2003 was the landmark year of the EU’s adoption of the European Security Strategy. 10 years later, what has changed in the security landscape for EU, NATO and their partners? These questions were addressed at the ‘SecDef13’ annual high level conference on ‘Redrawing the security map’ organised by the Security and Defence Agenda, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Compagnie Européenne d’Intelligence Stratégique on June 27.
The Palais d’Egmont was crowded with representatives of NATO, the defence industry, think-tanks and the media world. The debates were moderated by Giles Merritt and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Director and Co-President of Security and Defence Agenda respectively.
Plenary Session I – Transatlantic Security: Tactical and Strategic challenges
Tamas Vargha, Hungarian State Secretary of Defence, acknowledged the diversity of threats and challenges – with North Korea, Syria, Sahara and Iran being amongst the most prominent ones – and warned that the EU must show greater responsibility with the ‘unfinished business in the Western Balkans’. The transatlantic link needs to be reinforced with more burden-sharing by the EU and a more effective CSDP. Although multinational cooperation should not be viewed as a panacea, it is one of the key points for security and defence concerns.
Pierre Vimont, Executive Secretary General, European External Action Service, recognised that threats cannot be foreseen as they were in the past, thus a self-centred strategy with Europe receiving the majority of the attention can no longer work. On a positive note, both the EU and the Member States have adopted to a large extent this new reality, but it still needs to go deeper. This can only happen if the EU reflects on the European interests and the new partners and processes by increasing regional cooperation. The EU has forged a more comfortable relation with NATO which permits it to take rough decisions and to overcome the institutional implications.
Elmar Brok, Chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed that in order for joint policies in security and defence to be implemented it is high time to enhance economic integration and to set up a real transatlantic market. The EU should take the example of China and Russia that use every instrument of their policy as a foreign policy instrument.
Hüseyin Diriöz, Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning, NATO made clear that NATO has not lost any of its relevance. The new global challenges make its presence in the world even more necessary. He added that maintaining interoperability was a factor of paramount importance. He listed the issues that have to be managed:
1) The low priority placed in defence by Member States due to the financial crisis
2) Technological challenges
3) The perceived disparity in burden-sharing
4) The esoteric and heterogeneous nature of future risks
Plenary Session I – Ministerial Debate ‘Redrawing the security map: challenges and priorities’
Pieter De Crem, Belgian Defence Minister, stated that the world is evolving, especially with the rise of new powers. Regarding solidarity, he reminded the audience that the United States has been the most influential world player and the most important partner of Europe. He repeated that the EU and the US are privileged partners, but EU Member States have difficulties to realise anything concrete. The US has protected the EU for years and has offered it the opportunity to achieve progress and to take care of security problems by itself. Regarding new threats originating from technology, he said that it is hard to fight against them because it is a threat that transposes borders and because the EU lacks concrete structures to tackle them.
Rt. Hon. Lord John Reid, Former UK Defence Secretary and Home Secretary, Principal of the Chertoff Group and Chair of the Institute for Security and Resilience Studies, stated that there is a need to differentiate between military affairs on the one hand and economic and political affairs on the other hand. He underlined that more complicated factors have emerged and that there was a need to change the mentality, from the false simplistic view of ‘let’s get rid of a dictator and restore democracy’, to ‘do not enter the box unless your exit is clear’. Regarding cyber space, he stated that it is an environment which permits all actions and that it has the potential to become the fifth area of war. It is difficult to identify elements common to conventional warfare, since cyber introduces a degree of uncertainty about a potential attack rendering solidarity with NATO difficult.
Stéphane Beemelmans, State Secretary of the German Ministry of Defence was hesitant about the ability of Member States to cooperate on Pooling and Sharing and Smart Defence. He prioritised the need to ensure procurement, while stressed that protectionist measures are expensive, and there are increasing national problems as well as decreasing European efficiency. He then stated that it is a necessity to make sure that concerned agencies are getting the best value for money and to stop focusing on industrial policy aspects.
Franco Frattini, Former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Vice President of the European Commission, introduced the topic with the idea that solidarity has to become a pillar of the transatlantic alliance. Regarding the new evolving and asymmetric threats, he suggested the establishment of minimum requirements for national networks and a national action plan on standards. In parallel, the creation of a common doctrine would be beneficial for the EU. Regarding crisis management, he acknowledged that financial constraints are present; however, he considered overdependence on US critical capacities to be dangerous. He stated that the EU has to do more and to improve coordination on taking political decision and that NATO should be the place for strategic debate. He concluded by saying that the US can’t find a better partner than the EU and vice versa.
Bogdan Klich, Deputy Chair Polish Senate and former Polish Defence Minister, stated that the effectiveness of the alliance depends on the ability to find consensus and to implement the new strategic concept. Work still needs to be done on missile defence and not only cyber security, and an appropriate level of investment in military structure is critical. He added that the EU should reinforce its relationship with the US as the EU cannot take care of itself. He also declared to be in favour of reshaping the current operation centre as a structure responsible of the 3 missions in the Horn of Africa. He concluded with the “new concept” of battlegroups about which he stressed that ‘talks are enough, there is a need to act and make clear that the CSDP does not need any new institutions, but more political will”.
Plenary Session II – The Impact of Austerity on Defence capabilities
What are the possible policies to make sure that defence capabilities will not be handicapped for the next two decades? This is the question that the second plenary session endeavoured to answer.
Patrick Auroy, Assistant Secretary General for Defence Investment, NATO, highlighted that, interestingly, the current economic landscape provides an excellent opportunity for the enhancing of synergies that should not be missed. While the existing organisational structure is adequate, more focus should be given to equipment, training and strategic doctrines.
Philippe Brunet, Director for Aerospace, Maritime, Security and Defence Industries, European Commission, DG for Enterprise and Industry, pointed that the logic of austerity should be to make Member States’ forces to enhance their mutual cooperation and to overcome their structural problems. The December European Council should be provided with more options on capacities and should thoroughly revisit CSDP.
Michael Gahler, Member of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence, European Parliament, drew attention to the fact that the European governments have cut the defence budgets without prior consultation amongst them. In order to be more efficient the EU should balance the national with the overall perspectives, should review the security and defence strategy, but most importantly, should implement decisions that have been taken a long time ago.
Christian Bréant, Research and Technology Director, European Defence Agency, stressed that the excuse of preserving national sovereignty can no longer stand in the way, hindering the cooperation and increasing the risk of duplication.
Joaquim Nunes de Almeida, Director for Public Procurement, European Commission, DG Internal Market and Services, concluded the discussion by stating that with obvious threats against European territories being almost extinct, it is easy for governments to reduce defence expenditures. In order to find a common point of understanding, between national concerns and austerity measures, it is important to harmonise the requirements, something that would increase the impact and the level of interoperability.
Perhaps the quote that stood in our minds after the SecDef13 was over was the one made by Gilles Merrit at the beginning of the conference: “there is more talk than walk in Brussels in the security and defence sector”.
You can find more details on the event here