Time for Ireland and the EU to get serious about defence and security challenges
US and European interests will not always be identical
Nato general secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a defence ministers’ meeting in February. The US share of Nato spending has risen from 63 per cent in 2001 to 77 per cent today. Photograph: Getty Images)
Next December, the European Union will have a special summit meeting devoted to defence matters. This is an important event because European countries have substantial mutual values and interests to defend, militarily and otherwise.
Europeans want to prevent genocide anywhere in the world. We remember what happened in Rwanda when the international community could not, or would not, act.
But we have more selfish interests too. Europeans import 50 per cent of our energy, often from unstable parts of the world. We live by trade, so we need to keep vital trade routes open. We want to avoid huge uncontrolled flows of refugees into Europe from conflicts in our vicinity.
As a continent with 20 per cent of the world income, but only 7 per cent of its population, we want to uphold international law.
Most EU member states are members of Nato, which as a military alliance has the capacity to deal with such questions. Some, like Ireland, maintain a policy of military neutrality. Nato is heavily, and perhaps unhealthily, dependent on the military strength and will of the United States. The US share of Nato spending has risen from 63 per cent in 2001 to 77 per cent today.
US and European interests will not always be identical. The US will soon be self-sufficient in energy, the EU is unlikely to be so in the foreseeable future. EU and US attitudes to international law are not always identical – for example on Guantánamo and drones.
Although the US pays the bulk of Nato’s bills, EU nations spend a great deal on defence. In fact they spend €200 billion a year, more than the defence spending of Russia, China and Japan combined.
But is EU defence spending as cost effective as that of, say, China?
There is a lot of duplication in EU states’ defence expenditure, which is difficult to afford or justify when other forms of spending are being cut back. EU states have 23 different types of armoured vehicle, four types of tank, and seven types of helicopter, which would make it more difficult for them to synchronise operations or pool spare parts, if they did have to fight together in mutual defence, whether in a Nato context or otherwise.
The European Union has an agreed security strategy. It was prepared for it by Javier Solana in 2003. It said that, for the EU, the “first line of defence will often be abroad”.
But EU states lack the capacity to transport troops and equipment long distances, and have to rely on the Americans for this. This means that the EU is not the master of its own defence policy. At critical moments, the US is.