The European Union, the arms industry and the New War

Wendela de Vries, Nederlands Sociaal Forum, 28 november 2004

What is the role of the European Union in the New War? Can it play an independent role as an alternative for the American military domination? Can it contribute to more peaceful solutions for international crisis situations? And what is the role of arms trade and the arms industry in this era of globalisation?


Two papers are crucial for an answer to these questions: the European Security Strategy and the European Constitution. The European Security Strategy is written by Janvier Solana, High Commissioner for the common foreign and security policy (cfsp) of the European Union, and former head of NATO. It is undersigned by European leaders in 2003. The European Constitution is very recently undersigned by the European leaders and still has to be accepted by all European national parliaments. And in some countries the Constitution will be subjected to a referendum.

Let’s start with the Security Strategy, which received the hope giving subtitle name A Secure Europe in a Better World. It is a very interesting paper. It is analyzing threats for the European Union in the years to come.

An important cause for war, according to this paper, is the growing competition for natural resources, notably energy. But also water and land which can be used for food production. Because natural resources are becoming more and more scarce this competition is growing fast. It might even be aggravated by climate change. So future wars will not be fought with an enemy entering Europe’s territory, as it was during the Cold War. In a globalised economy the war will be about the control over natural resources. And it will be fought by countries as well as by non-state actors.

Then what are the direct treats for Europe, according to analyses of the European Security Strategy? The consequence of the war over natural resources will be an increase in poverty. We will see more failing states, more regional conflicts and more organized crime. All these developments are a treat to Europe. Especially because they endanger the availability of natural resources for our industry, or the transport lines of these resources to Europe. And they might lead to many refugees coming to Europe, people which try to escape war and/or natural disaster in their countries. These refugees might be very disturbing for our European societies.

And of course terrorism is seen as a big danger. Although it is good to keep in mind how many victims terrorism is actually making. The magazine Foreign Affairs, not really a radical left-wing magazine, states dryly that, according to State Department figures, in 2003 a total of 625 people – including 35 Americans – were killed in terrorist attacks worldwide. Meanwhile 43.200 died in automobile accidents in the United States alone and three million died of AIDS worldwide.

The European Union is also concerned about the proliferation of weapons, especially of weapons of mass destruction that might fall in the hands of terrorists.

What will Europe do against these threats? In the Security Strategy paper is concluded that we should not only use military means to address these treats. We should also use juridical means. We should strengthen international organizations and international law. We should give support to Human Rights developments. And we should use economic means to stabilize the world. It is a very interesting paper indeed, this European Security Strategy.

However, what is done in practice? To answer this question lets take a look at the European Constitution. Because in this Constitution concrete plans for a future European common foreign and security policy are rounded up. And unfortunately this policy turns out to be hardly anything else then a military policy. The Constitution is preparing Europe for a common European army.

This European army is not meant for the defense of European territory. This European army is meant to intervene everywhere in the world where European security, including European economic interest, is at stake. It will be an army which can be sent out under the flag of the United Nations, but explicitly also can be send out without the approval of the United Nations. The European Union might decide to act without the consent of the international community. It is unclear how this contributes to international law and the strengthening of international institutions.

The arms industry is very happy with the European Constitution. The arms industry has a very powerful lobby in Brussels. It is directly involved in the development of the European security and defense policy. One of their means is a panel called the Group of Personalities, in which the arms industry participates together with members of the European Commission, parliamentarians and high politicians. Solana himself is also participating. So this Group of Personalities is not only advising to the Commission. It is writing policy papers directly with the Commission.

The European Constitution also provides in the establishment of a European Defense Agency. This is an armament agency for the support the military industry so that it can become more efficient and more competitive. Because the future European army needs a military industry to provide it with the right equipment. A lot of new equipment is needed. To deploy one’s troops worldwide one needs other equipment than one need for the old fashioned territorial defense. You need more long-distance weapons. You need satellite communication and control. You need transport facilities. Etcetera.

The European arms industry of course welcomes this support. It is in fierce competition with the American arms industry, which can produce cheaper because it has a much bigger home market than the Europeans. The Pentagon budget for equipment is roughly twice as big as the European equipment budgets together. (For some politicians this inequality is an argument to raise European defense budgets. But one must realize that the United States is buying 50% of all the arms in the world. The other 50% is smeared out over the other 192 countries in the world. One can wonder how realistic the American number of arms is then, compared to the threat from this other 192 countries.)

The European arms industry wants to make up for this lack of home marked by exporting to countries outside the European Union. Countries such as Israel or Saudi-Arabia. Not really peace loving nations with a good human rights record. The European Constitution is not limiting this arms export at all. Everything can be sold to everybody. One wonders how we can speak about a security policy as long as we continue to arm all kind of dangerous regimes.

Arms export is in the interest of the European governments. Because there is a general economic law that also applies for the arms industry: The more you sell of a product, the cheaper the relative production costs. It is economics of scale. The more the European arms industry exports to third countries, the cheaper the arms for European countries become.

At the same time the European Constitution is binding Europe to an economic foreign policy that is not contributing to peace and stability at all. Notwithstanding the intentions written down in the European Security Strategy paper. Free Market policy is declared in the Constitution as the European economic policy for the years to come. This is what is a real threat to security. Because the failed states and the regional conflicts which Solana identified as threats to Europe are at least partly caused by Free Marked policy. It is no contribution to stability of states and societies when IMF and World Bank force countries to dismantle the basic state facilities and increase the competitions over resources. On the contrary.)

And what is happening in the Netherlands? (Tens of thousands have been demonstrating against the war in Iraque, but unfortunately they are not the ones in government.) The government we have now is very enthusiastic about the intervention policy. Together with the French army, the Dutch army is the best prepared European army for military interventions worldwide. The arms the Netherlands is buying are clearly not for peaceful interventions and peace keeping operations. The Netherlands plans to buy Joint Strike Fighters, which is a very offensive type of fighter jet. It plans to buy cruise missiles for the Navy, which are offensive weapons not designed to end a war but to start one. And the Netherlands is joining the newly established European Battle Groups, a rapid deployable force which can operate everywhere in the world. They can support the United Nations when this organization wants to act in a crisis situation. But they are also very suitable as a sort of try-out for the European army-to-be.

Europe tries to become an independent military power and the Netherlands are very willing to support this aim. And at the same time we are arming the world with our weapons. And we are breaking down local social and economic structures that provides stable lives for many. Europe is arming itself against a treat to which it is actively contributing.


Steun Stop Wapenhandel