In an interview to be published in the next issue of Politique Internationale, Jean Claude Juncker, the newly elected president of the European Commission, admits that he “does not really like the armament industry”, regretting at the same time that “it is necessary to rely on military research to make the other sectors progress”. Such a statement, especially coming from the President of the European Commission, is important. Without being a complete denial of the importance the defence industry, this position echoes a growing but mistaken belief in the obsolescence of military force… This article, on the contrary, aims at showing the strategic importance of retaining a strong military-industrial complex in Europe.
Difficult times for the defence industry
Jean Claude Juncker’s declaration comes in an already difficult context for the European armament industry which suffers directly from various cuts in national defence budgets. In France, the harsh “loi de programmation militaire 2014-2019” (which sets defence spending over the given period) will probably not be respected as the treasury department in Bercy is likely to demand complementary savings estimated around €3-6 billion between 2015 and 2017. Such budgetary variations in a situation which is already close to the breaking point can only lead to program spreading, procurements reductions and a weakening of long term investments, which will irremediably have a negative impact on the health of the defence sector’s industry. The French case is far from being isolated in Europe as most European States – except those who have reacted to recent Russian actions – keep reducing their already limited defence budgets. Yet, the development and sustainment of a strong defence industrial base remains a major asset for any actor wishing to have an influence on its international environment.
A crucial industry in Europe
The European defence industry shall not be ignored given its importance for the European economy. In 2012 European aerospace and defence industries achieved a turnover of 186.8 billion euros (an increase of 9% compared to 2011) and employed over 750 000 people. Far from being only “death dealers”, aerospace companies achieved 43% of their turnover in civil activities. Besides, the European defence industrial and technological basis gathers a wide pool of highly-skilled hardly transferable employees, 45% of them having a master’s degree, and nearly 70% having at least an undergraduate level.
Military considerations and strategic autonomy
There are plenty of actors wishing to see Europe play a greater role in the world and affirm itself as a independent power capable of defending its values and interests (actually, this is point number 9 in JC Juncker’s program). The possession of a strong defence industry contributes directly to this objective by giving Europe and the states that compose it the military means to act in their environment and shape it. Numerous recent events including France’s operations in Mali or the Ukrainian crisis have reminded those who tended to forget it that armed force still remains an essential tool of states’ external action. Of course, some will argue that it would be easy just to buy our military equipments from other suppliers such as the United States, but this option is not compatible with the concept of strategic autonomy. Indeed, how could we not be worried by another actor’s potential capacity to impose programmatic choices on us, to limit our armaments supply or to stick our aircrafts on the ground if our decisions clash with his interests? Surely, a great power cannot accept such limits on its freedom of action.
Civilian applications of military technology
As Jean Claude Juncker recognised it himself in his interview with Politique Internationale, the civilian applications of military research are another argument in favour of the defence industry. Without going too much into details about this consensual idea, we can cite the internet as an initially military invention that has had civilian applications that everybody can see every day. This is even more important as military research concerns essentially cutting-edge technologies which are a source of exports and growth (two things that Europe seeks avidly in this globalised world). At a time when our industries are increasingly challenged by those of other actors, cutting-edge technologies (such as those of the aerospace sector) remain a competence niche that is and should be used by Europe. As a matter of fact, it is interesting to note that France, although it has desindustrialised entire sectors of its economy, remains competitive in those industrial sectors that are directly linked to the development and exercice of the nuclear deterrence mission (aircrafts, missiles, rockets, nuclear…). Here again, the development of a strong defence industry appears as an important asset for an actor who wishes to be a great power.
Forging European solidarity
The European defence industry appears as an effective vector for cooperation and identity. While we often refer to the need to foster the emergence of a European solidarity and identity, the armament sector offers possibilities that should not be ignored. For exemple, the emergence of EADS in 2000, born from the merging of Daimler Chrysler, Aerospace AG, Aerospatiale-Matra and Construcciones Aeronauticas SA, was a direct answer to the association between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, and was strongly encouraged by the United Kingdom, France and Germany. This spirit of collaboration still lives nowadays in many prosperous European projects such as Arianespace or MDBA within which many European states cooperate, thus furthering the Europeanization of this sector. Despite some rival projects amongst Europeans (ex: generation 4,5 fighters: Rafale, Eurofighter, Gripen), several tools and mechanisms such as the European Defence Agency already exist in order to increase cooperation between Europeans. However, these mechanisms are not used at their full potential today which reduces their efficiency.
Confronting statements that are too often tainted with a certain pacifist moralism, this quick demonstration has reminded us of the importance of the defence industry for Europe and its states in today’s world. While Europe has developed an idealistic but mistaken perception of the international system because of the relative peace that it experienced since the end of the Cold War, the concerning evolution of the world should rather encourage us not to lower our guard.
Leonard Tapié is Master’s student at Sciences Po Strasbourg (International relations and integration processes). Nicolas Giacometti holds a Masters in Strategic Studies from Aberystwyth University and a Masters in European External Security from Sciences Po Strasbourg. The views expressed here are their own.
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