European Defense Between Brexit, Warsaw, and Russia

On 7 July, the eve of the NATO Summit, Munich Security Conference (MSC) chairman Wolfgang Ischinger brought together defense leaders and experts from across the Alliance as well as Russia for an MSC European Defence Roundtable in Warsaw, supported by Leonardo. Participants discussed ideas to increase European defense cooperation as well as the future of NATO-Russia relations.

MSC Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger and Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland, at the European Defence Roundtable in Warsaw (Photo: MSC / Sawka).

The first roundtable session dealt with the challenge of strengthening European military capabilities (click here for photo impressions). Several speakers emphasized that Europe should focus on concrete practical projects that demonstrated the added value of defense cooperation rather than more grandiose statements. Some specifically mentioned the German-Dutch integration of certain units or the recently announced German-Polish submarine command center as welcome examples for the way forward.


While the new EU Global Strategy was lauded, some leaders said they would like to see a defense follow-up with more detailed formulations and clearly defined goals. Speakers also mentioned the EU Preparatory Action on research related to the Common Security and Defense Policy as a particularly promising initiative that now needed to be implemented as soon as possible.


One participant argued that the challenge for Europeans was to answer the question of how 28 European Davids could win against a number of rising Goliaths. Others noted that rising powers, most notably China, would soon overtake the Europeans in terms of defense spending. Thus, more fragmentation, the participants agreed, was not a good strategy.


The ongoing debates about a possible "Brexit" also affected the discussions at the European Defence Roundtable: Participants were in agreement that the outcome was deplorable, but they disagreed about the potential consequences of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom. While some argued that it could also be seen as an opportunity to revive European cooperation on defense, others worried that it might negatively affect initiatives to build larger European formations that could be used for both the EU and NATO. Several speakers also noted that practical cooperation between NATO and the EU has intensified significantly but that some obstacles on the political level remained. Participating leaders also disagreed about the question whether intensified defense planning among the EU members would strengthen NATO or would only create unnecessary duplication.


During the dinner session, the discussion focused on the role of NATO in general, the upcoming NATO Summit, and the relationship with Russia. Several participants expressed their worries about a crisis of liberal democracy, epitomized by a lack of trust in institutions and rising inequality in many Western societies. While some saw the Warsaw Summit as a historical turning point, the majority took a more sober view. In general, the measures currently discussed in relation to Russia were described as proportionate and modest. Several speakers noted the basic agreement among NATO members that the Alliance should pursue a dual-track strategy combining both deterrence and dialogue. Concerning the latter, participants discussed what the next steps of dialogue with Russia should look like and how they could be successful.


The MSC's series of events related to European Defence will continue next February in Munich at the annual Munich Security Conference (February 17-19).

08 July 2016, by MSC