Defence and Aerospace special report: European defence: the task ahead

Series Title
Series Details 18/10/01, Volume 7, Number 38
Publication Date 18/10/2001
Content Type

Date: 18/10/01

By Javier Solana, EU high representative for common Foreign & Security Policy.

The common European security and defence policy (ESDP) is part of the wider project of building Europe's political identity. When it becomes operational at the end of this year, it will be possible for the European Union to play a greater global role, commensurate with the size of its population and its economic strength. As such, it represents a vital contribution to the political dimension of the European project.

ESDP will enable a Europe grown prosperous and economically powerful to take a greater share of responsibility for European security, a development that our North American partners have long wished to see. The EU's goals, set out in its founding treaties, have always included the aim of strengthening peace and liberty. In our external actions we seek to alleviate poverty, promote democracy and the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

We have been doing this for many years. At the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999 we decided that we should be able to do more, adding the possible use of military force to the range of existing measures for managing crises, such as diplomatic action, sanctions and humanitarian assistance. We have no collective defence pretensions. Rather, we want to make our contribution by leading and participating in international crisis-management missions.

With the capacity to integrate military force into our response to crises we shall be able to do more for the benefit of those less fortunate: be they wracked by hunger, demoralised by war or victims of persecution. Our detailed goal, established at Helsinki, is to be able to contribute a force towards the 'Petersberg tasks'. These cover search and rescue, humanitarian missions, peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Heads of government concluded that to make a contribution, we should be able to deploy a force of up to 60,000, assembled for the operation from voluntary contributions from member states within 60-days notice and to be able to sustain it for a minimum of one year. The aim was that we should be ready to conduct operations up to this level by 2003.

Clearly, many of the forces needed already exist in the member states. But the 60-day deployment deadline is tough. The crisis could be anywhere in the world. This sets serious demands on our forces. It requires units which are configured, trained and equipped for rapid deployment. It is clear that to reach the goal, we must make certain improvements to our capabilities.

We have identified a number of priority areas where improvements are needed. These include sea-lift, strategic air-lift, air-to-air refuelling, aerial surveillance, command and control assets, precision munitions - essential to minimise collateral damage - and means to suppress enemy air defences. None should come as a surprise.

Many of the limitations were evident in the Kosovo air campaign in 1999 when the bulk of attacks on the Serb forces were undertaken by US forces. Many shortfalls are the subject of parallel work as part of NATO's defence capability initiative.

Covering these gaps requires a range of responses. It demands a reorientation of national militaries and wiser spending. It requires new expenditure. And it necessitates a look at other imaginative soLutions. All of these steps are under way. Major defence reforms are in the pipeline in Europe. France and Spain are on the verge of phasing out conscription. Germany is increasing the proportion of career soldiers in its military. Many countries are reducing total force numbers, while at the same time increasing expenditure on equipment and thereby enhancing their overall capabilities.

This trend towards greater equipment spending is widespread in Europe, with ten members of the European Union spending a greater proportion of their defence budgets on equipment this year than last year. A number of major procurement projects are under way. Seven EU members have committed to purchase the A400M military transport aircraft. Eight members are purchasing or upgrading their amphibious or sea-lift capacity.

A number of EU members are also increasing total defence spending. Ten of the 15 EU member states will spend more on defence in 2001 than in 2000. Large increases will always be hard, but heads of government have repeatedly made clear that they intend to deliver on the commitments made at Helsinki. And this is very much the European way: when we commit to a major project we deliver. Take for example the single market, European monetary union, successive waves of enlargement.

And finally, we are looking hard at joint solutions to our requirements. This covers many ideas: joint procurement, shared ownership of assets, pooling of equipment, greater use of civilian capacity for strategic mobility, such as shipping. For example, seven nations in the European Air Group already work together for the common management of military air transport and air-to-air refuelling.

EU defence ministers met last week to discuss these issues. They reaffirmed their determination to deliver and expressed their belief that the events of 11 September make the project even more important. For while the EU does not have the ambition to become a collective defence organisation, responsible for pursuing those who might attack us, our militaries may be at risk of terrorist attack when deployed on crisis management missions.

We must ensure that our crisis-management forces are properly prepared and protected. But more importantly, events in the past few weeks have reminded us that new threats can surface unexpectedly and from unconventional actors and that military action, like it or not, will sometimes be necessary to address security threats.

With a major struggle against terrorism under way, we must be ready to tackle the range of other crises that will continue to confront us. Already European nations are offering to fill spaces left by US forces in peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans.

In the future, we must be ready to do even more to contribute to international security. That has been the Union's goal since its foundation. With the implementation of the Helsinki plan, we shall be ready to do so.

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