With Justyna Gotkowska about the EU defense pillar, NATO-bis and transatlantic tensions talks Małgorzata Schwarzgruber and Tadeusz Wróbel.
Why a public debate on common security and defense policy is usually narrowed down to European army?
I think it’s because the European army is a catchy phrase, which has both its supporters and opponents, depending on whether they support the vision of the European Union as an increasingly integrating federation of states, or as an organization of sovereign – to a great extent – states. The problem is that the European army has nothing to do with reality – nobody in the EU is going to form it, as of now.
Many people perceive the EU defense policy in its standard sense, i.e. the goal of which is to defend the EU states against any conventional armed attack. However, the EU understands it as a crisis response outside the EU territory. Documents adopted in recent years indicate that the increase of activity of the European Union and taking more responsibility for ensuring security in the nearest neighborhood is a priority.
How should we thus understand this crisis response?
It’s about military operations for preventing conflicts and restoring peace, but also training missions, which are now being carried out in Somalia and Mali. For that reason, since 2005, the EU combat groups have been formed, which however has never been used as such, and now command structures are formed too. In 2017, a section was created for planning and conducting military operations, and it is capable of commanding operations with up to 1,500 soldiers. The impulse to develop crisis response policy comes from the biggest EU countries, mostly from France.
Following 2016, we have observed a more dynamic development of the projects related to common policy of defense and security. What accelerated them?
Several factors had their share here. Donald Trump was elected US President, the British voted for Brexit, and Emmanuel Macron became President of France. The biggest member states – France and Germany – agreed that new integration initiatives should be taken. They were to prove that further close cooperation is possible, e.g. in the area of security and defense. Both, the European Commission and European Parliament supported the idea.
It was President Macron who mainly wanted to strengthen political, business and military cooperation as a counter situation to the USA.
I must say that the policy of the United States is badly perceived not only in France, but also in Germany. Both of these countries consider Trump’s administration as hostile towards the EU. The Eastern flank countries take different stance, but Paris and Berlin claim that in order to face challenges, also those stemming from the policy of the United States, the EU must be integrated.
Only to what extent will that be successful? Is it possible to, for example, pursue a defense policy without joint armed forces nor unified foreign policy?
The EU de facto doesn’t have any unified policy, either foreign or security one. Individual states differently perceive threats. In these areas, it is required to be unanimous: all countries must agree to work out a joint stance or take defined actions. This – with 28 member states – is not an easy task. France and Germany want to change it by gradually introducing to foreign policy a qualified majority voting. France also seems to have increasing ambitions towards shaping the European foreign and security policy. President Macron makes attempts to do it by promoting projects such as for instance the European Intervention Initiative, which formally is to conduct military operations outside the EU and bring closer strategic cultures of participating states. By the way, to the last meeting of the EII at the level of defense ministers, Germany delegated its Under-Secretary of State, which indicates how important this initiative is for this country. The French president perceives the cooperation with Washington utterly differently than majority of the EU leaders do. He wants much greater Europe’s independence from the United States that the remaining EU member states want. Macron would also see himself in the role of the EU representative in the relations with Russia, to which Germany is rather reluctant.
France insists on the introduction of strategic autonomy concept. What is it about?
Good question, as this term is not clear. What’s more, it’s quite controversial, because it can have negative consequence for transatlantic cooperation. In recent years in political debate there were theses put forward that the EU should develop its self-defense capability, because the United States will reduce their military engagement in the Old Continent, and increase it in the region of Asia and Pacific. However, de facto nobody in the EU seriously thinks about collective defense. Apart from that, not only the Eastern and Central European states, but also Germany know quite well that the European security depends on the engagement of the United States in this region. I should also mention that after Great Britain leaves the EU, the military potential of the latter will drastically shrink. For that reason, it’s little likely that during the next twenty years the EU will be transformed into the alliance similar to NATO. Whereas the member states will cooperate more closely, thus creating the European pillar in NATO. The EU initiatives in the area of security and defense will be thus used not only for the needs of the EU, but they will become advantageous for NATO, and they could also be useful for the UN.
Common security and defense policy does not mean only military projects, but also projects in the areas such as industry, research and development, or transport. About the latter ones not much is being said.
Common security and defense policy covers different areas. In military aspect, the command structure are being formed, and the projects on developing military capabilities within PESCO structural cooperation are implemented. Some of them can be useful in crisis reaction, other for collective defense or also for both initiatives. Poland takes part e.g. in the project of creating the network of logistic centers in Europe. You can also observe the EU activity in the area of improving military mobility. The EU following 2021, i.e. within the frames of its new multi-year budget, will financially support the adjustment of the roads and railway routes to the needs of military transport. Also, we have industrial projects which aim at the creation of specific armed product, e.g. safe programmable radar stations, also with participation of Poland. Such projects can be financed by the European Defense Budget, also after 2021. In the EU, there are also plans to strengthen the cooperation in the area of civil crisis reaction, i.e. deploying to advisory missions policemen, judges, experts in various areas, who are to help to develop state structures in the countries of the EU neighborhood.
Such cooperation is the easiest in defense industry. The initiators of new programs are mainly France and Germany, which with the participation of Spain will jointly build, inter alia, the European fighter of new generation.
Yes and no. It is the French who mostly care about developing European defense projects, which could compete on the world market with American or Russian equipment. It’s worth mentioning that the greatest German-French projects, e.g. a fighter or tank of new generation, are developed outside the EU structures, in order not to involve too many countries and simplify the production process. These projects have problems. The French demand that the Germans resign from rigoristic domestic restrictions as regards exporting armament and military equipment. For Paris, it is the key question. If they keep the restrictions, the equipment developed within the frames of joint projects, will not be allowed to be exported abroad.
Will the common security and defense policy not be a repetition of NATO tasks?
Many analysts in the countries of NATO western flank expressed their fears that the EU will be forming an alternative to NATO. So far, however, nothing confirms that. The projects for military and industrial cooperation will be, although for the time being only to some extent, increasing the military capabilities of the member states and will be advantageous for the Alliance. If the EU continue to develop its own command structures, possible is partial rivalry for officers with NATO. The problems raised by the USA are at the moment the industry issues, and the participation of the third states in the EU projects. At present, in Brussels there is an ongoing dispute over the involvement of American companies in the projects financed by the European Defense Fund. According to the United States, tightening the cooperation in defense industry in the EU may gradually push the American defense companies out of the European market. These fears are rather exaggerated, but indeed such was the initial intention of France, which openly claims that Europe should develop modern technologies independently from the United States, and be self-sufficient in defense industry. These questions should have a long-term disadvantageous impact on the EU-USA relations in the area of security and defense.
What can be the consequences of such activity?
It’s important how the greatest EU states relate to the cooperation with the United States. Germany are still transatlantic and skeptical towards the French ideas, but if President Trump wins the elections, transatlantic policy of German elites can break down. Berlin doesn’t have any strategy of security policy development. It’s a disturbing perspective for the states of NATO’s eastern flank, because we will be faced with the French vision of the development of the EU strategic autonomy.
Why common security and defense policy doesn’t include anything about Russia?
Formally speaking, the response to the conventional military threats is not the EU’s task, and collective defense is part of competences of NATO. One of the main goals of Polish diplomacy since 2016 has been to bring to the situation where the EU security and defense policy took into account all threats, i.e. those coming not only from the south, but also from the west. Officially this is not happening, because common security and defense policy is developed from the point of view of crisis response, but de facto, e.g. within PESCO, also projects dealing with collective defense are being implemented.
Isn’t it money also a problem for the common security and defense policy?
The European Court of Auditors, when auditing new EU initiatives in security and defense, claimed that the goals that the EU had adopted were too ambitious and could not be implemented. Thirteen billion euros allocated to the European Defense Fund for seven years is a relatively small amount for financing industry projects. Moreover, a large portion of the remaining PESCO projects may not be realized due to lack of national resources. A large number of the EU states still insufficiently invest in defense.
A consequence of the tensions between the USA and the EU is a concept of European nuclear deterrence. What would it look like? Does the EU, or at least some states, want to have its own nuclear deterrence forces?
A lot is said about it, but in a narrow group of German, French and British analysts. It’s an academic debate. After the exit of Great Britain from the EU, only France has at its disposal a nuclear weapon in Europe. The French emphasize that nuclear weapon serves national aims. Germany, for historical, political and social reasons won’t be developing its own nuclear arsenal. Ongoing are expert theoretical discussions about their potential participation in financing the French component of nuclear deterrence. The question arises, what will Berlin get from this? Who will decide about pushing or not a nuclear button? In Germany, which is getting ready for 2021 parliamentary elections, this will not be a subject for discussion. If the left-wing parties win with the Greens, the subject may be a withdrawal from German territory of the US tactical nuclear weapon and the resignation of Berlin from the participation in the nuclear sharing program. This may become a problem for NATO.
Justyna Gotkowska coordinates the project on Security and Defense in Northern Europe in the Center for Eastern Studies and is an author of the report “To the European Union of Security and Defense.”
autor zdjęć: Michał Niwicz