and expanded agency "should serve as an example of how greater integration in strategic transport can result in savings on maintenance and the training of air crews" and that "other areas where greater integration, co-operation, and interoperability are needed include communications, medical services and anti-mine operations."

EATC is already planning to upgrade the EU’s transport helicopter fleets, particularly eyeing "upgrading the obsolescent Soviet-built helicopters still in air force inventories in Eastern Europe, and a long-term Franco-German-led project to develop a new heavy-duty transport chopper."

The rationale is plain.  Not only does this cooperation help eliminate waste and duplication in an environment of stretched budgets but "the fragmentation of national military commands and defence industries has made it almost impossible to achieve economies of scale in the procurement of military equipment."

Meanwhile, Germany is strongly urging wider military cooperation, including sharing of duties with other European armies.  Deutsche Welle reports that German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has published an op-ed calling for "sharing of roles and duties" and is planning to launch a major initiative with his Swedish counterpart Sten Tolgfors.  

While stressing that some military duties are essential for each nation and would "remain within the national competence," Guttenberg argues that the "scarcity of resources in all nations" simply demands greater sharing of resources and burdens. According to the translation by DW’s Catherine Bolsover,  he "suggested three categories of cooperation. The first would cover military duties that are simply in the national interest and can be handled alone. The second would be a ‘straight collaboration between partners, without them abandoning national responsibilities.’ In the third category, there were duties for which ‘one could lean on a European partner.’"

On paper, this is simply a no-brainer.  These are countries who have been allies for six decades and who, in most cases, share a common currency and allow trade and travel across each other’s borders without tariffs or passports.  But defense is much more wrapped up in history, culture, and national pride than economics and it is very difficult, indeed, to entrust it entirely to transnational institutions, whether it be NATO or "Europe."   It’s hard enough for a Frenchman or a Brit to put their soldiers under the command of officers of another country; it’s a leap further to trust them to supply you with aircraft carriers or fighters.   But they’ve already agreed to do just that.

Given that small defense budgets are likely to be a European reality as far as the eye can see  — even after the recession and eurozone crises are over, demographic challenges mean that social programs will demand ever increasing shares of national budgets — swallowing the bitter pill of surrender of autonomy to allied countries will be the least bad alternative.  The defense ministers have apparently already come to recognize that reality.   Now, they must sell it to their people.  

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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