Defence procurement is an unsexy phrase for an unsexy idea. Despite this, the issue of increased integration in the area of defence is frequently in the news nowadays. France and Britain are exploring bilateral military cooperation, NATO pushing its European allies to procure more drones and the Commission and the Parliament have both advocated more defence integration, with the Parliament advocating an EU defence force ‘under Union command.’ These plans are apparently saying very similar things but are actually opposing proposals for the same policy space; This is part of a 21st century battle-royale to define not just Europe but the wider western world.
Is that a hyperbole? Maybe, but let’s take a look at the issue. Essentially we have three competing powers competing for the sphere of primacy in Europe. We have Anglo-Franco cooperation. We have the Americans and NATO and we have the EU.
Traditionally, France and Britain have been both very close in their military cooperation and very willing to invest in and use military arms; both countries see military power as a corner stone to their sovereignty. Furthermore, Anglo-Franco cooperation was a driving force in establishing the military integration the EU already has. France and the UK have fought along one another in several regional conflict, including in Operation Unifed Protector, the NATO operation in Libya, where the two countries provided a significant amount of the military forces, and eclipsed only in spending, sorties and operations by the USA.
NATO’s European primacy began with the Suez Crisis in 1956, when France and Britain failed to secure a victory over Egypt before threatened Soviet intervention led to the foundation of Canadian foreign policy for the following two decade: namely, support for peacekeeping. Though NATO is sometimes called a “European institution”, as the vast majority of its members are in Europe, the elephant in the room is the Americans. This isn’t to speak ill of the Americans or transatlanticism. However, military cooperation with America is inevitably done on the terms of the Americans. The Americans are simply the largest contributors and therefore de facto leaders of the treaty organisation. If Europe is going to stand on its own two feet, then working within a framework chosen by the Americans seem to be detrimental to long-term European interests. This option also seems unappealing for the United States, as transatlanticism would ultimately mean shared-sovereignty with Europe, rather than retaining hegemony. American right-winged hard-liners also find issue with true partnership with Europe. They seem to view America’s unchallenged position as the sole superpower as sacred ground. Despite this attitude, NATO has been the preferred avenue for Military cooperation within Europe. Even after cooled relations as a result of the Iraq war, European defence integration opted for cooperation under the Berlin Plus agreement, after American insistence to not establish a parallel infrastructure.
A European solution to defence has been banded about since 1950, and yet since then no pan-European military integration emerged due to the rise of NATO as a serious contender for the vehicle of European defence. It seemed unlikely that either serious political or military integration would take place in the face of French opposition, which really brings the core of this issue to light: French participation. Historically, European military integration hinges on France’s position. It has been both the engine and stumbling block to further European integration in the EU.
France is the key to all three of these strategies, and it is French sovereignty that plays out as the key factor in any talk of defence integration. This is why Cameron is flirting with Hollande for a bilateral solution, it’s why the the Battlegroups were created after the US alienated France in the Iraq war and its why NATO was originally head-quartered in Paris. It’s also why any military integration in Europe, defence procurement or otherwise, is going to need strong French leadership if there is going to be any hope of a cohesive solution.
Post-scriptum: If this seems slightly out of date, that is because this was the proof-of-concept work I did for this blog. Next week’s installment should come from more varied sources (namely Euractiv itself) and fresher articles. Thanks for reading.