European Defence Capabilities: lessons from the past, signposts for the future - European Union Committee Contents

Chapter 4: The changing economic and security situation

America's "wake up" call to Europe

102.  Recent speeches by leading members of the US Administration, including the President, have sent clear signals that a significant development is underway in its defence thinking. On 5 January 2012, President Obama stated that the US would be strengthening its presence in the Asia Pacific region, and that budget reductions would not come at the expense of "that critical region", though the US would continue to invest in its "critical partnerships and alliances, including NATO". Secretary of State Clinton, at an APEC[176] meeting in Hawaii on 10 November 2011, stated that: "The 21st century will be America's Pacific century, a period of unprecedented outreach and partnership in this dynamic, complex, and consequential region."[177]

103.  In an earlier speech on 10 June 2011, the outgoing Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, issued a stark criticism of the European military performance, particularly in Libya. The US had had to make up deficiencies in many fields. Many NATO allies were not pulling their weight in collective defence, and their resources were not being allocated wisely or strategically.[178] This speech was quoted to us by witnesses, including the NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Policy and Planning, Major General Brauss who told us that many Ambassadors in NATO considered this to be a "wake-up call." The US Ambassador had told his European colleagues that they could no longer rely on the US which might not always be available if needed. Europeans should in future deliver key strategic capabilities better than in the past.[179] The US provided 73% of NATO's expenditure on defence, and the gap with European expenditure was widening.[180]

104.  We asked three American witnesses[181] to give their views on US policy and perceptions. All confirmed the public message from the US Administration, namely that a combination of budget cuts, necessitated by the economic crisis, and the shift of focus to Asia had caused the US to reassess its strategic priorities. Ambassador Nicholas Burns told us that the most important strategic challenge faced by the US would be coping with the rise of China, whilst maintaining American military pre-eminence in Asia through its alliance system in the region. The US was concerned about Chinese activities in the South China Sea, the rapid build-up of the Chinese military, and uncertainty about how China would see its own national interests in the future.[182]

105.  Ambassador Burns did not, however, believe that the US would reduce its commitment to NATO under President Obama or a possible successor. He recalled that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, embodying a mutual defence commitment, had been invoked quickly after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. The US was, however, concerned about the diminishing budgets of most of its European allies, especially Germany, Italy and Spain. Ambassador Burns was particularly critical of Germany's low level of spending on defence. Germany should make a greater commitment to collective defence and the modernisation of its own military, and be more willing to deploy in difficult areas. European military capabilities, particularly those of the UK and France, were important to NATO and the US for regional and global security.[183]

106.  Xenia Dormandy, Chatham House, agreed that the US partnerships with Europe and within NATO continued to be part of America's vital national interest. However, Europe was relatively stable and had resources that it could manage itself.[184] European defence budgets were thought in the US to be insufficient, partly because of the sense that America would be there when needed. The US was trying to convey the message that "Europe has to step up". If it did not, the US might have to find alternative means to achieve its aims, perhaps with different partnerships and informal coalitions, though not new institutions.[185] Dr Dana Allin, International Institute for Strategic Studies, agreed that there would be a limited appetite in the US to commit money and potentially lives for things the Europeans could do, though he thought that the possibilities for new partnerships to replace those with European allies were limited. Secretary Gates' threat had been issued "more in sorrow than in anger," and he suspected that the US would only come to the assistance of Europe if it proved incapable of dealing with a threat.[186] Major General Brauss commented, however, that he had not seen any diminution of US interest in NATO and transatlantic security in NATO's daily business.[187]

107.  A number of European witnesses confirmed that they did not think the US would lose its interest in NATO or Europe. The Minister thought that the President's speech had not been a threat to the US membership of NATO or its commitment to Article 5. The Gates message had been clear, that European nations needed to wake up and recognise that they needed to shoulder more of the defence burden for Europe.[188] Dr Christian Moelling and Etienne de Durand agreed that the US would remain engaged in Europe but would not get involved in crisis management just because it served a European interest.[189] Professor Chalmers did not perceive a general trend towards the Americans being less prepared to fight in significant-scale operations in the European neighbourhood. They had, however, been reluctant to become involved in post-conflict peacekeeping in EU candidate states in the Balkans, which they had rightly said was not American business.[190]

108.  Dr Allin and Ms Dormandy thought that CSDP was well understood in the US, but there was scepticism about its "talk but very little action."[191] US Administration attitudes towards European defence efforts had changed from resistance to the potential challenge to NATO to a pragmatic acceptance, but concerns remained about duplication, particularly in the area of scarce talents.[192] Etienne de Durand believed that the US did not care about theological institutional questions, but wanted Europeans, especially the UK, France and Germany, to deliver capabilities.[193] In Brussels, Robert Cooper told us that the US was subject to swings of attitude depending on its President and thought that there was no harm in having a European option which was not entirely dependent on the US, as well as a NATO option, for the unforeseeable time when the US changed its attitudes and policies.[194]

109.  It has been accepted for some time that Europe will have to take greater responsibility for its own security and defence, but with serious defence budget cuts in the United States and America's focus on the Pacific, this time the challenge is inescapable.

110.  Although the United States is giving greater focus to the Pacific, there is no equivalent integrated military alliance in the eastern hemisphere, or anywhere else globally. NATO is unique. To that degree the United States needs NATO. But Europe must not depend upon that.

Europe's budget cuts and capabilities

111.  Since the economic crisis, defence budgets in Europe have come under severe pressure. Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General, EEAS, told us that the EU had to become more efficient and "do more with less," as this pressure was combined with demand for Europe to manage crises in its immediate neighbourhood. Member States were aware that they should assume responsibility to guarantee security around their borders and external demand had grown both from partners in the south and from the US, which increasingly expected Europe to be more capable of handling crises around its borders.[195] However, we were also told (as noted above, para 61), that cuts in European defence budgets are also directly affecting the EU's missions and operations. The numbers of ships in Operation Atalanta have been reduced. In Kosovo, two or three police units have been pulled back and the Somalia training (EUTM) and Bosnian (Althea) missions lack capabilities due to the financial crisis.[196]

112.  We heard from witnesses about the dangers of cuts in European defence budgets. Etienne de Durand warned that European defence was already in a precarious position and the economic crisis would exacerbate matters. In the past decade, European defence spending had remained flat on average; Europe was the only continent where defence budgets were not increasing. By contrast, figures from SIPRI[197] showed that Chinese military investments and expenditure had increased by 189% in the equivalent period, Russian expenditure by 82%, Indian expenditure by 54%, Asia by 60%, North America by 80%. Defence expenditure in Africa had also risen. If the armed forces of the UK and France got significantly smaller, it would be difficult for them to exert influence in an international coalition or to operate on their own except in a localised way.[198] General Syrén warned that in five to seven years' time, several Member States would not be able to manage their own air forces.[199]

113.  Dr Moelling thought that because of the downturn, critical levels of capabilities were being reached. The smallest countries in Europe had cut about 25% to 30% from their budgets, the medium countries about 10% to 15% and the largest around 8%, and pressure would continue for 10-20 years. He told us that cuts were being made in an uncoordinated way for budgetary reasons. The Dutch decision to give up battle tanks had not been made on the basis of strategic rationale, and they would now have to depend on other countries' capabilities in this field.[200] Professor Menon thought it was sad that defence restructuring in the last two years had been "profoundly national"; Member States had not even informed each other in many cases about the kind of restructuring taking place. Within the EU it would make sense to talk about what Members were cutting to ensure it was complementary.[201] Dr Bastian Giegerich also told us that the lack of coordination between Member States over defence cuts could do "significant damage" to EU and NATO capabilities. Governments should ensure that they designed cuts so that whatever capability remained complemented that of EU and NATO partners.[202]

114.  Etienne de Durand also warned that, once a capability had been lost completely, it was difficult, costly and time-consuming to reconstitute it from scratch.[203] This point was echoed by Xenia Dormandy, who stressed the need for the UK and France to retain a base level of capability. Capabilities should not be cut so far that in 10 years' time they could not be reinvigorated. The case was different for smaller countries, such as the Dutch and the Danes who could not retain a full spectrum of capabilities. However, the Danes were recognised as having much more "bang for the buck" than many other countries.[204] Etienne de Durand pointed out that there was a trade-off between quantity of structure and quality of technology. France had financed the modernisation of its forces by reducing force numbers.[205]

115.  EU Member States must not cut their defence budgets without discussion with partners or regard for the joint tasks which they may be called on to undertake. They should take care not to cut important capabilities which lead to essential knowledge being lost and where the capability cannot easily be reconstituted.

Libya—lessons learned

116.  The NATO operation over Libya was significant for the EU in a number of respects. Firstly, it involved a country affected by instability close to the EU's borders. Secondly, the US was not interested in leading the operation. Thirdly, the UK and France assumed a leadership role. Fourthly, a number of small states with limited resources, such as Denmark and Belgium, played a significant role while some larger states, such as Germany, took a back seat. Finally, it revealed the gaps in the capabilities of the Member States of the EU.

117.  Madame Arnould told us that, although this had been a NATO operation, it had emphasised shortfalls in the EU's capabilities: Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR), air-to-air refuelling, smart munitions and strategic and tactical transport and medical support. These were all capabilities which the EDA could help Member States to develop by bringing standardisation, common certification, a common concept of employment, which all contributed to interoperability on the ground, and working on the way that Communication and Information Systems were used.[206] Major General Brauss and Xenia Dormandy also identified a shortage of planners available from EU Member States which had become apparent during the Libya campaign, and which had been a problem which needed American assistance.[207]

118.  Sir Peter Ricketts said that all the European countries participating in the campaign except the UK had run short of munitions quite quickly and did not have the stocks of modern missiles and precision-guided weapons they needed. It was no good having fast jet fighters if there were no weapons to drop, which served as a lesson on the importance of sustainable capacity to run military operations.[208] Alison Stevenson commented that another lesson from Libya had been the importance of interoperability, which tended to be overlooked. However, the UK had the ability to be interoperable "firmly in our sights."[209] Pierre Vimont acknowledged that it would be impossible for the EU to repeat the Libya operation if it had to rely entirely on its own military resources. On the other hand, much of the NATO work in the field of maritime surveillance had been done with navy vessels from European Member States.[210]

119.  General Syrén told us that a "lessons-learnt" process from the Libyan operation was underway in the EU.[211] One of the key issues was the EU's conduct and planning capacity. In Libya the EU military contribution had been "extremely limited." Much of the operation was in the air and the NATO command and control structure had been appropriate.[212] Nick Pickard thought that Libya demonstrated that Europe was capable, within certain limits, of undertaking serious military operations effectively and taking the lead. A number of smaller countries had shown that they were serious defence players, including countries outside NATO. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium had played significant roles.[213] Professor Chalmers thought that military action would have been possible without American participation, but its nature would have been different, with more problems avoiding collateral damage because of a lack of targeteers and reconnaissance, and of the appropriate munitions.[214]

120.  We asked our witnesses if they saw the Libya operation as a model for the future conduct of operations. Most thought not, as it had been a largely air campaign with some naval involvement and no army role. UN backing would be unlikely to be repeated as some countries believed that they had been deceived over the nature of the operation.[215] Sir Peter Ricketts and Professor Menon said one should not generalise from the Libya campaign as it had involved an exceptional set of circumstances.[216] Ambassador Burns did not believe that the Libyan operation should be a template for the future and disliked the fact that the US had not taken the lead.[217] Dr Allin did not see it necessarily as an overall model, but it was a model for the way in which the US exercised leadership, which was not always at the front.[218]

121.  European nations should work with the US to fill the capability gaps identified through the Libya operation so that there are sufficient capabilities to be used within a NATO or EU context.

Cyber security

122.  Of increasing concern is the threat of cyber attacks, dozens of which are reported to have targeted the computer systems of government agencies and companies, including defence contractors.[219] According to Rear Admiral Rees Ward, the threat ranges from "the happy hacker who is professionally intrigued about hacking into the Pentagon systems" to state actors.[220] As Lieutenant General van Osch pointed out, cyber defence is an area in which all countries need to be involved, for "if there is one weak spot, we all have a weak spot".[221]

123.  Some witnesses felt that the EU collectively had not yet done enough in this area. Alvin Wilby said that although all countries were thinking about their cyber strategies, there was not yet a coordinated effort; cyber security was "very much run on Member State lines at the moment".[222] Furthermore, in his view, Member States' individual strategies were "relatively immature".[223] Rear Admiral Ward argued that Member States had differing levels of professionalism, depending on their level of threat awareness.[224] Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary-General, EEAS, acknowledged that the EU could develop its role. He explained that the EEAS was considering how it could contribute to a wider EU process of setting standards in cyber space.[225]

124.  The UK was generally perceived by witnesses to be at the forefront of cyber defence. Maciej Popowski thanked the UK for its lead, for example in organising a conference on cyber security.[226] Alvin Wilby described the UK as "leading the charge in many ways", and Major General Brauss of NATO saw the new contract between the UK and France as a role model for developing the capabilities to tackle emerging challenges, such as cyber defence.[227] It was at the request of the MOD that cyber defence was included as one of the top ten capabilities to be addressed by the EDA's Material Standardisation Group with respect to standardisation management in support of interoperability.[228] Witnesses from the defence industry complimented the UK government for drawing up a cyber strategy and working with partners in the defence industry, although they stressed that there was no room for complacency about the threat.[229]

125.  The nature of warfare and conflict is changing. Cyber attacks are already a feature of both industrial and security sectors. The EU and NATO must work together to minimise this fast growing threat.

176   Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Back

177 Back

178 Back

179   Q 238 Back

180   Q 239, also Burns Q 276 Back

181   Ambassador Nicholas Burns, Dr Dana Allin, Ms Xenia Dormandy Back

182   QQ 267, 283, also Dormandy Q 72 Back

183   QQ 267, 272, 273, 275, 281 Back

184   Q 72 Back

185   QQ 73, 75, see also Allin Q 75 and de Durand Q 294 Back

186   QQ 74 - 76 Back

187   Q 240 Back

188   Q346 Back

189   Q 294 Back

190   Q 100 Back

191   Q 77, see also Arnould Q 216 Back

192   Allin Q 78,  Back

193   Q 294 Back

194   QQ 117, 130 Back

195   QQ 246, 247 Back

196   Stevens QQ 133, 135, 137 Back

197   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Back

198   Q 296 Back

199   Q 167 Back

200   QQ 296 - 298 Back

201   Q 110 Back

202   Giegerich Back

203   De Durand Back

204   Q 79 Back

205   Q 296 Back

206   QQ 204, 215, also Ricketts QQ 13, 29, Dormandy Q 79, Chalmers Q 98, Syrén Q 168, Brauss Q 235, Burns Q 274 Back

207   QQ 86, 241 Back

208   QQ 19, 28 Back

209   Q 47 Back

210   QQ 191, 192, also Brauss Back

211   Q 168 Back

212   Q 171 Back

213   QQ 62, 69, see also Chalmers Q 100 Back

214   Q 100 Back

215   Vimont Q 193 Back

216   QQ 26, 100 Back

217   Q 288 Back

218   Q 89 Back

219   Carola Hoyos, "New front opens up in the battle against cyber attacks", Financial Times, 12 March 2012 Back

220   Ward, Q 340 Back

221   Van Osch, Q232 Back

222   Wilby, Q338 Back

223   Ibid. Back

224   Ward, Q 341 Back

225   Popowski, Q 265 Back

226   Ibid.  Back

227   Wilby, Q 338; Brauss, Q235 Back

228   MOD, Further supplementary written evidence Back

229   Wilby, Q 338; Burridge, Q 339; Ward Q 339. Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012