[A-List] EU integration struggles: defence policy
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 18 05:52:13 MST 2002
Europe could pack a bigger punch
By Tim Garden and Charles Grant
Financial Times: December 18 2002
Turkey's lifting of its veto over the agreement that allows the European
Union to borrow Nato assets means that the EU will now run its first
peacekeeping mission, in Macedonia, in a few months' time. This provides an
opportunity to breathe new life into the EU's European security and defence
policy. The European governments should put the emphasis on building
better-equipped and more capable armed forces. They can do so - despite
static defence budgets - as long as they are prepared to pool their
This would not mean an EU squadron of fighter aircraft or warships that fly
the flag of more than one country. The political sensitivities are too
great. But much national defence spending goes on humdrum things such as
training, research, repairs, transport, military bases and supply
organisations. Each country duplicates the others' efforts. That is the
biggest reason why the defence spending of Nato's European members - at
about $165bn a year, some 40 per cent of US levels - provides only a small
fraction of the US's military punch.
Europe's defence ministries, often reluctant to embrace change, are unlikely
to favour much pooling. They will make the fair point that any attempt to
merge different national infrastructures is likely to be difficult. Finance
ministries, though, are more likely to understand that pooling could lead to
significant, long-term savings.
European governments seem to be getting the message. At the Prague summit in
November, Nato agreed to establish its own fleet of ground surveillance
aircraft. The model is Nato's existing fleet of Awacs early warning
aircraft. In the same month, a joint Franco-German paper called for the
harmonisation of military requirements and the pooling of capabilities.
Successful examples of pooling include the joint headquarters and support
services established by the Belgian and Dutch navies; and the Nordic
countries' logistics battalion that has been busy in the Balkans. Economies
of scale and overhead give these countries access to more military
capability than they could achieve by spending the same money on their own.
Aircraft offer the best opportunities for saving money through pooling
because of their high purchase and maintenance costs and the fact that many
nations buy the same type. Given that Europe badly needs more air lift, the
EU should create a pool of transport aircraft, on a similar basis to the
Nato Awacs fleet. It could start off with the 136 Hercules C-130 transport
aircraft owned by 10 EU countries. The fleet would be available to EU
members, to the EU collectively or to Nato.
Any country taking part should be free to withdraw its aircraft and air
crews if some pressing national need took precedence. However, in order to
achieve significant cost savings, the fleet would have to operate from one
main base, with squadrons dispersed to serve national needs. A single
planning, servicing and logistics organisation would support the force.
Contributing countries would be able to save money by closing bases,
training units and headquarters.
Five smaller EU countries own 430 F-16 fighter aircraft between them.
Germany, Italy and the UK operate 570 Tornadoes. Next year those three
countries plus Spain will start to deploy Eurofighters. In all these cases,
pooling the support operations could yield considerable savings.
Many support activities for land forces could be run in common - for example
engineering, communications, transport, medical and logistics services. EU
governments should agree common specifications for support services and then
approve a list of suppliers that could bid for contracts. Nato already
outsources the security guards of its Brussels headquarters to Group 4, a
Encouragingly, European governments appear to be getting more serious about
capabilities. At the Prague summit one group of countries agreed to procure
a pool of 10 to 15 refuelling aircraft (which would still bear national
colours). Another decided to collaborate on increasing its stocks of
satellite-guided bombs for F-16s by 40 per cent. Nato's decision on airborne
ground surveillance points the way to a pooled future.
It does not matter whether a pool of aircraft is branded Nato or EU, since
the aircraft would be available to both bodies. If Europeans can improve
their capabilities, Nato and the EU will be stronger.
Sir Tim Garden, a former air marshal, is a visiting professor at the Centre
for Defence Studies. Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European
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