30th November 2014 – by Tom Dyson - europeangeostrategy.org
European defence budgets face a context of long-term fiscal austerity. At the same time, European states are facing an intensity of security challenges unprecedented since the fall of the Soviet Union, including the resurgence of Russia and instability in the Middle East and Africa. In the context of the ‘Asia pivot’ in United States (US) defence and security policy these challenges will necessitate increased European burden-sharing within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as well as the development of greater European military autonomy from the US through the European Union’s (EU) Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). This fiscal and strategic environment creates a clear imperative for all European militaries to consider how to enhance efficiency in defence spending by pooling and sharing capabilities.
However, the EU’s Ghent Framework and NATO’s Smart Defence have made only limited progress in fostering greater specialisation by national militaries. Where substantial cooperation has occurred, it has taken place on a bi-lateral basis, such as the 2010 Anglo-French Lancaster House Treaties and 2014 Anglo-French Brize-Norton Summit. The downsides of bi-lateralism are evident in the outcomes of defence cuts in Europe which, in the absence of multilateral coordination, are largely leading to specialisation by ‘default’ rather than ‘design’.
The downsides of bi-lateralism are evident in the outcomes of defence cuts in Europe
Britain has traditionally viewed the development of high-end capabilities within the CSDP as anathema, preferring instead to leave higher-intensity operations to NATO. Nevertheless, under the Labour Government (1997-2010) British policy toward the CSDP adopted a broadly pragmatic approach that sought to find common ground with European states, such as France, which sought greater autonomy from the Atlantic Alliance. Indeed, Britain was a central actor in the development of key CSDP initiatives such as the 1998 St Malo Accord and the 2003 EU Battlegroups Initiative.
However, the British approach to CSDP under the Conservative-Liberal coalition (2010-present) has become less willing to countenance any measures which may challenge the centrality of NATO to European defence. Hence the United Kingdom (UK) has failed to make use of the opportunities that the EU affords to identify and overcome European capability shortfalls. The urgency of the challenges of austerity and the contemporary security environment now require a return to a more pragmatic approach by the UK that recognises the opportunities for complementarity between the Ghent Framework and Smart Defence.
The June 2015 European Council provides an excellent opportunity for Britain to re-claim its leadership role in European defence and promote greater military specialisation ‘by design’. The first priority of the UK must be to champion the establishment of a European defence review commission. As Nick Witney has highlighted, such a commission must not only re-examine the European Security Strategy that was last updated in 2008, but also the capabilities needed to implement strategy. The ensuing dialogue about European interests and longer-term defence planning will help to decrease the level of uncertainty about the intentions of European states and permit greater coordination of defence cuts.
The June 2015 European Council provides an excellent opportunity for Britain to re-claim its leadership role in European defence
In addition, the June 2015 European Council must form a turning point in Britain’s relationship with the European Defence Agency (EDA). For too long Britain has undermined the work of the EDA by seeking to limit its budget and by pursuing bi-lateral cooperation outside its institutional structures. Britain should use the European Council to outline its intentions for leadership on greater use of the EDA as a means to coordinate specialisation with both large (France and Germany) and smaller European states and to establish clear, coordinated goals for armaments procurement and troop numbers with other European nations.
The sacrifice of a loss of British military autonomy could be minimised by building in redundancies to ensure that a military operation could proceed, should one or more European nations be unable to contribute. A small reduction in national strategic autonomy is favourable to the far greater loss in British power and influence that will ensue if Britain fails to encourage its European partners to coordinate their defence cuts. A consensus amongst the ‘Weimar Five’ about the need for a renewed impetus behind CSDP pooling and sharing initiatives has emerged in recent years. Furthermore, British leadership on pooling and sharing under CSDP would ultimately be welcomed in Washington as it would enhance Europe’s effectiveness in dealing with security challenges within its geopolitical neighbourhood and create capability synergies which would also be of use to NATO. Within such a facilitative context, British leadership on CSDP would be transformative for European defence.
British leadership on CSDP would be transformative for European defence
The re-emergence of British leadership on CSDP will, however, depend on the outcome of the May 2015 UK general election. Should one party emerge with a workable majority, a window of opportunity will emerge to allow British CSDP policy to be driven by its strategic interests rather than the insularity of the UK Independence Party and Tory backbenchers. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review which will follow shortly after the general election would then provide an ideal opportunity to integrate ‘specialisation by design’ into British and European defence policy.
This article is part of the “National Perspectives and CSDP” special focus series being published by European Geostrategy. It is the first contribution from a British perspective. Read more about the series.