Europe takes the first steps toward defending itself

Europe takes the first steps toward defending itself

Europe takes the first steps toward defending itself
Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a city park in Kyiv, Ukraine. (AP/File)
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Britain was arming Ukrainian forces, notably with NLAW anti-tank missile systems, before most European countries decided to do the same. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted since January on keeping to Britain’s longstanding training and equipment programs with Ukrainian forces.

When this airlift began, Britain had to fly around German airspace because bureaucratic hurdles in Berlin meant that permission to overfly would have not arrived before the Russian invasion began. Germany once promised to send 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine, and they took weeks to arrive. Now it sends air-defenseweapons that are delivered within days.

Britain and the EU, engaged in protracted argument and negotiation for the past six years over Brexit, are approaching agreement and a common front. Other affiliations have overridden regional disputes and placed ordinary diplomacy on hold. Although Britain is no longer a member of the EU, it has come together with fellow NATO members to defend the peace in Europe that the alliance was created to protect.

The “quietist” policy of previous European leaders is over. The foreign policy of Angela Merkel, which was considered mercenary, insubstantial and counterproductive in parts of the Anglophone world even while she was in office, has been almost entirely repudiated by her successors.

But the current cooperation alone is not enough. Rearming Europe will require bigger armies, with more soldiers, more armor, and expanded logistics corps. Each country must look to its vestigial militaries and begin major expansions in manpower and resources.

As Europe develops its new security architecture, it has friends and allies willing to help.

With Germany’s deep pockets and UK’s military and intelligence expertise, a new security architecture can be developed — one in which Europe has the ability and will to handle its own defense.

The concept of a “European Army” had been discussed by various national leaders for two decades, but until the Russian invasion in February there had never been a compelling case for a centralized body made up of the component parts that existed in the EU. Tenacious Ukrainian resistance has given a shot in the arm to the free world. It has prompted both increased seriousness and increased optimism.

Rearming Europe will require bigger armies, with more soldiers, more armor, and expanded logistics corps.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim

The UK is the leading military and intelligence power in Europe. France and Britain are the only democratic European powers with the ability to conduct independent military operations abroad. The successes and failures of each of these countries will provide ample lessons as Europe takes its first steps towardrearmament.

Britain was a voice urging deterrence of and disentanglement from Russia long before Germany saw the justice of that argument. Together the two countries could come together to form a unified approach in the interests of both — and the interests of Europe as a whole.

The EU has already made missteps; the declaration by Josep Borrell, the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, that EU member states would supply fighter jets to Ukraine, was significantly premature. With the help of Britain and the US, EU countries could learn lessons in both diplomacy and fighting.

Europe has always been reliant on the US for defense. But it seems possible, if Britain, Germany and France developed a new security partnership, perhaps even a joint security council, taking in all of democratic Europe, that these countries might well manage their own defense. A security council, as conjectured in 2019, could speed up and intensify the formation of pan-European foreign policy.

This council could overcome the inertia of individual states and allow each to participate in the formation of collective policy decisions to which all national governments would willingly commit. On its own, this could not give European states more military options. But combined with rearmament and a newly urgent sense of common defense, it could provide the executive supervision and leadership of a strong, more active European security policy.

If any new structure were supplemented by individual deals between two or more countries, in which European states shared resources and expertise, as Britain, Poland and Ukraine started to do in February, Europe could be closer integrated on the question of security than it has ever been — and in a remarkably short time. These deals could be nimbler and more targeted than any plan for a European army could ever be. Sovereign countries remain unwilling to pass decisions to a distinct supernational chain of command. Alongside existing NATO infrastructure, closer ties between individual European nations could lead to better working relationships between these militaries, sharing training, expertise and materiel.

Europe is a wealthy continent. If all its nations met their NATO commitments to spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defense — and if these numbers were not fudged and inflated, as they have tended to be while the size of armies has actually fallen — then the European powers could rapidly provide for their own defense.

• Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington DC and Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute US Army War College. Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim

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