When will Europe learn to defend itself?

While repeatedly declaring that Europe must stop depending on Washington, France and Germany really operate in that manner.

The tragedies of the Balkan Wars exposed Western Europe’s inability to handle war on its land thirty years ago, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows how little has changed since then.

It was the responsibility of the Luxembourgish Foreign Minister, Jacques Poos, to make the misguidedly hopeful statement, “This is the hour of Europe, not that of the Americans,” when Yugoslavia began to fall apart in 1991.

Since then, there have been years of agonizing introspection about why Europe was unable to assert itself militarily. Former U.S. officials have stung panic to a new level. Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, and Angela Merkel, the former chancellor of Germany, both voiced dire warnings that the EU could no longer rely on the U.S.

Macron frequently talks a big game about Europe creating its own security agenda, but his pledges — along with those of many other senior European politicians — to pursue a policy of European “strategic autonomy” in which the EU will significantly lessen its military dependence on the U.S. — have so far been almost entirely rhetorical.

In order to protect democracy and freedom in a close EU ally during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s genocidal assault against the largest country fully within Europe, France and Germany spent seven months relying militarily on Washington and, to a lesser extent, on Britain.

The United States has promised Ukraine and the United Kingdom €25 billion in military assistance, according to the Kiel Institute for World Economy. committed $4 billion. While France’s military assistance to Kyiv barely registers, at €233 million, trailing Estonia in the league table, Germany has pledged €1.2 billion, trailing Poland on €1.8 billion. 100 French and 5,000 British Ukrainian soldiers have received training.

These differences are a matter of political will rather than money. The EU has a combined defense expenditure of €230 billion and a yearly GDP of €14 trillion. However, France has emphasized that it does not want to “humiliate” Russia or be a “co-belligerent” in the conflict, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warns against getting drawn into it.

Now, everyone is waiting to see if there will be a change of heart and if France, the only nuclear-armed nation in the EU, and Germany, the continent’s economic leader, will agree to send Leopard 2 and Leclerc tanks. Now that Putin has committed hundreds of thousands more troops to the battle, Ukraine is calling for more weapons.

Our fate in our own hands

The spending disparities between the US and Western Europe make the EU leaders agonizely concerned about what may have happened in Kiev if the US president had been less amenable to extensive engagement than Joe Biden.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht acknowledged the unsustainable nature of the situation in a keynote speech this month.

“Germany and the Europeans depend on a peace order that they cannot guarantee on their own,” Lambrecht said, adding that this was particularly problematic as America is increasingly turning “its main attention” to the Pacific.

In a keynote speech this month, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht acknowledged that the situation was untenable | Jens Schlueter/AFP via Getty Images

The minister warned that Washington “may not be able to guarantee the protection of Europe to the same level that it did in the past.” “The conclusion is clear: We Europeans, and particularly we Germans, must do more to be able to credibly demonstrate such a strong military capability ourselves that other powers will not even consider of attacking us,”

It is uncertain, however, whether those words will be put into practice. Her detractors quickly pointed out that previous Chancellor Merkel already came to a similar conclusion in 2017 when she said at a party event in a Munich beer tent that “we Europeans actually have to take our fate into our own hands”; nevertheless, little changed as a result of her remarks.

It’s a problem that has long plagued European security. According to Claudia Major of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, “the tenor was already back in the 1990s: It cannot be that we’re constantly dependent on the Americans.”

She cited the 1998 Franco-British Saint Malo declaration, which emphasized that Europe “must have the potential for autonomous action, backed up by genuine armed capabilities” in reaction to the failures of the Balkan wars.

But because the major European nations “didn’t feel militarily endangered and merely relied on the U.S.,” Major claimed, “nothing has happened subsequently.”

Can’t work together

Although it is well known that the EU won’t be able to legitimately increase its defense capabilities as long as it has 27 armies that frequently attempt to carry out the same responsibilities independently and produce their own equipment, attempts to pool resources keep running into catastrophic roadblocks.

In reference to Berlin’s enormous €100 billion military modernization fund, former French Europe Minister and MEP Nathalie Loiseau said, “We have to integrate our efforts, just as [Germany] emerges as a second military force.” Because we have so many various versions of tanks, ships, and fighter jets, our efforts are dispersed, and there is a lot of waste.

The struggles of this bad communication and mistrust are best illustrated by the failure of the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS fighter plane project. It will not, in fact, take flight.

Future Combat Air System, also known as FCAS, has been plagued by delays and problems for years and has recently seen further setbacks even as European nations promise to increase their defense spending in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine. Due to conflicts between the French and the Germans regarding control of the joint project, the release of the first fighter jet models is not anticipated until 2040.

The recent German decision to replace the so-called “nuclear share” portion of its airforce, which is intended to be able to launch American nuclear weapons in event of a confrontation with Russia, with American F-35 fighter fighters has French politicians and defense experts fuming.

In Germany, there isn’t a really distinct line. Some things are comforting, while others are unsettling. In terms of defense, France can’t fully rely on Germany, according to Pierre Haroche, a security expert for Europe at the IRSEM think tank supported by France’s defense ministry.

German officials say that the F-35 decision does not change Berlin’s commitment to the FCAS | Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

“Germany’s priority is not to build a European defense, it’s to rebuild its army that was falling apart. It wants to regain its status as a good NATO pupil,” he added.

German officials claim that Berlin’s commitment to the FCAS is unaffected by the F-35 choice. Instead, they contend that it was just made because new planes had to be purchased right away, even if FCAS was still not yet fully operational. The officials in Berlin further contend that Washington would not have permitted the transportation of American nuclear bombs by a jet whose construction plans had not previously been made known to American intelligence.

Germany, for its part, has charged that the French defense sector isn’t cooperating with the military.

“In everything we discuss, it must be clear at the end that we will be treated as equals. And that there cannot be French industrial companies that want to restrict access to certain knowledge. We should pay for it but don’t get full access to all data? That can’t be,” Lambrecht told POLITICO.

But Lambrecht also agreed that Germany must give up its position of being able to obstruct the shipment of weapons to allies if such weapons were created collaboratively or initially from Germany in order to advance joint European military efforts. For instance, shortly before the conflict, Estonia, a NATO partner, was prohibited from sending arms to Ukraine.

“If I’m doing such a project together with my allies, who share the same values as I do, and if I’m the only country there that has a different position on an export, then you have to ask yourself whether that can actually be the obstacle,” she said.

No solution from Brussels

Brussels is making sporadic progress in its efforts to get European nations to combine their defense initiatives.

A fresh strategy to coordinate military spending among EU members was put up by the European Commission in May. Whether nations purchase American or European goods has emerged as a major talking subject. Josep Borrell, the senior diplomat for the EU, emphasized that over 60% of the equipment the continent purchases comes from outside the union and advocated a shift to more domestic sources.

Defense specialists in the Council are currently studying the plan, and there is hope that it will reach defense ministers’ desks in November before being submitted to the European Parliament. Because the conversation is still in its early stages, diplomats working on the dossier are not confident that such a schedule is possible. The amounts at stake are also modest. According to diplomats, the Commission’s proposed €500 million over two years to facilitate joint acquisition of weapons is insufficient to increase European capacities.

“For sure we, don’t have a game changer yet,” one of the diplomats said. Another more ambitious proposal is expected from the Commission but it’s unclear when exactly it will land. 

The restrictions for defense businesses with subsidiaries outside the bloc or with global ownership structures, as well as the use of high-tech components from nations like the United States or the United Kingdom, are major points of contention. According to diplomats, France takes a stricter stance on these issues than, say, Italy or Sweden.

However, the basic problem is that in order for member countries to purchase European goods, they must first be persuaded that they are purchasing cutting-edge products made using the best technologies currently in use. A senior diplomat stated, “It seems plain to me that we cannot simply buy from European industries for the sake of buying from European industries.

Credibility gap

There have been times when it appeared like the gravity of the conflict in Ukraine may finally bring France and Germany together.

Last month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz outlined his vision of “a stronger, more sovereign, geopolitical European Union” | Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images

In Paris, Scholz’s statement from last month was interpreted as a belated response to Macron’s call for “strategic autonomy,” which he made in 2017. Macron had hoped to re-energize Europe’s defense policy and spoke of the need to build “a common intervention force, a common defense budget, and common doctrine to act.”

Beyond the formalities of diplomacy, neither Scholz nor Macron have been able to seize the initiative in the conflict. Following Poland, the Nordic, and Baltic countries in their failure to influence the direction of the European agenda is France and Germany.

The data on military donations that are publicly available, according to a number of French authorities, are not accurate because France has not declared all of its donations. If so, Philippe Maze-Sencier, global chair of public affairs at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and public affairs expert at the Institut Montaigne, believes that this was a bad judgment.

We chose not to participate in the communications game, but as a result, France is now ranked seventh globally, level with Norway. However, we compete in a different league than Norway. So it makes sense that we don’t have the right to lead the defense of Europe, according to Maze-Sencier.

Concerns about Macron’s long-term goals have also been raised by his previous attempts to position himself as a mediator in the dispute by touting France as “a balancing power” toward Ukraine. According to Maze-Sencier, several areas of the EU mocked his decision to maintain contact with the Kremlin and earlier requests “not to humiliate Russia.”

“[France] has become less credible as a result of our stance on Ukraine. Simply put, our allies in the Nordic nations, the Baltic states, and Eastern Europe feel let down and have even likened it to the lack of cooperation during World War II, according to Maze-Sencier.

He continued, “They say give us U.S. protection any day.”


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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