Europeanized defence – almost literally nothing new to report

Last week the BBC’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight’ held a defence special – it is probably still available online. I was invited on to give a Europeanization perspective, but couldn’t make it for a series of incredibly banal and prosaic reasons (due apologies to my university and any impact points I’ve squandered to childcare)… Anyhow, one of the segments focused on Europeanization, and how it might provide some relief to the defence dilemmas of the day.

Now, as the author of the finest book on Europeanization by an author in my house, I feel able to make the following comments:

1) In local government there is an old maxim that there was one original thought in 1870 and it’s been copied every year since. And this is the same with European defence. Some stuffy old white men had some thoughts on it in the 1950s, and the thinking has got no further since. At all.

2) Now, in theory European defence or Europeanized defence should offer some advantages. The usual suspects are: more efficient use of money, non-duplication of function and equipment etc, projecting European power (so a force-multiplier) and every so often governments of all colour pop up and say this would be a splendid idea so long as the following 900 caveats apply. The most important caveat being, ‘we really can’t be bothered to make this work’.

And here in lies the rub. Because – to echo and morph David’s blog post title – everyone has their own incredibly important sacred cows to be protected, the whole process moves at a glacial pace. The cottage academic industry that spews banality and the word ‘whither’ around on this subject, keeps churning out that it’s all terribly difficult but if ‘marginal policy a’ was given a chance it might all become revolutionised.  Well, surely after fifty years this is clearly not the case.

But, with that in mind, it was refreshing to hear one line from Dr Liam Fox (Shadow Defence Secretary) on the Newsnight programme that might actually recognise what I think are some inalienable truths. To paraphrase the good Dr, the Tories are interested in talking to the Americans and the French about defence.

Yep, that’s it.

And why is this the recognition of an inalienable truth?

Well, because it recognises the futility of the European defence project as it is currently conceived. The problem of free-riders and no-riders. The free-riders who jolly well enjoyed the Cold War and not paying for their defence, and the no-riders who could do something on defence but it’s just all too difficult. And whilst we could easily name the countries that fit into one or both of these categories, that too is futile. What we can say is that the UK’s serious defence partners are the United States and France.

3) Ditching the riders (of both types) – so, in recognition of the futility of the project, as currently conceived, I’d advocate pursuing a vigorous agenda of doing nothing particularly pro-active with the ESDP/CSDP and instead finding common-ground, projects, equipment etc with the French and Americans. The NATO alliance can only be strengthened by a France which is fully involved in transatlantic projects.

4) The EDA is a good project – for its vision of deleting the gaps in European capabilities – and so I’d advocate remaining in that as well (the defence manufacturers will scream blue murder if there’s any talk of pulling out of it anyway). I think the UK does well out of the EDA too, so it’s wins all round.

But ultimately, even though there are noises in defence circles about ‘getting serious about Europe’, I still think there is a bitter pill to swallow. The isn’t a cat’s chance in hell that all of those governments are going to find even a hint of a meaningful lowest common denominator agreement that makes sense. So, whilst we’re still a big boy in the playground (and let’s face it, if the pound sinks without trace it’s not going to be guaranteed forever), let’s dictate some terms and see what we can shape for the good. It would seem to me that we have two willing allies, and not a lot to lose.


23 thoughts on “Europeanized defence – almost literally nothing new to report

  1. Yes, but you have to recognize that France is not terribly highly regarded in the US. It’s true that Mr Sarkozy has repaired some of the damage done by his several predecessors, but it will take more than one premier of his ilk to put things back where they were before Mr de Gaulle set France on its own wayward road.

    Recall the attempt to rename French Fries (chips to you) as Freedom Fries. The only similar attempt in American history was in the winter of 1941-1942 when the Japanese Cherry trees in DC were briefly renamed, I can’t remember what. Oh sure, we forgave the Japanese by about October 1945, or anyhow November, but they are more engaging than the French, and their women are prettier.

    Blue skies! — Dan Ford

  2. Pirouz says:

    Well, to be more honest, some far less “stuffy types” in the 1940’s had a take on this- it was called the Waffen SS.

  3. Rob Dover says:

    I think the point about France is a good one. They are deeply unpopular still because of their stance on Iraq. I personally think that’s a little harsh on them – they said they’d support it if WMD was not mentioned, because their intelligence was that there was no WMD to be given up. They weren’t exactly wrong… and they had a bundle of new oil contracts in Iraq to protect. I’m not sure I’d have done anything differently, and hopefully if they do engage positively over a number of years, they might be forgiven.

    On the Waffen SS point.. I have no idea what you mean. Unless you’re trying to suggest the European project is Nazism in disguise.

  4. Pericles says:

    I’m not sure I’m following the comments here. The point is not what the Americans think of the French. Mutual loathing is surely a given there, and the French are in no mood to suborn their own national interests to Washington just because they recently re-entered NATO-as the sale of the Mistral to Russia recently demonstrated. The point is surely what the French and UK can do for each other. Or did I just completely misread the whole original post?

    • Rob Dover says:

      That is the point. But written from a British perspective, because that is my perspective. If this was a ‘serious’ piece, then I’d probably make the effort to consider the French position in a fluid, rather than static way.

  5. Gunrunner says:

    Collective “European” defense is an interesting academic idea and you lay out the challenges well. However, perhaps greater focus should be on the fact that when it comes to the actual use of the European force, it is up to the individual nation to decide if something is worth the cost of its national blood, as opposed to some collective idea that something ought to be done.

    Notwithstanding NATO, where an attack on one is an attack on all, what does this new European defense get you? Standardized kit? Central strategic planning? Unified command? Nato already provides.

    The question needs to be asked, do you want to chunk out NATO and replace it with an European defense structure? And, absent US funding, is it viable?

    Reference the French, loathing aside, they are coming late to the game and have given-up early before; therefore I have deep doubts as to their true commitment if something like a war would erupt. Basically, given their culture and history, are they team players you can count on to be essential players in the game of national survival?

    Sorry about the post and run, but DC calls. . .center of the universe, you know. . .just ask anyone who works here. ;-)

    • Rob Dover says:

      As always we mostly agree. I’m slightly more positive about the French than you are (not quite sure why that is, I’m not prone to it). I think it’s a strong argument to say that this is mostly an academic exercise – or has been.

    • Pericles says:

      For one thing I don’t think we’re talking either-or here regarding NATO and European Defence, NATO’s future as an expeditionary force is open to question anyway. For another, the French record of commitment to European defence and security when the chips are down is certainly no better or worse than the American. WW1 did not begin in 1917, nor did WW2 begin in 1941. Sorry in advance to the forum if this comes across as impolite, but sweeping generalizations about strategic culture or (by implication) ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ bother me.

    • Gunrunner says:

      I think it is an either here-or-there argument purely because of kit and personnel cost. Can you afford three defense structures; national, NATO and European?

      I think not, especially without American bucks.

      “. . .the French record of commitment to European defence and security when the chips are down is certainly no better or worse than the American.”

      Of that we can disagree, politely, because after all, that is the sort of guy I am.

      Americans were reluctant to engage in WWI, no clear threat to national survival, but Americans went, anyway. At great cost.

      WWII, Americans were attacked by the Japanese, not the Germans, so the war could have been waged, primarily, against the demonstrated threat, first, then America could have sacrificed for Europe. But Americans fought a two front war, with Europe being the primary focus.

      The wars may not have begun in 1917 and 1941, but they were certainly on the path to end once the Americans came onboard. Again, at great cost, and not on American soil, but on foreign soil.

      Finally, Americans, if anything can be said, do not give up easy, never have, never will.

      Politely stated, of course.


      (As an aside, this “cheese-eating surrender monkey thing. Never said that, never implied it. I think you might be reading too much into my comment).

  6. Skimmer says:

    Slightly off topic, but I have a question about European vs US Defence procurement:

    EU collaberative defence procurement projects seem doomed to fail as the National Government squabble over getting the biggest piece of the pie, and constantly change the project requirements.

    Surely the squabbling in the US Senate is just as intense, so is it a controlling hand from the Pentagon that keeps their procurement projects more on track?

  7. Gunrunner says:


    Good question. Please excuse the brief reply because a detailed, painfully accurate explanation would take volumes. My response provides a broad overview of the process. Here we go. . . .

    Defense procurement in the US is quite the process to observe and play a role. Essentially, each service’s “warfighter” publish a list of what they consider essential staffing and procurement needs. This list is vetted internally and forwarded up a level to the Major Commands. The Major Commands, in turn, prioritize the requirements and establish a cut-off (above-the-line). Items above-the-line are “funded” and items below-the-line become “unfunded requirements.” These various Major Command lists are forwarded to the Pentagon.

    The Secretariat Acquisition headquarters in the pentagon takes all the Major Command “funded” lists and adjudicates the various budgets and adjusts the list to reflect the over-arching needs of the service from a HQ perspective.

    Please keep in mind, the Pentagon itself does not, except in rare cases, establish a requirement. That is the duty of the warfighter/Major Commands.

    After OSD receives the various Service inputs, they, in turn, do essentially the same thing and prioritize and adjust based upon OSD perspective/priorities. Once agreed within OSD, the budget is sent to the White House and, after some more refinement, the submission is sent from the president to Congress as the “Presidential Budget” (PB).

    All through this process a lot of horse-trading takes place, at all levels.

    Now, once the PB is received by Congress, there are “staffer briefs.” At the staffer briefs the various service chiefs, and staffs, engage with Congress and explain just what the heck they are asking for, as well as explain the various programs (Congress are not weapons experts).

    In Congress, there are four committees that individually take a look at the PB and hack away at it. The House and Senate Authorization (HASC/SASC) committees do their thing. The House and Senate Appropriators (HAC-D/SAC-D) take a hack at the budget. Of course, there will be differences between the HASC/SASC, and they have a conference committee (more horse trading). Same with the HAC-D/SAC-D. Then, when the Authorizers have an agreed budget and the Appropriators have their own agreed budget, their budgets are voted on in the House and Senate for approval.

    As a side note, even thought the House and Senate may “authorize” something, that doesn’t mean anything unless the Appropriators appropriate the money to buy it.

    So, bottom line, the warfighter identifies the need, the staffs at various levels refine and establish funding requirements, and the “Pentagon” (the train and equip guys) provide the justification and expert advice to Congress. So, in a way, you might say the Pentagon does provide, not so much a “controlling hand,” but more of well argued, expert testimony and justification for funding and procurement.

    One can never really divorce the DOD budget from politics, as Congress seems to be more inclined to fight for programs that fall within their districts (jobs = votes), and they defend and argue for (in committee and during testimony) for their pet projects.

    If anything, in this process, the Pentagon is above the politics and makes the case based purely on national security needs. Truly.

    It’s an ugly process, for sure, but one we live with (and seems to work, despite its flaws).

    Hope this helps. And again, this is a generic overview, not a detailed by-the-book explanation.

    • Rob Dover says:

      It’s a level of detail, that’s incredibly useful. Thanks for posting it.

  8. Gabriele says:

    It’s a sad truth that European defence is not shaping up into a reality. But for a Europe relevant in the future world, a larger collaboration is the only hope.
    To start, i think that there are a few fields that could become an area of collaboration:

    1) Mine-hunting. Create an european fleet of mine-hunters, founded and crewed by the whole union to share the cost. Mine-hunting is an area of absolute excellence of the Royal Navy and a strong point of most of Europe’s navies too. Politically, it should be relatively easy to start such a collaboration, because cleaning the seas from mines and explosive devices is a kind of task that every nation, in any circumstance, would support.
    2) Ocean Survey. Another sector that’s war-related, but not fighting-related. This should make less complex to reach an agreement and create a common Survey organization at European level. The Royal Navy, obviously, should have a leading role, because of its excellence in the field. In the same time, this would relieve the cash-stripped senior service from part of the expenses. Again, because of the invaluable support to the civilian navigation, such a common service shouldn’t be too hindered by the political problems and the difference of interests and views.
    3) Transport. A joint fleet of cargo planes, on the model of the joint AWACS fleet and on the NATO C17 fleet (that, sadly, is made ridiculous by the number of planes…). Such a fleet could be made up at European level, with the 27 nations founding acquisition of C17 and A400 planes, plus C130J for the lighter tasks. Crewing and training should be, obviously, a joint initiative as well.
    4) Strategic Sea Mobility. The Royal Navy has 6 invaluable Ro-Ro ships. More should be bought and included in an European Fleet capable to support military and disaster-relief operations around the world.
    In peace time, these ships can be used for any kind of need, potentially self-financing themselves, at least in part.

    And obviously, for the future, joint-development of new assets will be a must. The future tank, even if it is still far away in time, will be an european design. No nation will be able to design it by itself. And same, gradually, goes for the rest.
    The fighting elements of the armed forces, instead, will forcedly stay indipendent and separated, because the political path to such an unification for now is still not in sight.

    But eventually, the only way to still be relevant in the future world, where China and India will be the greatest powers, and Russia will return to be a great power, is for Europe to become a federation on the USA model.

    • Rob Dover says:

      The questions falling out of this being:
      * Is this analysis valid, or ‘true’ and
      * Will it take an overwhelming threat from China, for the sake of argument, for the political motivation to be found? Or will such a threat split Europe, into what Rumsfeld called ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europe and their respective preferences?

    • Gabriele says:

      I’ve tried to base it on solid facts. But, obviously, this comes around to be, in the end, my own vision of the sectors that could be merged first. It is one analysis i believe in. The Truth is admittedly far more fleeting a thing.
      Anyway, for sure, a larger amalgamation over fighting forces is still far away in time, China or not, because of the politic implications of such a move.
      But seriously. Even on a mere economic plan, and not on a military one… have UK, France, Germany, whoever, any chance to still be a major power in the future, with the foreseen role of China as leading economic power from 2030 onwards?
      I think that standing alone, there’s not a single nation with hopes.
      Europe, acting as a single, great organism, instead, would have many, i think. We have a lot of areas of excellence in Europe, and i’m sure that lots can be done.

      And anyway, China is only part of the matter. Russia is growing stronger and stronger, and its politic orientation over eastern Europe isn’t very friendly (Read Iskander missiles at the borders with Poland, read Georgia war, and many other problems). Putin made no mystery that he wants a powerful Russia: they are building a new model of SSN, a new SSBN, new strategic missiles (Bulava and more Topol M on order), are flying their stealth fighter prototype from January and have announced in these days plans for a new strategic bomber.
      Besides, the admirals have pointed out their dreams for 6 aircraft carriers (doubts on the affordability of such a plan are there, obviously) and Russia is currently negotiating to buy 4 Mistral ships from France, which already scared Georgia and caused diplomatic tension. And Russia from several months already restarted its flights of bombers over the North Sea.
      I don’t see a safe world around Europe. I don’t really see a safe world for Europe. There’s plenty of reasons to think about future, and about defence. And about defence of the resources, too.
      Europe depends far too much from oil and gas coming from Russia. The oil pipeline crossing Georgia (probably the true reason for Russia to intervene in the conflict) is vital for Europe’s interests. And the new, projected Nabucco pipeline, planned, if i remind correctly, to cross Afghanistan and reach Turkey, is another need.
      But they’ll have to be protected, too.

    • Skimmer says:

      Also we should all resist the temptation to assume that country X or Y will inexorably rise to prominence. Remember what everyone was saying about Japan in the 80’s?

      Look into China’s bad debts, and especially Russia’s demographics to find their Achilles Heels. In fact I strongly recommend you read this excellent article about dependency ratios for a different perspective.

    • Gabriele says:

      We should be grateful they have problems as well. It would be a mess if they hadn’t. And we can certainly assume that the future may hold surprises, and China developments slows down.
      Personally, i don’t see it very likely, but that’s just me, i guess. And anyway, i could answer to you that, while we are not sure about their rise to prominence, we are also not sure they won’t grow to leadership. The economic situation, and most of the experts, agree on the fact that it is far more probable to see them rise than fall.

      And about defence, there’s more to say. In time of economic crisis, jobs are invaluable. The defence industry gives a job to hundred thousands persons, and generates job for people in every sector.
      Think about the thousands of jobs and the hundreds of companies that will be kept alive and working by, to quote just one, the Carrier Vessel project. Personally, defence doesn’t just protect the nation. It keeps the economy kicking and the technology progressing. Historically, it’s always been this way.
      I find absurd to slash defence projects, creating thousands more unemployed persons that have a social and economic weight, to “fight the recession”.
      I’d rather take more time to fill the public debt than cut spending and create unemployed crowds. There can be no good in such moves.

      I see, for many reasons, a strong need for defence.

    • thomas says:

      Federalism wasn’t necessary for victory in the 1st world war, nor in the 2nd. Your argument is a huge non sequitur, based entirely on fear.

    • Gabriele says:

      Thomas, sorry but I don’t get the point. A federal union of Europe was impossible in First and Second World War, since the european nations were at war against each other. Of course federalism was not needed back then. It wasn’t even possible.

      Besides, there’s a major difference now from those years: back then, european nations still pretty much leaded the world. They had a massive economic power, and the greatest military weight in the whole world. The Royal Navy alone could dominate the world, and in part it did. European nations had the edge in military technology too.

      But now? Question yourself about the differences of the world in which we live now. European nations don’t lead anymore. They don’t have any particular technological edge of advantage. And about sheer military power, well… look at the sad state of the Royal Navy to have an image of what happened across Europe.

      I don’t talk because of fear, but because my reasoning makes me think this way. I don’t see a nice future ahead for Europe, unless things start to change soon.

    • Skimmer says:

      “And obviously, for the future, joint-development of new assets will be a must. The future tank, even if it is still far away in time, will be an European design. No nation will be able to design it by itself. And same, gradually, goes for the rest.”

      Is this fundamentally necessary? Exactly what is stopping the armies of interested nation states issuing a project with designated requirements to the private arms companies?
      The US Government isn’t designing the F35, they let those clever chaps at Boeing and Lockheed get on with it, and picked the best entry.

      If a way could be devised to keep the politicians and lobbyists out of the selection process, why would any nation run the design process?

    • Gabriele says:

      It’s a matter of costs, over every other consideration. With the budgets for defence being cut, slashed, robbed, and made ridiculous with time, with every weapon system being acquired in smaller and smaller numbers, there’s no other possible way than to share the development cost on as many shoulders as possible, and then buy together as many assets as possible.
      Because money dictates the numbers of what is bought. Not true requirements. (see HMS Ocean and cancelled sister ship, see Astute subs, see Type 45 and see the Warrior upgrade program, that’s apparently going to be postponed by at least another year, despite earlier promises)

  9. Gunrunner says:

    Defense budgets are being hammered, hard, and there appears to be no let up in the foreseeable future. Sad. .

    Collective efforts to acquire kit may help reduce cost for the kit because you are sharing non-recurring R&D costs, as well as enjoying lower cost-per-unit when buying in greater numbers. Much to be said for that.

    However, there are pitfalls to look out for. For example, if you buy a piece of kit that is shared by all, that mean your kit is not fully configured to meet your unique set of requirements and the cost associated with customizing your kit may be prohibitive. Additionally, you may not enjoy a cost-break because your country may not be cleared for sharing of certain types of technology/capability and that means a unique piece of kit (increased cost).

    Just something to consider.

    • Gabriele says:

      That may be one very realistic scenario.
      But i think that collaboration should really mitigate that kind of problems as well. And, normally, requirements in the end aren’t so different from nation to nation. See France’s pull out from Typhoon. It was a matter of politics decision. French absolutely wanted the leadership of the program, SNECMA engines and, overall, wanted the lion share of the work (and thus of the employment related to the program).
      But, seriously. Typhoon and Rafale are very similar. It was clearly not a divergence on requirements in that case. Also because, if French hadn’t pulled out, the Typhoon would have been marinized (as studied by BAe system in 1999-2000) and made capable to employ the French nuclear missiles. Everyone would have won, in such a situation.
      With how things went, well… not everyone loses, but almost. Rafale has little market, and Typhoon has not been designed for aircraft carriers. A shame, in the end.
      But i think that serious differences about requirements aren’t that likely. Not in most of the possible fields of collaboration, at least.

      It’s all a matter of finding a politic balance, i fear.

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