Wednesday, June 08, 2011


"How do you do more with less? The EU defence ministers agreed last week that the way to limit the impact of the economic crisis on their defence budgets lies in more co-operation. In a joint statement, they called for more military 'pooling and sharing': joint development and procurement of weapons, and partial integration of European militaries. EU member-states have trialled such ideas before but with limited success. Deep co-operation remains highly sensitive: governments are reluctant to build joint units because this may require them to share decisions on how and when to use them. The ministers' conclusions are correspondingly cautious: they call for a "structured" and "long-term" approach while offering few specific guidelines. It need not be this way: past pooling and sharing attempts offer plenty of lessons on what makes military collaboration successful.

In a recent CER report, 'Surviving austerity: The case for a new approach to EU military collaboration', May 2011. I suggested ways for European countries to avoid past mistakes. Partial military integration works best when participating countries have similar strategic cultures, a high level of mutual trust, comparable attitudes to defence industry, and relatively low corruption in defence procurement. It also helps if countries are roughly similar in size, and serious about defence matters: that is, they are willing to use their armed forces and keen to maintain their ability to fight for future contingencies.

Several conclusions for EU defence ministers flow from these observations. Since many factors have to align for pooling and sharing to succeed, future defence integration will remain an exception rather than the rule. The conditions listed above only occur in some – and not necessarily geographically connected – parts of Europe. Hence, the idea that EU defence could begin around a single core group, the emergence of which would encourage others to join in a 'snowballing' effect, seems unrealistic. Future events may well prod European militaries to create a single, coherent military force. But no such outcome is foreseeable currently given widely varying levels of threat perception, political interest and military cultures across the Union....

The EU's ability to nudge member-states towards such co-operation will be limited: the capitals will want a final say on with whom to partner, and to what end and depth. But this is not so say that there is nothing that the EU can do; in fact, European institutions have already been helpful. Their key role lies in spreading lessons learned in one region to the rest of Europe. The European Defence Agency, which EU countries set up to facilitate collaboration, has been collecting data on past and current examples of pooling and sharing; it should also catalogue why some have succeeded better than others. The EU military staff, which advises the EU high representative, has conducted a similar but forward-looking exercise: it collected information on what military skills or facilities the member-states are willing to pool and share. It should now use the data to highlight opportunities for collaboration....

Pooling and sharing will never compensate for inadequate defence budgets: when average spending in Europe, as percentage of GDP, drops by half – as it has over the past two decades – militaries will inevitably suffer. The EU member-states will almost certainly do 'less with less' rather than 'more with less'. However, properly applied, pooling and sharing can partly offset the impact of lower budgets. So while EU countries will still lose some of their military power to budget cuts, they will be better off with pooling and sharing than without".

Tomas Valasek, "EU Ministers tackle defence austerity," Centre for European Reform. 1 June 2011, in

"The supreme importance of the military instrument lies in the fact that the ultima ratio of power in international relations is war. Every act of the state, in its power aspect, is directed to war, not as a desirable weapon, but as a weapon which it may require in the last resort to use....Potential war being thus a dominant factor in international politics, military strength becomes a recognised standard of political values."

E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis: An introduction to the Study of International relations. Second Edition. (1962), p. 190. Emphasis in the original.

One's mind can do nothing other than mentally shake one's head about the above referenced report. Although as a professionally trained historian, I am reluctant to employ such subjective terms as 'la decadence'; however if one uses the term in the sense that the late, great, 20th century, French diplomatic historian, Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, used it in his magisterial study of entre-deux guerre, French foreign policy, of the same name, then the above referenced attitude & policies by the current European Union pays legal seems to fit perfectly. As the current NATO campaign in Libya proves, force and the use of force are very much still actions which the nations and the peoples of Europe need to utilize from time to time. However much they, in a monumental sort of historically illiteracy, would prefer to forget this fact. Indeed, as Andrew Gilligan, writes in the Spectator this week:

"The Royal Air Force, an organization so badly weakened by recent defence cuts that it can deploy just 18 strike jets over Libya. Further cuts this month are due to take out two more squadrons of Tornadoes, the very aircraft doing the lion's share of the British air campaign....France is contributing more forces than us, and several smaller European nations also pack a punch. But some of these are already exhausting their capabilities, and will withdraw at the end of the month....In the absence of major American involvement (the US is still doing enormous amounts of other flying), European limitations are exposed even more graphically than normal."

Given the current and future levels of defence spending and following from which, the levels of troops which can be employed 'extra-theatre', id est, outside of Central and Western Europe, it is difficult to imagine that left to themselves, even the British and the French, could deploy larger numbers of troops required for a successful military operation against say a second-rate military power (nota bene: Libya only qualifies as a third-rate one..). In short, the European Union, a entity with a population of roughly half a billion people, cannot muster military speaking as many troops as did the Netherlands in its colonial war in Indonesia (well over one-hundred thousand)2. Shall one say: 'Edouard Daladier anyone?'

1. Andrew Gilligan, "Lost in Libya,"The Spectator. 4 June 2011, in [pp. 12-13].

2. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. (2005), pp. 280-281. As per Judt, the Dutch had approximately 140,000 troops involved in the Indonesian conflict at its peak in 1947-1949.


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