The silent death of European defence, the quiet awakening of European security: 8 June 2010

I was asked a couple of weeks ago to provide a quick paper to a conference/one day thing that’s being held this Friday. For the first time in my academic career, I will provide the paper after the conference, and these notes are my first thoughts about what I might say… Feel free to challenge and correct me.

I have been asked to talk about Britain and European defence (the current situation and that going forward).  My central argument is this:

* The talks, negotiations, posturing about European defence have been going on for over fifty years, and show no signs of rapidly developing into something genuinely credible. The 1998 Saint Malo accords and the 2001 Nice Treaty provided an abundance of smoke and noise, but very little fire. This sort of progress has entertained people like me (and provided the basis of PhD theses, articles, books, and practitioner engagements).. but it hasn’t actually done anything significant or serious. I think it is time to recognise that the dead parrot is indeed, er, dead.

* The reality is that all European governments are eager to retain their defence competencies, to share and compromise very little, and to engage in military operations with restrictive and personal rules of engagement and risk aversions. In short, military operations and defence postures are not going to suddenly become multi or trans-national, they will remain coalitions of the willing, or bi/multilateral events.

* The free-riding of the Cold War will become even worse over the next ten years as widespread European government bankruptcies force governments into austerity measures. Even the UK, which is badly indebted, but not bankrupt, has said it will have to seek  serious savings (25% of running costs) within the MoD. The amount of spare cash across Europe to do voluntary defence activities (and the obviously question is what is voluntary and what is important?) is virtually nil, in fact in Greece’s case, it’s much less than nil. Again, referring to the history of the last 5, 10, 15, 30 years, the likelihood of a serious public political discussion taking place in member states, about this are nil.

* The EDA has produced some good work and thinking about the European capabilities gap, but this is a sticking plaster (marginally profitable for the defence industrial base) that fails to stop the massive haemorrhaging of a large capabilities, and operational capabilities, gap. Furthermore, the ‘primes’ (as they are known) are either moving away from the sort of defence industries we know and understand, towards being clearing houses for SMEs, or they are diverting their attentions towards emerging and more profitable markets (joined and separate points!). European markets are increasingly a struggle, and the expectation to work with other European governments has produced poor (and static) specifications, within the finished products.

* From the UK end, the coalition is a heady mix of the Europhobes and the Europhiles. Retention of the nuclear deterrent was achieved, with a caveat about value for money, and the approach to Europe is one of scepticism; a critical friend. The government has shown, with its foreign policy statements, that it sees past the traditional EU vs US dichotomy and wishes to reach out to the emergent powers, in a concerted way. This also bodes badly for a European defence identity, that seems perennially unwilling to show its face.

* My argument then turns to the emergent security agenda instead. And really I’m talking about the hard-end of intelligence and policing operations, and the softer end of profiling enemies through the management and analysis of large databases. On the hard-end, there has been a large amount of European cooperation (between member states, not the supranational bit) on intelligence led operations. The so-called ‘Alliance Base’ is a good example of American money and European and American know-how. Similarly, the Club of Berne has also provided a good level of coordination against terrorism (in terms of sharing experiences and information), but again it sits outside of the EU institutions. There has also been notable coordination between the US and European governments on rendition programmes and secret detention centres, although this has attracted obvious negative publicity and the ire of the Vienna Convention who declared it to be in contravention of the ECHR.

* Coordination across the European area has been more patchy – when it has involved the EU. The extradition measures, and legal uncertainties within many of the countries, has made pan-European coordination and cooperation difficult. The European Commission, Parliament and Council of Europe (see Vienna Convention) have been the most stridently opposed to US counter-terrorism tactics and programmes, which has strained relations between the EU and US (particularly the Department of Homeland Security). But there is a strong emergent trend in the EU to employ public-private initiatives to store, analyse and deploy databases which collect ‘routine’ data on their publics engaged in ‘routine’ activities, with a view to spotting anomalous behaviours and preventing terrorist atrocities. The US are engaged in these activities too, and there is scope to share. Indeed, the heady mix of public private partnerships (something the EU is good at) and the maintenance of ‘routine data’ (another EU speciality) might make the EU a big player in global efforts to counter terrorism; something of a turnaround for the civilian superpower. EU member governments will also play their part in this; many have similar programmes which they jealously guard. But because the data they hold is, in and of itself, non-controversial finding agreements within the EU, and outside to the US should be very achievable, and within the next 12months.

Under these circumstances the tricky and obstructive issue of European defence will, I think, begin to recede into the history of the EU, rather than its future…

If you happen to be coming on Friday, apologies for the plot spoiler…

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