24 June 2024

From European defence to the defence of Europe

The newly elected European Parliament will shape the EU’s political direction over the next five years. The political factions within the Parliament are likely to agree on strengthening collective defence capabilities to better secure Europe. This push for enhanced strategic autonomy in defence has been driven by escalating geopolitical tensions globally.

In this blog post, our Associate Partner, General (ret.) Stéphane Abrial discusses the critical need to advance European defence to protect Europe.

Where does European defence currently stand?

European defence is at a crossroads, still needing its reliance on NATO for collective defence whilst pushing towards a more integrated European defence strategy. The EU has made positive steps forward, with the adoption of the Strategic Compass and the EU Defence Industry strategy. Initiatives like the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) showcase efforts to enhance defence collaboration and technological innovation among Member States. However, challenges persist, including fragmented defence capabilities and insufficient investment.

Some Europeans support the idea of having a European army, but this has no chance to occur without a common political will and a common strategic vision. Moreover, it brings to life the significant gaps in military readiness and technological advancements among European nations. Additionally, many NATO countries still mostly rely on the contribution and support of the US and neglect to develop capabilities beyond that.

Furthermore, in recent years, events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have underscored Europe’s excessive reliance on external sources for essential goods, raw materials, and services. This dependency has highlighted how supply chain disruptions could severely impact Europe’s security and economic stability. In response, the EU is focusing on achieving strategic autonomy, especially in defence and security. This includes advancing capabilities in cybersecurity, defence technology, and intelligence gathering.

The impact of the changing geopolitical landscape

The changing geopolitical landscape has had a profound impact on European defence, shaping the strategic outlook and security priorities of Europe. The great power competition, hybrid threats, and regional instabilities demand a re-evaluation of defence postures. The reduction in U.S. foreign engagement has provided room for other powers, notably China and Russia, to assert their influence, challenging the existing global order. 

Moreover, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has dramatically changed the geopolitical scene, leading to NATO’s expansion and a heightened focus within the EU on bolstering its collective defence capabilities. Consequently, this has led to increased defence spending by European countries.

Preparing the defence of Europe

In an increasingly tense world, there is a clear need for Europe to be able to defend and protect itself. The forthcoming U.S. elections, and the NATO summit in Washington will have further implications for its defence strategy.

While NATO continues to play a crucial role in safeguarding the continent, Europe must take proactive steps to secure its future and reassess its approach to managing its security environment. Globally, the EU should foster a more coherent and unified strategy in order to better manage its international relations and enhance its standing on the global stage.

European countries are already responding by increasing their defence commitments, with projected defence budgets set to rise by €700 billion to €800 billion from 2022 to 2028. Pursuing these efforts will ensure our collective ability to effectively respond to both existing and emerging threats – in short, moving from a European defence to the capacity to defend Europe.

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24 June 2024
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