The west faces a new military age - Europe must adapt
by Francesco Guarascio
As the United States is about to cut its military expenditure in Europe, the case for a more coordinated European Union defence policy has never been so strong
"There is not much on which Democrats and Republicans agree, but one of these things is to cut US military expenses in Europe. We have known it for a long time, but now we are certain that it is going to happen soon. Time is running short." This warning message does not come from a military hawk, but from the most influential strategist of the EU foreign and security policy - one Pierre Vimont, the executive secretary general of the European External Action Service.
Speaking at a conference yesterday, in Brussels, organised by the Security & Defence Agenda think-tank, Vimont called for a "Maastricht" of security cooperation and launched an appeal to member states to agree on a common agenda in the security and defence field - as they did in the 1990s on economic issues. Pooling military resources makes sense, in any case, in order to increase the efficiency of the European defence machine. And it becomes almost paramount in times of economic crisis, where military expenditure drops in Europe - while it grows everywhere else in the world.
Indeed, according to the influential think tank on defence issues the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute - in 2010, Europe was the only region of the world to mark a decrease in its military expenses. If this is coupled with a gradual withdrawal of the US from its commitments to European defence, the situation becomes ever more critical. To cap it all "at the same time the attraction of Europe as a target from possible predators is increasing," pointed out the head of France's secretariat for defence and national security Francis Delon.
Nevertheless, alarmist scenarios are not completely justified. Indeed, America - the top EU ally - remains by far the global leader in military expenditure with a total bill close to $700bn in 2010; almost half of global military spending, according to the SIPRI. To put things in perspective, the amount that the US spends on its security is nearly the size of the temporary rescue fund set up by European countries, to cope with the eurozone crisis. What is more, the US military budget has grown constantly in the last 13 years. And despite a slow-down recorded in 2010, it still represented more than 95 per cent of the global increase. Europe's overall military expenditure is also substantial and amounted to around €380bn in 2010. This represented the second biggest figure worldwide, after North America.
A few examples of increased cooperation among EU nations have emerged recently, with a renewed Franco-British effort to pool military aviation resources and fresh initiatives put forward by the so-called "Weimar triangle" - which comprises Germany, France and Poland. The latter being the country that now holds the six-month EU presidency. Poland's secretary of state for foreign affairs Jan Borkowski has said: "The Weimar group has already reached six participants and we are working to make it grow. The foreign affairs council, in December, will be an important opportunity to increase commitments on security issues." Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia are the other partners of the group.
Some important steps forward towards greater partnership have been made in procurements, battle groups and logistics - but much more should be done in terms of intelligence sharing and to develop a common strategy to operate in a world that is increasingly multilateral. Political developments in the Arab world - with the likely emergence of Islamic powers in formerly secular countries - and the new risks of terrorism coming from Africa are the key security challenges that Europe now faces. They should be dealt with in a common manner, according to Vimont, so that the clear divisions between EU countries witnessed during the Libyan conflict are not repeated.
But maybe the most important element of the new situation is that the emergence of a multilateral world means a gradual loss of power for the west. "We should be much more open to what our external partners say; we live in a global world and we have to listen much more to them," said Vimont, adding that it should become commonplace that "Europe has much more interest in a common strategy with our partners than in the past". The age when the west could dictate the global security agenda seems to be well and truly over.
Human rights and military sales, not a good fit
The British prime minister insists that he speaks up resolutely for human rights, especially the non-discrimination of women. There is no sign that his Middle East audience, who he is attempting to sell military planes, hears what he is saying – argues our secret columnist