Key choices for European defense cooperation – MSC launches new report and convenes Roundtable on European Defense in Berlin
How should European states spend their defense budgets to make European defense policy more effective and efficient? How can they harness the synergies that come from more common defense planning and procurement? These were among the key questions at the center of two MSC events in Berlin on November 30 – one discussion open to the general public, and one four-hour off-the-record roundtable for experts and decision-makers. The events also featured the presentation of a new MSC report on European defense capabilities.
"The time of hot air in the European debate on defense is coming to an end," MSC Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, referring to recent progress in European defense cooperation, said at the outset of the MSC's public event on European defense integration, that was attended by more than 300 interested members of the public. But, as several discussants confirmed during the day, even after the activation of the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and other efforts, numerous steps still need to be taken in order to make European defense policy more efficient and effective.
To contribute to this debate, the MSC, in cooperation with McKinsey & Company and the Centre for International Security Policy at the Hertie School of Governance, released a report titled "More European, More Capable and More Connected: Building the European Armed Forces of the Future". By looking at and behind the numbers, the report includes in-depth analyses and policy recommendations for decision-makers in terms of spending defense budgets more efficiently (read the full report here). Pre-release coverage of the report included a feature article in Der Spiegel and a piece by Politico. The MSC's public launch event for the report served to present its key finding and discuss them with a number of distinguished panelists.
"Defense used to be the hardest most difficult area of European integration. Now it is the most promising," underscored Nathalie Tocci, Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, and author of the EU's Global Strategy, during the public event. She also stressed – in line with the thrust of the report – that Europeans could only achieve more connected and more capable forces if they turned "more European." Sir Christopher Harper, former Director General of the International Military Staff of NATO, underlined that European strategic autonomy was an important goal but that Europeans should be careful to avoid duplication with NATO. He highlighted that interoperability of systems was critical – both between American and European systems as well as between Europeans. Norbert Röttgen, foreign policy expert of the CDU and Member of the German Bundestag, underlined that political support in the Bundestag for further increasing defense spending was largely contingent on public opinion on the topic. Horst-Heinrich Brauss, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning, emphasized the high potential of an enhanced collaboration between NATO and EU. He argued, the two organizations could be a "force for good". Tomasz Szatkowski, Undersecretary of State in the polish Ministry of National Defense, stressed NATO’s two-percent benchmark and Europe's need for larger kinetic capabilities.
Following the public discussion, in the off-the-record European Defence Roundtable, about 50 participants from politics, the military, think tanks, and the defense sector came together to discuss the current state and prospects of European defense cooperation. While participants largely agreed that European defense efforts are not in competition with NATO, different interpretations remained on what structures would cause unnecessary duplication between the institutions. There were also mixed assessments of PESCO. Some speakers saw it as a very promising step forward, which would now have to be invigorated through successful projects: "PESCO is meant to be ambitious but it will live by its projects," one participant put it. Others argued that its "pick and choose" nature and inclusive character would hamper PESCO's effectiveness. One participant countered, arguing, that "without ambiguity we would not be here" in terms of progress made.
Industry representatives voiced their concern about an "incredible growth of bureaucracy" in recent years when it comes to defense procurement. From their perspective, the most important challenge is to think ahead: The security environment was changing rapidly while defense procurement took decades. As a result, they called for closer cooperation and more intensive communication between industry and government. Some speakers also were wary of the MSC report's recommendation to conduct a top-down approach to industry consolidation, advising that governments should rather let the industry lead.
Several speakers raised the issue of pooling and sharing among European armies. "Not everyone can have everything," some participants stressed. Smaller states should be given the opportunity of integrating their forces into larger transnational units. Moreover, some argued that in order to build a broader consensus for intensified defense cooperation in the EU, there was a need for flagship projects, such as joint air policing or even a joint nuclear deterrent.
Finally, participants also highlighted the political challenge underlying military cooperation: Without agreement on the question when the use of force would be necessary, justified and legitimate – or, as a speaker put it, "who has the finger on the button" – a truly common European defense policy would be an illusion. Many participants stressed the need for a common strategic culture in Europe. Shared sovereignty would require the reliable availability of forces for multinational purposes.
About the Munich Security Conference
The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is the world's leading platform for debates on international security policy. With over 500 official participants and 300 observers assembled at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, the annual conference provides a unique atmosphere for frank, private and mostly off-the-record exchange on present and future security challenges and solutions.
European Defence and the MSC
Besides its annual flagship conference in Munich, the Munich Security Conference (MSC) Foundation regularly organizes high-profile events around the world. These events include summits and roundtables dedicated to a particular thematic focus like European Defence, Energy Security, Cyber Security, and Health Security.
The future of European defence has traditionally been one of the major topics of the Munich Security Conference. In 2013, the MSC, together with its knowledge partner McKinsey & Company, launched the European Defence Series. Since then, numerous events have addressed European defence challenges and have contributed to debating the goal of a deeper, much more impactful European cooperation in security and defence.