Closer military co-operation required if Europe is to remain a force in the world
Opinion: Terrorism, cyber threats and piracy cannot be countered without modern technology
Irish troops on patrol with Kfor, the peace enforcing mission in Kosovo. Photograph: Peter Murtagh
Off the coast of Somalia, men and women from across Europe are proving the old adage that no news can be good news. Stories of piracy used to make front pages around the world. Today they don’t. That is because attacks over the past year have dropped by 95 per cent.
This is no accident. National frigates are working together under the EU’s Operation Atalanta to protect the shipping lanes needed for so much of Europe’s trade with the rest of the world, and for vital food aid to Somalia. We are also tackling the underlying problems, not just the symptoms. The EU is training the Somalian army, supporting the rebuilding of its shattered institutions and providing development aid to lay the foundations for long-term prosperity.
Somalia provides an example of a wider truth. An effective and coherent security and defence policy is a necessity and not a luxury for Europe. Possessing the capacities for crisis prevention and peacekeeping are vital if we are to build a more peaceful world order.
Of course, Nato has been the linchpin of Europe’s security for 60 years. But times are changing. Earlier this year the last American battle tank left our continent. It is necessary, as well as right, for Europe to do more. That is why, since 2003, the European Union has successfully kept peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, trained policemen in the Palestinian region and Afghanistan, as well as fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean.
We must now go further. If Europe is to remain a global player in the 21st century, Europeans will need to co-operate even more closely. The rationale for a stronger European defence policy is threefold: political, ensuring that the EU can live up to its global ambitions; operational, giving Europe the capacity to act on the ground; and economic, securing jobs and driving innovation in times of austerity.
Even if Europe has been at peace since the second World War, war and conflict are never far away. Whether it is the civil war in Syria or cyber attacks targeting our airports or energy grids, we face clear threats. Poverty and social and ethnic tensions are important drivers of conflict.
Diplomacy and dialogue
This is why we need a comprehensive approach to foreign policy, employing a broad spectrum of tools the EU has at its disposal. It combines our civilian and military missions with diplomacy and dialogue as well as development policy to address the symptoms and causes of conflict, as in Somalia.
Terrorism, cyber threats and piracy cannot be countered without modern technology and highly professional and well-equipped forces. Closer co-operation on defence will ensure Europe can act rapidly. When European fighter jets flew over Libya in 2011, US airtankers had to refuel them in 80 per cent of cases. We know which capabilities Europe lacks and we need to invest to develop them.