Europe’s defense efforts remain disappointing – POLITICO

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Nathalie Tocci is director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, researcher on the future of Europe at the IWM, Vienna, and member of the board of ENI. His new book, “A Green and Global Europe”, is now out with Polity.

Europe’s security order was broken long before Russia invaded Ukraine.

It was shattered in the 2000s when Russia invaded Georgia and began to weaponize energy. It was shattered in the 2010s, when the Arab Spring got out of hand and spawned jihadist terrorism, rocking European capitals in its wake, and again when Russia annexed Crimea. It was then shattered in the 2020s, when the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that interdependence, especially with China, is not only a source of peace and prosperity, but also a source of insecurity. and worry.

As this insecurity grew and the transatlantic bond became strained under the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States, Europeans began to talk about defense – and it was not just about words.

Yet, in light of the dramatic deterioration of the continent’s security environment, these recent defense efforts remain disappointing. It is not only because of the war in Ukraine, the moribund nuclear deal with Iran, the risks of escalating conflict in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus, the ongoing violence in Libya or even the growing instability in the Sahel — it is also because these crises are now deeply intertwined. And much still falls to individual member countries – not just the bloc as a whole.

In recent years, the national defense budgets of European countries – while generally remaining below the 2% of GDP threshold set by NATO – have started to increase. The EU has also concocted a European Defense Fund which, while amounting to “only” €8 billion for 2021 to 2027, matches the national research and development budget of a major member country; and the European Commission is now the third largest defense technology investor in the bloc, after France and Germany.

Then, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, European countries further increased their defense budgets. France has increased spending by 7.4% year-on-year, with the target reaching 2% of GDP in 2023. While the UK and Poland, already above the 2% mark, seek to spend which would see their defense budgets increase to 2.5% and 3% respectively.

Meanwhile, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania and the Baltic and Nordic countries have all announced plans to increase spending to at least 2%, and laggards in southern and western Europe have also stepped up their efforts. Most important is Germany’s announcement of an additional €100 billion in 2022, bringing its defense budget to 1.6%, and on a trajectory to reach 2%.

In addition to this, EU member countries have also activated their European Peace Facility to channel military aid to Ukraine. And while its €3 billion pales in comparison to the $50 billion in aid approved by the US Congress, it’s still unprecedented.

Yet, as the geopolitical environment evolves, much more needs to be done. Gone are the days when conflicts were clearly divided between East and South, with some members taking care of the former and some the latter, while bickering over what was the priority.

Instead, today we see Russia making its presence felt not only in Libya and the Sahel, but also in sub-Saharan Africa. No wonder no new gas supplies are expected from Libya. No wonder, too, that during a tour of Africa last summer, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited countries like Egypt and the Republic of Congo, which are among the future suppliers of LNG to the Europe.

And all this is happening while the Europeans are in relative retreat from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. While France has abdicated its security leadership in the Sahel, forced to leave Mali, European defense does not take its responsibilities in this area, quite the contrary.

As the war in Ukraine rages, Germany has raised its defense budget to 1.6% and on a trajectory to reach 2% | Ronny Hartmann/AFP via Getty Images

All in all, it seems that east has now gone south, while south is moving east – and nowhere is this clearer than with Iran’s involvement in the war in Ukraine by selling drones, and possibly ballistic missiles, to Russia.

To be sure, there are material reasons that motivate Tehran to side with Moscow – from the need for money and grain to Russian fighter jets – but it is hard not to see the politico-strategic logic as well, which includes the presentation of the military capacity of the country to its neighbors, signaling that it has renounced Europe and does not hesitate to meddle in its affairs.

Iran’s choice also implies that the nuclear deal is most likely dead, and amid internal turmoil in the country, it implies that the risk of regional escalation is increasing.

Meanwhile, the difficult strategic situation facing the United States is becoming increasingly clear. With growing tensions between Washington and an increasingly nationalist Beijing, and the risk of war in Asia increasing by the day, the US National Security Strategy 2022 indicates that the United States will focus on China first. and Russia next – and they won’t be able to fight two regional wars at once.

The headwinds against European defense have always been strong. And today, the increase in the continent’s defense demand does not lead to a parallel increase in European supply, but rather an increase in the fragmentation of European defense and dependence on the States. -United.

Defense fragmentation has long been a problem for Europe. And while increased spending is welcome, it could paradoxically exacerbate the problem, with uncoordinated national short-term procurement decisions having a long-term impact on the composition of the armed forces.

EU institutions may be setting up funds and programs, but they are unlikely to reverse the trend, as these initiatives focus on long-term development and supply, and they do not – and cannot – meet the short-term need to fill equipment gaps. Moreover, they cannot replace the decisions that member countries must take individually.

As defense remains a national competence, it is up to European countries to radically review the way they think and act on their multi-billion dollar national defense programmes. There is not much Brussels can do.

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