Challenges against opportunities in European defence

By Karlijn Jans
posted on March 24, 2014 in Leadership, Security/Intelligence

Karlijn Jans, EU Policy Advisor at TNO Brussels, weighs challenges against opportunities in her  on European defence.

Signs of economic and financial recovery are being noticed throughout the European markets and economies, however the defence branch remains in financial heavy weather. Many EU governments stay wary of investment in new technologies, R&D, procurement and the related (European) industries. Investment in new defence technologies should equip Europe for 21st century security and defence challenges, but in what way? The EDA Annual Conference promotes “European Defence Matters” and will address a Europe’s need for “strong military capabilities and a healthy, innovative and competitive European Defence Technological and Industrial Base”[1].

The event follows the European Council of December 2013 which started off its conclusions with “defence matters”, for the first time since 2003 addressing the importance of European cooperation in defence.[2] The current global outlook is unsure and unpredictable; we live in a world in which threats are not bound to borders of states and where cooperation between partners and allies is crucial.  As is known, the balance between defence spending and procurement is off and overall budgets are shrinking across the Union, having a grave impact on the sustainability of European capabilities.

Despite all the bad news, it is also good to see this momentum as an opportunity, an opportunity for (re)new(ed) smart investment in defence technologies and R&D, following a strong strategy deciding which path to follow for the next decades to come. Welcoming the December Council Conclusions, EDA has committed to further enhance activities in the Pooling and Sharing initiative and hence enhanced cooperation between Member States[3]. Moreover, the Council has requested a Preparatory Action for CSDP research, for the first time in (CSDP) history. Devoting specific attention to exploring common research activities in this field, marks a major leap forward in developing European R&D in the field of defence. It is here where new opportunities await, but how do we (positively) utilise this momentum?

Key is cooperation between member states, the industry and the R&D branch. Many initiatives have been taken in strengthening capabilities using R&D, naming Air-to-Air Refuelling, which have led to successful and enduring outcomes. These are chances and opportunities, however, why not do more of it? Why not amplify the results and increase opportunities?

In addition to this, the Preparatory Action for CSDP research should seek valuable synergies with national and European research programmes (such as Horizon 2020) mainly in areas in which this is feasible and desirable. It is crucial to maintain a smart and coordinated strategy and a demand-driven approach. Currently the European defence industry and R&D branch compete within the EU as well as with competitors from China and the U.S.A. It should be a common effort to support both industry and R&D projects resulting in future-proof European defence and security. Member States need to share their R&D capabilities and make use of each other’s qualities and facilities.

We need a collective reaction to the challenges ahead, however this is only possible with a common approach and cooperation between Member States. It is crucial for member states to engage in a steady and realistic approach in defining 'smart' defence technologies. Research should benefit defence and security (industrial) capabilities as well as enhancing knowledge structures in Member States. Only finding an answer on the aforementioned challenges will lead to the effective cooperation of member states in projects and more efficiency, doing more with less.

[1] Statement by Claude-France Arnould following the Council Conclusions on CSDP, Brussels December 20th 2013.

[2] European Council Conclusions, December 19-20, 2013, retrieved 21-2-2014

[3] Statement by Claude-France Arnould following the Council Conclusions on CSDP, Brussels December 20th 2013.