Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

The Civilian and Military Nexus – Thoughts on EDA and the Transformation of Defense

by Raluca Csernatoni



What are the implications of hard capability build-up in the field of defense when related to the European Union’s (EU) defense integration and how will the tension between the EU’s civilian dimension and the new defense and military developments fringe upon the EU as a body politic? The civilian and military nexus and its relation to a European defense capability build-up as reflected by the practical steps accomplished by the European Defense Agency (EDA) could shed further light on the nature of the EU’s military capability development, the EU’s security projection abroad and the different technologies of defense it employs in its external civilian and military relations.

The growing importance of civilian R&D and the success of civilian technology production within the EU are mainly due to the major increase in private-funding and civilian spending of large private companies  (for example in the fields of electronics, IT, biotech…) with budgets rivalling those of the smaller EU Member States. Moreover, the unmistakable move from the military R&D to the civilian industry at the EU level is also accounted for by the blurring lines of traditional military and national technology cultures, as well as a general change in civilian and military relations.

By analyzing the relationship between the military/defense dimension and the civilian dimension as proposed and conceptualized mainly within the framework of EDA, the goal is to problematize: the incorporation of civilian technologies and techniques in the military/defenses dimension; the demotion of the military dimension from the principal instrument of warring to the level of one among other instruments of peace-making; and last but not the least the appropriation of the human security ethical discourse as a legitimizing element for both internal defense development and external military projection with the Common Security and Defense Policy  (CSDP) Missions.

Indeed, one cannot deny the EU’s progressive take on matters of security and defense, but one must be aware of alternative readings of the civilian/military relation and how it is further reflected in the programmatic documents responsible with forging the future “vision” of the European Union defense. The European defense transformation could be better understood as two-dimensional expansive moves: from a traditional understanding of defense to its conflation under the larger umbrella of the security concept and through appropriating civilian technologies and practices under the remit of strategic imperatives and security priorities.

While the first expansive move could be extensively attribute to the changing role of military forces after the Cold War and the demise of the internal/external dimensions of national security  and defense, the second one is more problematic and often it is taken for granted. The relegation of the civilian technologies and practices under military imperatives is found unproblematic as civilian R&D is uncritically looped under the dimension of defense and re-read in the grammar of security and defense strategies. Conversely, the defense sector becomes yet another civilian player on the international market, competing not only for human capital but also for resources (technology, intelligence, economic capital, and a research edge).

By privatizing the defense sector and by putting it under the umbrella of the European Union’s liberalized market, the defense sector becomes a private player in the market, functioning under the logic of globalizing and regionalizing economic forces. A political economy viewpoint could further shed light on the EU defense transformation, the process of creating and renewing its defense capabilities also including political economic imperatives such as the scope, power and size of the EU Member States’ defense industries, regional and global defense market structures, and political and social interests related to the occupation of workforce, market shares, performance implications, as well as ideological and cultural implications.

The process of appropriation, fusion and diffusion of practices and technologies between the civilian and military dimensions is problematic from several points of view. This conceptualization of European defense in line with the EU’s programmatic documents such as the Long-Term Vision[i] (LTV) issued by EDA expose defense appropriation practices motivated by economic interests. Such documents are plagued with framing instances, where the civilian dimension and the ethical discourse of human security are being translated into the language of security and defense imperatives. As well, the asymmetry of power will not only be applied to the opponents’ military capabilities and tactics but also to their aims and values, thus leading to a war of principles on top of military technology superiority.

The defense development will also need to draw from the broadening flood of civilian technological progress, thus reversing the traditional logic of an outflow from military technological innovation into the civilian realm. Such spill-overs, spin-offs or spin-ins in the realm of civilian technological Research & Development (R&D) will allegedly contribute to the creation of cutting-edge and competitive EU defense technologies on the international market. This was made particularly clear by the decisions from 19-20 December 2013 European Council[ii] meeting on defense priorities for the European Union. This moment denoted that there was a vital change in the strategic vision of the EU Member States that encouraged them to upgrade the European defense program through the improvement of “smart” weaponry, the development of dual-use technologies, and the creation of a competitive European defense industry and market.



However, technology could be construed as an object in itself, neither civilian nor military, but dependent upon specific socio-economic and political realities that engender its potential dual-use. The end of the Cold War brought about such realities and triggered reforms and restructuring processes of technological policies by reorienting the former military industrial military complex and by redefining the problematic relations between defense-related R&D spending and civilian technological development. Most of the Western EU Member States reoriented their national defense R&D expenditure towards non-defense technological investments, while at the same time giving greater importance to dual-use technologies. The underlying goal is meant to create a shared military and civilian R&D contribution and a common technological “pool” from which both realms can draw[iii].

The concept of technology has a highly contested meaning and implies a general lack of consensus concerning its definition. This could range from a more narrow, materialist and practice-oriented understanding of strictly speaking technological products to a more substantive conceptualization including the social relations/context, knowledge and modes of production responsible with the creation of such technological artifacts. The concept of dual-use as applied to technology brings about further complexities: the potentiality for duality seen in terms of reconverting certain existing technologies; the dualism understood as different stages in the life-cycle of technological production; different types of R&D programs, due to civilian or military funding sources; and different production and strategic objectives, triggered by economic-driven imperatives or security concerns.

The main selling point put forward by EDA is that such cross-fertilizations between civilian and military R&D are economically profitable and that the military and the defense sectors can become a stimulating force to the civilian industry and market, for instance by employing labor force or by just prompting technological spin-offs in the civilian dimension. There is a widespread view among Member States that increased investment in defense industries might provide the required economic boost to help alleviate the economic crisis in Europe, with the EU defense sector worth €96 billion, and providing 1.5 million jobs[iv].

The traditional nexus between economic growth and military expenditure[v] remains nevertheless problematic. In EDA’s vision regarding the future of capability development plans it appears that the defense sector intends to capitalize on advancements in civilian technology and research. Accordingly, defense “will need to contend with public finances under pressure from a growing pension burden; a shrinking recruitment pool; and societies increasingly cautious about interventionary operations, concerned with issues of legitimacy in the use of force, and inclined to favor “security” over “defense” spending”[vi].

A hybrid civilian-military industrial base could be the much needed solution for the current economic crisis and the EU’s “capabilities-development gap” as regards security and defense, but there are still risks attached to dual-use research, such as differing strategic goals for product design and profit. There still remains the problem of siphoning off an increased segment of civilian technical resources and skills to military applications, as well as establishing general standards and patterns of technology transfer from civilian to military applications or vice-versa. Not to mention the fact that the diversion process is not as straight-forward as it may seem, due to the high level of secrecy requirements intrinsic to the military and defense realm and the sometimes classified nature of military technological development. The basic strategic principles, the nature of the demand, the commercialization patterns, the technological preferences, and the performance requirements[vii] differ extensively in the case of civilian and military R&D.

The imagination can run wild with the above implications: the “war machine” captures (Deleuze & Guattari) the civilian realm and fundamentally changes its nature with its power of appropriation. In the end, one should be wary of transferring the vocabulary and strategic imperative of the military world into the civilian dimension. Such a process, as it is reflected by the documents issued by EDA, suggests a reintegration of the military dimension with the socio-economical dimension that gives birth to new patterns of governance, new civilian-military relations, and last but not the least leading to a merging of strategic goals as regards defense research and development. While the democratic civilian control of the armed forces is important and necessary to control the military dimension, the recent engagement within the EU of the defense sector with society at large and its economic role as a player on the market add an additional element in the governance of defense.

Keeping defense out of politics has always secured a primacy of the civilian realm, but by reintegrating the defense sector and by re-branding it as “civilized” and in the of language of peace-making does not necessarily guarantee civilian supremacy and oversight (Forester, Janowitz, Huntington, Fevear, Finer). Since the conception of the modern state, the defense dimension, including the defense industry, have been considered to be the fundamental element of the nation states’ sovereignty and monopoly on violence (Weber), being endorsed and subsidized by national governments for national strategic interests. Nevertheless, the defense sector is now subjected to globalization processes[viii] that are triggering the emergence of European and transnational defense markets and structures, which are at the same time weakening the so called national monopoly over defense industries.

In line with the above economic trends, the European Union states and defense firms have been gradually cooperating in the defense sector. Conversely, it remains to be seen how the defense industries in the EU will be able to work around some of the national limitations on the export of certain secret defense products and technologies and mitigate the encounter of political barriers and civilian oversights. National states in the EU will want to make sure that the Europeanization of defense industries will not jeopardize their national sovereignty and security. From this point of view, EDA’s role in streamlining a common defense European Union agenda is paramount, being “a step forwards on the way towards a common armaments policy [and] also a measure to protect the status quo, an expression of stagnation”[ix].

Indeed, greater defense capability integration is difficult because of national sovereignty and the limitation of economic resources, but there are undeniable opportunities derived from a hybrid civilian-military industrial base. The goal would be the production of more dual-use capabilities for lower costs and a broader applicability. This is all truer because of the development of “smart” weaponry, which will need a significant input of resources, currently limited at the EU level and subjected to burgeoning demands from other areas and sectors. An agenda to generate new capabilities through greater integration on a supranational level and the hybridization of civilian-military R&D could be one way to go, without however disregarding the potential implications intrinsic to such processes and the risks of civilian R&D exploitation.

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[i]The Long Term Vision (EDA),




[v] C. Kollias, N. Mylonidis and S. Paleologou, “A Panel Data Analysis of the Nexus Between Defence Spending and Growth in the European Union,” Defence and Peace Economics 18, no.1 (February 2007): 75-76.



[viii] K. Hayward, “The Globalization of Defence Industries,” Survival 42, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 115-116.

[ix] M. Trybus, “The New European Defence Agency: A Contribution to a Common Security and Defense Policy and a Challenge to the Community Acquis”, Common Market Law Review, 43(3), 2006, 698.


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