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European Defence Cooperation – One Step Forward, One Step Back By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.







What follows is a digest of some of the points raised at the 54th Munich Security Conference over the weekend – a conference which is designed to discuss current crises and future challenges in European security policy. I was not in attendance – more’s the pity – so this digest is made up from what I have been able to collate and my own separate comments.

The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May had addressed the Conference on Friday and more of this below. As to what was achieved overall? Well, just maybe, inadvertently or not, the conference has widened the gap between NATO and EU thinking of future defence and security issues. There could be a heavy price to pay for that!

In her own address to the Munich conference, Mrs May had suggested that “There is no reason why we should not agree distinct agreements for our foreign and defence policy cooperation in the time-limited implementation period” and that “The key aspects of our future partnership in this area will already be effective from 2019” Mrs. May went on to say that “We shouldn’t wait where we don’t need to” and she called on the UK’s EU partners not to let “rigid institutional restrictions” get in the way of a wide-ranging post-Brexit security partnership” and that “there would be damaging real-world consequences if none were agreed”

In a more forward thing and reconciliatory tone and with a message aimed just as much at her own Conservative Party colleagues she reminded that “the European arrest warrant had enabled police cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland” and she made reference to the “pragmatic and practical” approach that the then British Foreign Secretary, Jim Callaghan made when he set up the inter-governmental anti-terrorist group following the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Whichever side of the Brexit fence that you sit few can disagree that continuing a policy of integrated European security is of paramount importance. In making her call Mrs. May reminded that “Extraditions outside the European arrest warrant can cost four times as much and take three times as long”.

So what is the problem? The crunch point is that in leaving the EU the UK wants out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice whilst the EU says that if Britain wants to remain a partner within the various Europe based security agencies such as Europol, the European arrest warrant and the European Defence Agency it must, according to EU negotiators, continue to fully respect the role of the European Court of Justice as the over-arching authority.

The UK view, as spelled out by Mrs. May in Munich over the weekend, is that there could perhaps be a legal underpinning to the future security deal that was “respectful of the sovereignty of both the UK and the EU’s legal orders”. She said that “When participating in EU agencies the UK will respect the remit of the European Court of Justice” and she believed that “a principled but pragmatic solution to close legal cooperation will be needed to respect our unique status as a third country with our own sovereign legal order”. To achieve that “we’ll need to agree a strong and independent form of dispute resolution across all the areas of our future partnership in which both sides can have the necessary confidence” she said and that “we must also recognise the importance of comprehensive and robust data protection arrangements.” Finally she said that the UK’s data protection bill “would ensure Britain was aligned with the EU framework”.

As my professional activities primarily surround observing, supporting and commentating on defence related matters, the military, sovereign capability issues and the wider defence industrial base and UK exports, I rarely venture into the wider security arena. I do not pretend to be a specialist in this crucial area of activity but, because I recognise the importance of getting this right for the post Brexit environment, I intend to remain a very keen observer until a permanent solution is found that will, as now, allow all the various security elements to work in harmony with each other for the greater good of us all.

And what about the issue of future defence co-operation between the UK and the EU in the post Brexit environment? It is inconceivable that as the UK is the second largest contributor to NATO outside of the US and that, arguable as this may be, the UK still has the largest defence budget of all European NATO member states that the EU will not want Britain to retain a status quo position. Clearly the need to form a post Brexit defence cooperation pact between Britain and the EU and indeed, the EU and NATO is of paramount importance but it should, in my view, not be confused with the unhelpful intention that some EU member countries have formed in plans to develop future military capability and capacity through the creation of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) framework.

It was pleasing that the Estonian Defence Minister, Juri Luik put his head above the parapet at the Munich conference this past weekend reminding that “NATO along with other transatlantic ties form a deterrent that assures the security of Europe” adding that “Cooperation in the EU provides good additional opportunities for developing the military capacity of European countries, but that projects like the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) framework would never have existed if they copied NATO. His belief is that defense cooperation between NATO and the EU should could focus on “assuring military mobility, cyber security, and organizing joint exercises and he suggested the idea of using the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence as a platform for such cooperation and purpose. He proposed that all member states could grant permission to allied forces to cross their borders in no more than five days.

According to press reports at a separate meeting with Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, Juri Luik chose to discuss the upcoming NATO summit suggesting that “NATO’s deterrence would continue to be strengthened using strengthening strategy plans and adjusting the military leadership structure”. Estonia is one of many NATO member states that supports granting the Supreme Allied Commander more authority to guarantee faster reaction speed of allied forces.

Back in the heart of the Munich Conference Jean Claude Juncker, European Commission president said that “For years, the US has been complaining that EU countries don’t spend enough on their own military capabilities. Now [that] we’re trying to do that, and that’s not right either.” The annual conference which was attended by senior US and European politicians, generals and defence experts, Munich this year was dominated by calls from Germany and France for Europe to stand on its own two feet militarily — and also by US concerns expressed by the US about what that might mean for the NATO Alliance.

Mr. Juncker also reminded the conference that “Europe had 178 categories of weapon, compared to 30 in the US, and 20 aircraft types compared to 6 in the US” and that “this system badly needed to be simplified”. Yes, he has a point but I note that he chose not to mention that the underlying intention is no doubt that the French should be given responsibility for sorting this out and for building the majority of future EU defence equipment capability!

There was however little doubt that the head of steam raised in respect of building closer military ties with Europe are growing. Sigmar Gabriel, acting German foreign minister said that the US should not stand in Europe’s way and that “No one should try to divide the EU — not Russia, not China, but also not the US” and he said that Europe “needed to project its power more effectively in the world and that it must not concentrate on the military aspect alone, but it also that it can’t dispense with that entirely”.

Reinhard Butikofer, another delegate and member of the European Parliaments said that the Europeans should avoid saying they were seeking “strategic autonomy”, an expression that was apparently used by French defence minister Florence Parly on Friday. “Strategic autonomy” he said “must mean the ability to wage war independently”

US concern in respect of attempts by a number of EU countries to forge closer defence ties within the EU are clearly a matter of serious concern for the US. It is a great pity that this comes at a time when the US has strongly re-iterated its long term support to playing a significant role in NATO European defence albeit that it has quite rightly put pressure on many EU NATO members to increase defence spending and pay a larger part of the overall European defence burden.

Yes, it is true that President Trump had previously called NATO as being obsolete and that he previously failed to reiterate US support to the all-embracing Article 5 provision of the NATO charter that binds member nations to commit to mutual defence of one another. That had it seems been music to the ears of the French and German view that the EU needed to consider a standalone defence capability outside of NATO.

As here in the UK, the US remains particularly concerned in respect of the Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO) plan and which forms the basis of France, Germany and another 26 EU member states have signed up to in order to forge closer defence ties. The untimely situation that has been created as a result and the coincidence of Britain leaving the EU at the same time is extremely regrettable and the lack of clarity for the EU over its real deep seated intentions to create a European defence force outside of NATO command remains very worrying for those concerned about overall European defence.

US Secretary of State, General James N. Mattis who whilst he was in Munich met with Georgian Prime Minister to discuss the US/Georgia defence and security alliance and who last week in Rome met with the Italian Minister of Defense and will this week have separate meetings with German and Belgian defense officials in Stuttgart and Brussels, chose to put his head above the parapet as well in praising European moves to increase defence spending and he applauded Germany for taking its military responsibilities more seriously

Whilst his views may not have gone down so well in Germany, in his speech he said that “You see a much more engaged Germany today than you and I could’ve guessed, even five years ago”.

That may well be so of course but with uncertainty surrounding future German Coalition Government policy on defence nothing can be taken for granted.

Elsewhere General Mattis said last week that the EU’s defence plans should enhance NATO’s common defence rather than detracting from it. There was, he said, “now a clear understanding that common defence is a NATO mission that belongs to NATO alone”. All those reading this will surely agree with that statement.

Reservations about future EU intentions in respect of PESCO and that are yet to be seen as being affordable by those that have signed up to them were apparently further articulated last week by Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general when he suggested that the EU’s efforts on defence risked “weakening the transatlantic bond … duplicating what NATO is already doing and … discriminating against non-EU members of the NATO alliance”. The EU should be clear, he added, “that it couldn’t protect Europe by itself. After Brexit, “80 per cent of NATO’s defence spending will come from non-EU allies,” he said.

CHW (London – 19th February 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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