Defence and Aerospace special report: Call to arms: Europe’s security forces respond to global terror threats

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Series Details Vol.7, No.38, 18.10.01, p15
Publication Date 18/10/2001
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Date: 18/10/01

By David Cronin

Claims that the world was forever changed on 11 September may be exaggerated. But there is no doubt that the horrific attacks on New York and Washington have made a huge impression on the debate about restructuring Europe's defence industry.

This was underlined last week by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Addressing the Union's defence ministers at a Brussels meeting, the former NATO boss said that "our urgent task is the definition of common [military] requirements" between member states. The issue is expected to assume a high priority as preparations intensify for next month's conference on arming the EU's newly-established rapid reaction force.

Critics argue that the absence of a coherent approach to defence procurement among the 15 EU states has been at least partly caused by archaic provisions in the Union's treaties. These give the defence industry an exemption from normal competition rules.

The deputy chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Bill Newton Dunn, says that the exemption leads to "extraordinary duplication and waste" in equipping Europe's armies. The UK Liberal cited armoured personnel carriers as an example: "The USA uses only one main battle tank, the Abrams. They have 8,000 in service so they achieve maximum economy in manufacturing. In sharp contrast in Europe the Germans use their own Leopard-2, the French their own Leclerc, the British their own Challengers I and II, while both the Ukraine and Russia offer to sell their cheaper machines to smaller European countries."

Steps are being taken to rectify the situation. Last year six member states - France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden - signed the "framework agreement". Its aims include harmonising the weaponry used by the states' armies, nurturing joint-research projects and standardising controls on the export of arms.

The accord has come in for heavy criticism from anti-military campaigners, especially because the deliberations which led to its signing were shrouded in secrecy. London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has argued that it will undermine the EU's code of conduct on avoiding weapons sales to unscrupulous regimes. "Our big problem is that the higher export standards of countries like Sweden will be diluted by pressure from the other signatories," said the group's spokesman Richard Bingley.

Stockholm, for example, has been loathe to sell weapons to Turkey because of the persistent allegations of human rights abuses there. But the campaigners find it hard to conceive that it could continue maintaining high ethical standards as it gets more involved in streamlining arms policy with other countries.

Another conundrum facing policy-makers is that defence spending is meagre in the EU compared to the US. NATO estimates that European members of the alliance increased their military expenditure from 201 billion to nearly 208 billion between 1995 and 2000. The rise is far from considerable.

By an uncanny coincidence, Brussels think-tank Centre for European Policy Studies held a seminar on European defence policy on 11 September. Less than two hours before news of the atrocities filtered through, Washington-based security analyst Kori Schake said: "We should no longer pretend that either the EU or NATO is going to spend its way out of the problem. "The dependence of EU militaries on very expensive and scarce US assets cannot be overcome by modest increases in spending unless the EU finds very creative ways to employ force with greater cost-effectiveness and perhaps tolerating greater risk."

The tragedy that unfolded soon after those comments were delivered may lead to the increased expenditure that many consider necessary.

The forthcoming 'capabilities' conference has assumed a higher priority as EU leaders re-assess their security needs and resources. Article forms part of a special report on defence and aerospace.

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