The defence industry is busy to sell its message that investing into armaments is a way out of the sour economic times and international developments laying ahead. It does so on national, as well as European levels. But is that what Europe, the world needs?
In April 2020 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published its figures on military expenditures on 2019 for individual countries. Although a inflation corrected currency was used, these figures were never as high as in the most recent period. SIPRI calculates that total NATO spending was $1,035 billion in 2019 (54 per cent of world total), but a figure for the European Union is not provided. According to the SIPRI table for military expenditures the combined EU-28 (UK still in) for 2019 is $ 278.3 billion (up 4.5% from 2018). The total military expenditure of the EU member states is 2nd after the United States, and comes before China ($ 261 bn).
It is clear the European Union is not a single power, with one foreign policy and combined armed forces. It is however striving to integrate as much as possible its military and defence industrial assets and proceeds on that path. The Union members are in general integrated in the power structures of the ‘West’. For that reason ranking the combined European Union spending on defence as 2nd to the United States is logical. Some will react with the response that in 2020 the UK has left the European Union, but the country wants to maintain part as much as possible of Union and is tightly integrated in its structures and also part of NATO, which covers roughly the EU and US (minus Finland and Sweden and plus Canada Norway, Turkey, and UK).
But then the world was struck by an enemy not even visible with the naked eye. European Commissioners where quick to forward the importance of the military industry, like EU High representative Joseph Borell: “EU countries should avoid slashing defence spending under pressure from the economic fallout of the coronavirus” the EU’s chief diplomat said on May13, warning that the COVID-19 crisis could spark unforeseen security challenges. Like China slowing down its military budget growth? Or the US even further eroding the international security structures?
Another voice in the militarise Europe choir is the newly appointed chairman of the European Defence Agency (EDA), Jiří Šedivý. As a gymnast he bends and turns, so that even budget constrains are an argument for continuous spending: “The current global COVID-19 pandemic and its economic, budgetary and security-related repercussions make EU defence cooperation even more indispensable. New challenges notwithstanding, we must preserve the continuity and dynamics in the area of collaborative defence capability development. Therefore, and perhaps more than before, we need a strong, effective and reliable Agency supporting its Member States, enhancing cooperation with all relevant EU bodies and institutions as well as partners.”
Words like these are echoed by national Ministers, like French Minister of Defence Florence Parly, who said during a video conference of European Union defence ministers held on 12 May that the EU has “to build and finance the military capabilities and technologies that Europe requires; and to maintain an ambitious budget for the European Defence Fund, which is a key instrument for supporting the defence industry and, in this way, driving economic recovery across EU nations.” France has some self interest in a European Union military policy, like in the creation of a ‘naval Airbus,’ which possibilities to be succeed are advanced by Covid-19. France, together with Germany and Spain, is also advancing on a European fighter jet (FCAS) for the future.
It is not only at the European level the weapon industry is supported, but also nationally. The Romanian government for example states that links between the Ministry of Defence, Economics and the military support are strong and that it will help the industry by acquisitions of Romanian produce, and by involvement, including in the area of research and retooling.
Heavy weights from the French and German aeronautic industries, Eric Trapper, CEO of Dassault Aviation and chairman of GIFAS and his German colleague Dirk Hoke CEO of Airbus Defence and Space and president of the German Aerospace Association BDLI together gave a press conference to forward the interests of their industries. They want military and aeronautic programs fastened and especially the program for FCAS: “It would be a major mistake to decrease military expenditures” Hoke said. They defended the Defence Fund of the European Union to stay at the initially proposed € 13 billion high.
In the Netherlands both the Netherlands Industry for Security and Defence (NIVD) and civil military Netherlands Maritime Technology (NMT) aim for a support packet. They succeeded in part, tailor-made solutions in case of financial problems and during tenders may be possible, but the major demand to forward military acquisitions failed. The MoD just does not have the financial and human resources to fulfil the desires of the arms industry. The Dutch Minister of Defence warned that keeping supplies (like food and ammunition) for foreign operations are the priority. The Ministry is studying what supplies are needed for internal and external military tasks, costing billions.
In the EU the fight for the military budgets is continuing. The last proposal of a European Defence Fund budget took the middle road. Nor the € 6 billion as proposed by Finland, neither the € 7 billion as proposed by President of the European Council Charles Michel, but also not the € 13 billion as defence industrialists and officials like Joseph Borell wanted. “Every Euro spent in military is a lost Euro for urgent needs like climate change or health” reacted the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) on twitter.
A health problem, not a war
The current enemy travels with the speed of a cough and passes from hand to hand. It is an enemy combated with gloves, soap, masks, IC-beds, and with knowledge and the agreements in society to keep distance and limit its effects. No submarines, no combat helicopters, not even a bullet from the barrel of a gun. It is not a war, it is a health problem. The military did help, but like other sectors of society that were involved in the common task: scientists, supermarket personnel, medics, truckers, teachers. But there is little chance that the security paradigm will shift away from a military dominated approach to one which has human security at its centre when those in power continue to push for an ‘ambitious’ EU Defence Fund for 2021-2027.
According to the Global Risks Report 2019 by the World Economic Forum, the top 3 risks in terms of likelihood are all environmental (extreme weather events, climate change, natural disasters). Armament provides us with little protection against these. And even in the US it starts to land that the current times could “yield a different sort of long-term impact on the military (…) a possible reduction in military spending resulting from the country’s emerging economic meltdown” as was commented in the Washington Post. Even in the country where the military giant lives, the United States of America, the word goes around that the military trees can no longer reach for the skies. They need some pruning.
When focussing on armaments, the current times asks for the Worlds’ largest trade block to enforce a return to a security climate where arms control is the leading principle – and dares to demand so from its peers in Beijing and Washington – not higher military expenditures and more arms acquisitions. The real litmus test for the European Union is not how it can support its defence industry, but how it can support its citizens from East to West and North to South in a response to the COVID-crises.
Martin Broek 05/2020
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