EU militarization & NATO
Ludo De Brabander (Vrede vzw)
Washington, DC
2 April 2019

In June 2016, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, presented the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy. It came thirteen years after the first European Security Strategy (2003) and is supposed to give direction to the EU foreign and security policy in the coming years.

Absence of European responsibility
Mogherini’s Global Strategy offers little room for self-criticism. The European Union is presented as a unique value-based and its main objective is to defend its noble principles in and outside the EU. The Global Strategy remains silent on how European arms exports, neo-liberal trade policy, support for authoritarian regimes and laxity with regard to Israeli colonization and repression in the Palestinian territories, the western wars in Iraq or Libya, … have contributed to the so often cited threat coming from a destabilized southern ‘periphery’.

While the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, according the Global Strategy, poses a growing threat to Europe and the wider world, the hundreds of nuclear weapons deployed in France, UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy are disregarded, notwithstanding that those nuclear arsenals on European soil are all subject of a modernization program. The Global Strategy states that, “the EU will strongly support the expanding membership, universalitation, full implementation and enforcement of multilateral disarmament, nonproliferation and arms control treaties and regimes”, although one year later (7 July 2017), only four EU-member states (Austria, Ireland, Malta and Sweden) adopted the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Most EU-countries refused even to participate in the negotiations leading to the treaty.

The issue of arms control is equally subject to sounding statements in the Global Strategy that are not in agreement with European reality. It is claimed that the EU will actively participate in arms export control systems and “strengthen common rules governing Member States’ export policies of military – including dual-use – equipment and technologies (…).” Since 1998, the EU adopted a Code of Conduct defining eight criteria that must curb arms exports. It doesn’t prevent EU countries exporting arms to end up in violent conflict zones. Saudi Arabia remains the main destination for European weapons, even after human rights organisations documented Saudi Arabia’s large scale war crimes in Yemen. Other problematic countries, such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, are also in the top 10 of the most important destinations of European arms transfers. There are no indications that European member states will put aside the interests of its arms industry, even when the Global Strategy pledges that “in a more contested world, the EU will be guided by a strong sense of responsibility (…) and “will therefore act promptly to prevent violent conflict.”

Militarization of the EU

Although the European Security Strategy pays lip service to a broad and coherent security approach, in reality the focus is on greater military efforts, military cooperation and under a treaty with an obligation for armament, not disarmament. According to Article 42 (3) of the Treaty of the European Union (Treaty of Lisbon): “Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities”. The mission for armament has been prepared for a while with the establishment of the European Defense Agency (EDA) in 2004. According to the Lisbon Treaty, which was approved in December 2007, it is EDA’s task to “strengthening the industrial and technological base of the defense sector” and to “participate in defining a European capabilities and armaments policy (…)”. The mission of EDA is closely linked to the interests of the military industrial sector. The EDA has since become the most important forum for partnerships of the military industry with the EU administration, scientific world, the army and the policy makers. It forms the core of the European ‘Military Industrial Complex’ (MIC). The major policy lines for European defense and armament policies are outlined by the EDA.

The EDA explicitly states on its website that it is the intention to work for a “robust European Defense Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB)” to become “more competitive both in Europe and around the world” and enhancing “global competitiveness” Consequently, “global competitiveness” can be translated as consolidating the EU as a provider of arms worldwide. The “competitive” European military industry is with 27% the second (after the US,) most important arms supplier to the world , with the Middle East and North Africa as main markets.

Since the publication in 2016 of the Global strategy, The EU is militarising at a lightening speed. Barely a few months later, the European Commission published the European Defense Action Plan outlining the establishment of the European Defense Fund. It includes two parts about funding. The first part concerns the financing of defense research, the second part will be a financial instrument to promote joint investments for common developments of new military equipment by member states. For the next long term budget period 2021 to 2027, the European Defense Fund will contain 13 billion Euro tax payers money.

Until recently, the rule applied that military-related research is excluded from European research programs. This policy has been changed. These developments do not seem to be motivated solely by a concern for a well-developed security and defense policy. The plan to put public funds in defense research suits the economic interests of the military industry very well.

The EDF is a new but not last step in the militarization of the European Union. On December 11, 2017, the European Council decided to set up PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) in which most EU Member States – except Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom – participate. PESCO is aimed to step up the European Union’s work to enhance coordination, increase investment in defense and cooperation in developing defense capabilities. Participating countries are committed to a whole list of strict mandatory criteria. For example, participating Member States must “regularly” increase defense budgets. 20% of military spending must be used for military investments.

Last but not least, the intensified cooperation with NATO is becoming really worrisome. The EU-NATO cooperation is called an integral pillar of the EU European security and defense policy. On the website you’ll read that a stronger EU and a stronger NATO are mutually reinforcing. During the NATO summit in Warsaw 2016 the president of the European Council, the president of the European commission and the Secretary-general of the NATO issued a joint declaration to enhance the cooperation between the two organisations in several fields. This has been deep end in the following years with 74 concrete actions. In 2018 another Joint declaration has been issued to stress that cooperation between the EU and NATO is now the established norm and daily practice and continues to take place on the basis of key guiding principles (operational cooperation, cyber security, defense capabilities, military industry, capacity building. All this despite the fact that 6 EU members are not member of NATO.

What should be done:

  • Stop militarization and need of a new Helsinki II (cfr OSCE)
  • European Union must recognize its role in the destabilisation of its so called periphery (trade policy, arms trade, natural resources,…)
  • No armies but addressing the root causes of conflict
  • No public funding for the arms industry