Sam Seitz

The peace dividend is now spent, and Europe faces a brave new world. From an increasingly aggressive Russia to continued Middle East instability to a mercurial American president, European security can no longer be taken for granted. The Continent’s dilapidated and under-resourced militaries have only exacerbated these challenges, and they have therefore increasingly become the focus of bureaucrats and politicians within the E.U. and its constituent member states. Two competing views on the future of European defense cooperation have emerged. One perspective, held most prominently by European leaders, contends that this is a unique moment for Europe that will catalyze greater defense collaboration and integration, permitting European strategic autonomy.[1] The other vision is more skeptical, arguing that Europe’s relative weakness and lack of political will are likely to result in continued European dependence upon the United States.[2] This paper argues that defense industry protectionism along national lines, a dearth of intra-E.U. defense cooperation, and weak government support for military modernization continue to hamstring efforts at creating a strategically autonomous Europe. Thus, despite the difficult geopolitical environment in which Europe currently finds itself, it seems more likely that Europe will continue to stumble along as a military Lilliputian than emerge as a powerful and capable force.

While significant ink has been spilled on this topic both within academic journals and mainstream publications, very few studies have undertaken comprehensive examinations of European defense cooperation. Instead, academics and journalists tend to take one of two approaches. The first is to look solely at macro indicators, like defense spending as a percentage of GDP or military end strength, without contextualizing them. This approach is problematic in that it fails to recognize international defense cooperation. If European countries are pooling resources and effectively burden-sharing, for example, their low defense budgets might simply reflect particularly efficient procurement and sustainment strategies. The second approach is to engage in a deep dive of one particular program or national military and extrapolate broader lessons from that study. This approach can provide useful nuance and detail to the macro indicators so frequently used by scholars, but alone it provides little information about the broader capacity of European armed forces. By taking three different metrics that capture both macro-level indicators and levels of inter-country collaboration, this paper aims to overcome these problems, offering a more comprehensive understanding of European military capacity and thus better adjudicating between the competing hypotheses presented in the previous paragraph.

The paper is divided into four sections. The first section examines the impact of austerity policies on European military capacity in order to establish a baseline from which to draw conclusions about present trends. Setting the baseline during the period of austerity is also useful because this period generally corresponds to an increase in Russian saber rattling and the beginning of the so-called “Asia Pivot.” Thus, there were several strategic incentives for greater intra-European defense cooperation – domestic budgetary pressures, external threats, and the risk of U.S. disengagement from the region – making this a tough test for my argument. The next section presents aggregate indicators of military capacity between 2008 and 2018 in an effort to provide a top-level look at how European militaries have evolved since the 2008 financial crisis. The third section examines trends in collaborative European defense projects, focusing specifically on joint R&D and procurement programs. By focusing on intra-European defense cooperation, this section seeks to determine the degree to which European countries are cooperating in their pursuit of strategic autonomy. Finally, section four looks at an even more comprehensive form of cooperation: the level of force integration among European countries.

Defense on a Budget: European Forces under Austerity

To capture the impact of austerity on European defense spending, I have collected data from the European Defence Agency (EDA), which gathers and collates information on European defense trends. Although several organizations produce excellent data on regional and global defense spending trends, EDA data are the most useful for the research question addressed in this paper because they include only information on EDA member states. The EDA is comprised exclusively of E.U. members (including the U.K.), thus helping to distinguish “European” defense cooperation from NATO cooperation. Additionally, the EDA notably does not include among its members states like Russia and Belarus that are completely unaligned with, and often antagonistic toward, the E.U. and NATO.

The EDA data show a noticeable decline in European defense spending between 2008 and 2013, the nadir of the economic crisis in Europe. Among all EDA members, defense spending dropped 13% from 227 to 197.2 billion EUR (at 2018 rates). An examination of the data on European defense spending as a percentage of GDP reveals similar results, with an average decline from 1.64 to 1.45 percent of GDP allocated toward defense. That defense spending declined by a greater percent than GDP suggests that budget declines were not simply a product of anemic economic growth but were instead the result of deliberate cost-cutting. This is, in fact, borne out by the data, which show that European defense spending as a percentage of overall government expenditures declined from 3.5% to 2.96%.[3] This spartan budget had pronounced implications on the readiness and end strength of Europe’s most capable militaries, as an examination of the British, French, and German armed forces demonstrates.

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British defense outlays fell 7.5% in real terms as early as 2010.[4] This was further exacerbated by poor communication between the outgoing Labour government and the incoming Tories, which resulted in £38bn in unfunded defense liabilities as well as confusion over which Ministry would pay for the nuclear submarine modernization program. As a result, defense spending was reduced even further over the following years in an effort to bring these unfunded liabilities under control.[5] The consequences were pronounced, with the U.K. reducing its tank force by 40%, eliminating a full combat brigade, and converting its sole fleet carrier into a helicopter carrier with reduced capacity.[6]

France initially avoided these deep cuts because it had, quite fortuitously, completed its nuclear modernization programs before the onset of the financial crisis.[7] French leaders also endeavored to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on military capacity, reducing defense spending by only 3% and delaying modernization and procurement programs in order to maintain funding for operations.[8] Despite these efforts, the 2008 French White Paper recommended the elimination of 54,000 personnel from the French armed forces, a reduction in combat aircraft deployed abroad, and the retirement of several overseas bases.[9] And by 2012, France was forced to make large cuts to end strength and aggressively slash defense spending.

Germany’s military, among all its major European counterparts, endured the most severe funding cutbacks, as it had already reduced its capacity significantly even before the global economic crisis. While German defense spending grew modestly between 2008 and 2010, it rapidly collapsed once the European sovereign debt crisis began to grip Europe. The German government proposed €8bn in defense cuts – a 22% reduction – and cut the size of the armed forces from 241,970 to 188,634 personnel. Subsequent reductions in end strength resulted in a force of around 178,000 soldiers.[10] The number of strategic and tactical aircraft purchased by the German government also fell significantly,[11] and the navy retired its 206A SSK submarines without developing a replacement.[12]

In total, European military strength declined considerably under this period of austerity. The previous examples provide a clear picture of the damage wrought upon the major Western European militaries, but they were not the only forces to suffer. The EDA’s data on aggregate end strength and European force readiness paint a similar picture, with total European military personnel (military and civilian) dropping from 2,234,000 to 1,843,000. European militaries also saw a decline in R&D and investment in future capabilities, as countries delayed acquisition and procurement programs to sustain existing capabilities and fund combat operations. For example, real investment levels fell from EUR 46 billion to EUR 39 billion (at 2018 rates), or just over 15%, between 2008 and 2013.[13] The impact of this decline was magnified by a lack of cooperation, which greatly impeded cost sharing between countries. Indeed, only 11 of the 41 ongoing procurement projects in 2008 were collaborative, and British, French, and German defense acquisitions comprised 77% of the non-collaborative procurement projects. In other words, the countries most capable of employing their economic heft to spearhead defense cooperation were the least engaged in collaborative defense research and procurement.[14] In 2012, four years after the beginning of the financial crisis, no new joint procurement efforts had been initiated. Instead, countries cut costs by simply purchasing “off-the-shelf” designs, which decreased prices and development time but meaningfully reduced the quality of European equipment.[15]

Climbing Out of a Hole: European Forces Since 2013

European forces emerged from the depths of the economic crisis in a poor state, which became embarrassingly apparent during the 2011 intervention in Libya. Indeed, European NATO member capabilities had so atrophied that they quickly exhausted their munitions and had to take bombs and missiles directly from U.S. stockpiles. European forces also lacked basic but important capabilities, such as airborne refueling planes and remotely piloted aircraft for reconnaissance, in sufficient quantities to support combat operations.[16] Patricia Weitsmann captured the situation well when she wrote that “the Libya crisis illustrated that it was impossible [for European NATO members] to prevail even in a limited campaign against a weak opponent not far geographically from Europe in the absence of U.S. capability.”[17] To test the competing hypotheses identified above, we must first determine the degree to which Europe has rectified this capability gap. After all, European states could increase cooperation substantially, but this would mean little absent equipment and funding to pool and integrate. Increasing defense spending, capabilities, and end strength is thus a fundamental concern.

A look at these indicators reveals a fairly disappointing picture. Total defense spending in 2018 euros increased from 197.2 billion to 217.2 billion, or just over 10%, between 2013 and 2017. But even with this increase, EDA members are still spending around EUR 10 billion less than in 2008.[18] In terms of defense spending as a percentage of GDP, the numbers also remain low. 2017 defense spending among EDA members was approximately 1.43 percent of GDP. While this is a marginal improvement over the 1.4 percent of GDP allocated to European armed forces in 2013, it is still almost two tenths of a percent below pre-recession defense spending.[19] Finally, defense spending as a percentage of aggregate government expenditure – a key metric that reveals the degree to which European governments prioritize defense – has risen slowly but steadily back toward pre-recession levels. As of 2017, 3.2% of European government expenditures went toward defense.[20] While this number is certainly higher than the 2.9% spent during 2013, it remains below the 2008 benchmark by three tenths of a percent. It is also worth noting that Western Europe continues to forgo a leadership role in the realm of defense spending. While all regions of Europe are currently increasing defense outlays, Eastern European members of the E.U. are increasing expenditures at a much faster rate than their western allies.[21]

One area of clear growth is the total number of personnel employed by European armed forces. When accounting for both military and civilian employees, one finds that 2,318,000 individuals are employed by European armed forces. Of those, 1,834,000 are soldiers. This represents an increase of approximately half a million soldiers and is a larger end strength than 2008 by several tens of thousands of service members.[22] In terms of sheer manpower, then, Europe has more than recovered. However, in every other indicator one sees only slow, limited improvements since 2013, and EDA members today have still not recovered to 2008 levels.

Sharing the Burden: Measuring the Degree of European Defense Cooperation Since 2013

As the aforementioned data note, EDA members have slowly moved to reverse the decline in their defense budgets. This alone does not suggest a more “Europeanized” defense arrangement, however, as the tepid recovery in defense spending demonstrates, at most, only a sluggish effort to return to pre-2008 levels of funding, not necessarily an attempt to create a more independent European defense network. To ascertain whether European countries are working to coordinate capability acquisition and procurement in order to garner greater defense autonomy, one must measure levels of defense cooperation between EDA member states.

Unfortunately for those invested in the idea of greater European defense cooperation, there is little to suggest that research and procurement collaboration has significantly increased post-2008. As noted by then-German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, the E.U. spends 50% less than the U.S. on defense and is only 15% as efficient.[23] Elizabeth Braw provides anecdotal support for this claim when she compares the United States, which operates 27 major weapons systems, with E.U. member states, which operate 154. While this comparison is only one of many, these numbers highlight the degree of wasteful redundancy that abounds within European defense procurement.[24] This observation is echoed by the European Commission’s 2016 European Defence Action Plan, which notes that “[a]round 80% of defence procurement is run on a purely national basis, leading to a costly duplication of military capabilities. The lack of cooperation between Member States in the field of defence and security is estimated to cost annually between EUR 25 billion and EUR 100 billion.”[25]

Of course, some of these comments and statistics should be taken with a grain of salt because they are often being proffered largely for political considerations. For example, Gabriel’s comment was used to support greater defense coordination through PESCO, and the sourcing for his numbers is somewhat unclear. Moreover, it is important to point out that even large unified militaries like that of the United States have high levels of waste and inefficiency due to their sheer size and the existence of interservice rivalries. It is, therefore, necessary to dig more deeply into the data.

The first meaningful metric to consider is collaborative defense research and technology (R&T) spending. This statistic paints a quite dismal picture of European defense cooperation, as total collaborative spending summed to only 165 million EUR (at 2018 price levels) in 2017. For reference, this number stood at 465 million EUR in 2008. Indeed, between 2013 and 2017, collaborative R&T spending rose by only 23 million EUR in nominal terms. It is also helpful to measure the level of total European R&T spending in order to determine the percentage of total European R&T that is collaborative. Here, too, the numbers do not bode well for those invested in the idea of European defense autonomy: Collaborative spending in 2017 accounted for only 9% of EDA members total R&T expenditures. The numbers for collaborative procurement efforts are equally bleak. In 2017, around 6.2 billion EUR (at 2018 price levels) were spent on collaborative equipment acquisition. This represented only 16.8% of all 2017 European procurement expenditure. As a recent point of comparison, in 2008 nearly 21.2% of European procurement spending was collaborative.[26] So instead of coordinating and pooling resources in the face of tightening budgets, growing threats, and greater uncertainty from the United States, European countries have seemingly become more nationally-oriented in their approach to defense research and procurement.

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This makes little sense from a purely efficiency-maximizing perspective. Greater coordination and collaboration would yield less duplication of labor, greater economies of scale for jointly acquired equipment, a larger pool of funds from which to draw, and more effective specialization within national militaries. However, other considerations often seem to overwhelm these very laudable and sensible goals. Perhaps the primary impediment to greater coordination and collaboration is that the major European militaries seek autonomy and flexibility in their defense and foreign policy. As a result, they are wary of tying their hands through multilateral ventures. European states are also constrained by protectionist groups that seek to preserve national defense industries even if they are relatively unproductive or expensive. Bastian Giegerich and Alexander Nicoll summarized these dynamics well when they characterized post-recession European procurement:

[European countries] found it difficult to agree on precise requirements for aircraft, ships and vehicles. This, as well as cumbersome national funding processes, resulted in delays, withdrawals and programme cancellations. There was a tendency, in spite of the collaborative nature of projects, to produce what were in fact national versions of the equipment in question, considerably reducing the economies of scale that could be achieved. The principle of juste retour (fair return) also limited cost-effectiveness because it meant that work had to be allotted to each country’s industry based on the proportion of the production that its government planned to buy, rather than on the efficiency of particular companies.[27]

Despite these dismal statistics, Europe has taken one large step toward a more highly integrated defense market by activating the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) provision of the Lisbon Treaty in November of 2017. This development seems to have occurred largely in response to the shock of Brexit, with François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and Matteo Renzi jointly calling for greater defense cooperation in the wake of the British referendum.[28] Following this announcement, France and Germany published a joint paper in September of 2016 that declared their governments’ support for an inclusive PESCO designed to push participants to achieve certain guidelines and benchmarks over several years. This provided the impetus for the European Council to call upon E.U. states to increase defense cooperation, to develop capabilities for “the most demanding missions,” and to encourage E.U. countries to assist in elucidating and specifying relevant provisions and commitments.[29] By November of 2017, PESCO was fully activated, enjoying the support of all E.U. member states outside of Denmark, Malta, and the United Kingdom.[30]

PESCO has several provisions to incentivize greater defense collaboration between European countries. Specifically, it is designed as a compromise between Berlin and Paris, permitting all E.U. member states to join but, at the same time, requiring that they pledge to meet certain targets, such as spending 2% of GDP on defense and 20% of defense spending on modernization and R&D. This organization is designed to alleviate German concerns about exclusivity that would limit the ability of smaller countries to participate while still recognizing French fears that excessive leniency on standards could seriously undermine PESCO’s utility and effectiveness. The design of PESCO also attempts to overcome concerns about foreign policy autonomy by leaving project selection up to individual member states and allowing the European Council and EDA to provide only general guidance. Furthermore, all technology and equipment researched and procured through PESCO belongs exclusively to the countries that invested in it, further alleviating the concerns of national leaders wary of relinquishing their strategic autonomy to Brussels.[31] Finally, the European Commission has committed to finance up to 20% of the costs of collaborative capability projects, providing an additional 10% if the project is organized through PESCO.[32]

Given that PESCO has been in force for just over one year, it is far too early to cast judgement. As it stands, 17 PESCO projects have been announced, and the European Commission has created a €90 million fund for defense R&D in 2019.[33] These are certainly important steps that suggest that there is still interest in greater European defense cooperation. However, it is important to put these numbers into perspective by noting that collective European defense R&D is around 1.7 billion EUR and that there are currently thousands of projects being undertaken by national militaries. Thus, the vast majority of European defense efforts continue to operate on a national rather than collaborative basis. Brexit also complicates an analysis of PESCO, and it is one of the primary reasons that London decided not to join the multilateral defense acquisition project. The E.U. recently declared that Britain could participate in PESCO, but its inclusion “will require a case-by-case consideration as the implications of this general condition will be different depending on the specificities of a project.”[34] This uncertainty will undoubtedly impede deep E.U. cooperation with the post-Brexit U.K. and, therefore, limit the potential gains of cooperating with British industry and research labs. Moreover, the 17 proposed PESCO projects are vaguely worded and small-scale.[35] And while the progress of the proposed collaborative projects is not publicly available, several European diplomats have noted that only two of the seventeen proposals have advanced beyond the planning stage.[36]

PESCO is not the only avenue through which European countries can pursue collaborative ventures, as direct bilateral cooperation is also possible. However, the inclusion of bilateral projects changes little. For one, there have been only a handful of new joint-programs since 2008, and they have enjoyed little success. The most prominent example is the 6th generation fighter being jointly developed by France and Germany. The collaboration was announced with much fanfare in early 2018, but by autumn it had already lost its luster due to bickering and mutual recriminations between Paris and Berlin. The specific sticking points seem to be the same ones present pre-2008. Namely, industry groups in both countries demanded that they receive lucrative sub-contracts. In France, especially, this has caused a small crisis due to the status enjoyed by French defense firms and the protections to which they have become accustomed and, therefore, feel entitled. Matters have not been helped by Franco-German disagreement over export controls, an issue that has only been exacerbated by Saudi Arabia’s recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.[37] Bilateral defense cooperation is also hampered by antiquated and sheltered Eastern European arms industries. This issue is particularly salient in Poland, the biggest defense spender in the Visegrad Group, which has a defense industry dominated by uncompetitive state-owned firms that have never collaborated with Western European arms industries.[38]

Regardless of the metrics employed, levels of collaborative European defense research and procurement have deteriorated since the financial crisis. It is particularly noteworthy and somewhat counterintuitive that this failure to coordinate has occurred despite increased pressures from Russian aggression in Crimea and Britain’s exit from the European Union. While PESCO might begin to change this trend over time, this change is far from certain and certain to be far in the future. Simply put, there is no evidence that the E.U. feels pressured to further integrate its defense acquisition programs. There is, however, fairly substantial evidence that defense cooperation among member states is actually decreasing!

Together for Victory: Assessing Levels of Force Integration within Europe

Defense research and acquisition is not the only possible avenue for cooperation, though, as the integration of units from different militaries is also occurring, at least to a limited degree. Much as in procurement, this integration is happening at both an E.U.-wide and bilateral level, with three major initiatives currently underway. Perhaps the biggest effort at establishing an international formation is being conducted under the auspices of the European Council’s Battlegroup Program. This joint force was initially established in 2007, but it has since expanded. At present, the Battlegroup is composed of 18 regiment-sized formations (though these regiments are officially designated as battalions).[39] The current arrangement is to maintain two battalions at deployable status at any given time, with an E.U. country acting as the “lead nation” for each battalion. Despite the relatively impressive size of this force, it has seen little progress since the financial crisis. Indeed, the Council has never once deployed a Battlegroup battalion in the eleven years of the program’s existence.[40] Moreover, the Battlegroups are not entirely “European,” nor are they necessarily an example of force integration: Norway, Turkey, and Ukraine, three non-E.U. countries, contribute to the Battlegroups, and many of the larger participating countries comprise an entire battalion.[41]

The program has also proven to be highly inefficient and cumbersome, suggesting that further force integration under the auspices of the E.U. is likely to be difficult and slow. As Mattelaer and Coelmont argue, “most EU Battlegroups simply lack the fighting power for any mission that goes beyond political symbolism.”[42] Battlegroups are also limited by the types of forces countries choose to provide: Smaller countries often provide very niche units that, while useful in certain situations, do not offer much value to a general intervention force.[43] Battlegroup deployments are also hindered by the lack of a common funding stream, which forces contributing countries to fund operations through their national defense budgets. Unsurprisingly, this, coupled with the political costs of sending troops into harm’s way without a clear national interest, has resulted in extreme resistance to Battlegroup deployments.[44] The result is that the E.U.’s primary intervention force is almost completely incapable of intervening in conflicts abroad.

The other two military integration initiatives currently occurring in Europe are being executed below the E.U. level. Perhaps the most promising program is one between the United Kingdom and France. The crowning achievement of their cooperation is the establishment of a “Combined Joint Expeditionary Force,” which is scheduled to become operational in 2020 and is designed to “carry out a full range of complex and demanding expeditionary military combat operations on land, in the air and at sea; or to provide peace-keeping, disaster relief or humanitarian assistance.”[45] This force will be supplemented by a UK-France Defence Ministerial Council aimed at increasing coordination and joint-planning between both countries’ defense staffs.[46] However, given that the U.K. is set to depart the E.U. within the next few months, it is difficult to view this cooperation as part of a shift toward greater European defense autonomy.

The other major force integration initiative is being led by the German military. Known as the Framework Nations Concept (FNC), this program has allowed European countries to integrate units into the German armed forces, which sees itself as an “anchor force.” To date, 19 nations have agreed to Germany’s call for the development of large, multinational formations by 2032. However, only 7 have actually committed forces. Moreover, the FNC does not subordinate international component forces under German command, as every country that contributes units maintains the right to deploy its forces as it sees fit. Foreign units within the FNC are also not permanently stationed in Germany, limiting the degree of their possible integration.[47] One German think tank thus emphasizes that “this lack of legally binding cooperation in times of crisis should also caution against overblown expectations of efficiency gains through the FNC.”[48] As others have noted, there are also limitations to the program given the country leading it. Germany is a defense Lilliputian despite its enormous economic and political clout. Therefore, many potential partner countries are reticent to integrate their forces into German formations, as they are concerned that they might not be able to employ them to their fullest potential if they are forced to rely on Berlin for leadership. In other words, these countries are worried about making their units’ effectiveness dependent upon German forces, as they are skeptical that Berlin would actually be willing to deploy its military during a crisis. Smaller countries also fret that Germany is exploiting FNC to enhance its own defense industries by potentially restricting the kinds of equipment and capabilities that partner states can procure in favor of German designs.[49]

In short, European defense integration seems just as tepid as the other indicators examined would suggest. And while the number of international formations is not falling, there is little evidence that they are meaningfully expanding. The ones that do exist, moreover, are plagued by many of the same problems that exist in the realm of cooperative research and acquisition. Namely, countries prioritize their national interests and are obstinately opposed to giving up more autonomy than is absolutely necessary. Discordant strategic priorities and national interests fundamentally limit the degree to which common forces can effectively operate, and this is only exacerbated by mutual suspicions over partners’ true motives. Is Germany really exploiting FNC to stimulate its domestic arms industry? It is difficult to say with certainty, but it is not difficult to imagine smaller countries’ arms industries pressuring their governments to stay away from Germany’s integrated force program lest it hurt their bottom lines.


The European Union faces severe security challenges that it simply lacks the will to address. While Brussels has been able to leverage the Atlantic Alliance and the national militaries of its member states to supplement its organic military capacity, this strategy is becoming increasingly tenuous. This is particularly true given U.S. President Donald Trump’s mixed signals and lackluster support for transatlantic security cooperation. It is not surprising, therefore, that certain European leaders, including President of France Emmanuel Macron, are pushing hard for a more integrated and independent European military force. But in spite of the strategic challenges facing the European Union, and despite the soaring rhetoric of certain European leaders who call for “strategic autonomy” or an “E.U. Army,” there is little evidence that European countries have the will to undertake the sweeping and serious reforms necessary to realize these goals. Indeed, across all indicators examined in this paper, there is no evidence that a shift toward European “strategic autonomy” is in the offing.

Macro-level indicators reveal little evidence of a decisive shift toward more capable European defense forces. Aggregate defense spending among EDA states has slowly returned to levels close to those of 2008, but defense spending as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of government revenue continues to lag pre-recession levels. This suggests that the governments of E.U. member states are no more willing to make costly military investments than in the past and that military spending increases were more the result of improving economic conditions lifting all boats. Of course, aggregate indicators are imperfect, as they focus too heavily on national statistics and largely ignore potential efficiency gains from E.U.-wide cooperation. However, accounting for collaborative initiatives does little to change the picture painted by aggregate statistics. Both collaborative R&T and procurement levels have remained significantly lower than their pre-recession levels, bilateral acquisition cooperation remains stymied by protectionist domestic interest groups, and new multilateral research and acquisition programs like PESCO so far have little to show for their efforts. There is also little to suggest that European force integration is experiencing much progress, and, just as with procurement, this is true at both the E.U. and national levels. E.U. Battlegroups have never deployed, and European countries are reticent to joint Germany’s Framework Nations Concept because they do not trust Berlin’s foreign policy judgement and suspect the program is a ploy to boost the German defense industry at their expense. Ironically, the most successful force integration initiative is occurring between France and the United Kingdom, a country in the process of leaving the E.U.

As Yogi Berra once quipped, “it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” It is certainly possible, therefore, that European states will eventually find the will to overcome impediments to Union-wide defense collaboration and seriously develop a military force with the size and capacity to operate autonomously in high-intensity environments. But given that the current period, characterized by budgetary pressures, growing geopolitical challenges, and an increasingly unreliable United States, has not elicited this shift, it is difficult to imagine what set of circumstances would engender this transformation. Therefore, a strategically deficient Europe with military forces that punch significantly below their weight will likely define the coming years.




[1] See, for example, Christian Hacke, “Why Germany Should Get the Bomb,” The National Interest, August 12, 2018.; “France’s Macron proposes NATO-style EU collective defense for ‘strategic autonomy,’” The Defense Post, August 30, 2018.; and Heiko Maas, “Making plans for new world order,” Handelsblatt Global, September 4, 2018.

[2] One excellent distillation of this view is Luis Simon, “Don’t Believe the Hype About European Reform,” War on the Rocks, June 27, 2017.

[3] Defence Data: 2008 (Brussel, Belgium: European Defence Agency, 2009), 3.; Defence Data: 2013 (Brussels, Belgium: European Defence Agency, 2013), 7.

[4] “Spending Review 2010,” U.K. Treasury, 2010, 13; A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy (London, U.K.: British Government, 2010).

[5] Andrew Dorman, “The United Kingdom,” in The Implications of Military Spending Cuts for NATO’s Largest Members, edited by Clara Marina O’Donnell, 10-14 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2012), 10.

[6] John Gordon et. al., “NATO and the Challenge of Austerity,” Survival 54, no. 4 (2012), 124.

[7] Ibid., 126.

[8] Camille Grand, “France,” in The Implications of Military Spending Cuts for NATO’s Largest Members, edited by Clara Marina O’Donnell, 19-23 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2012), 20.

[9] 2008 White Paper on Defense and National Security (Paris, France: French Ministry of Defense, 2008), 146-149.

[10] Gordon et. al., 129.

[11] Patrick Keller, “Challenges for European Defence Budgets after the Economic Crisis,” American Enterprise Institute, July 11, 2011. challenges-for-european-defense- budgets-after-the-economic-crisisoutlook/.

[12] Gordon et. al., 130.

[13] Defence Data: 2013, 15.

[14] Bastian Giegerich and Alexander Nicoll, “The Struggle for Value in European Defence,” Survival 54, no. 1 (2012), 69.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Patricia Weitsman, Waging War: Alliances, Coalitions, and Institutions of Interstate Violence (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014), 174.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Defence Data: 2016-2017 (Brussel, Belgium: European Defence Agency, 2009), 4.

[19] Ibid., 5.

[20] Data on government revenue is from “Government finance statistics,” Eurostat, October 22, 2018.

[21] Defence Data: 2016-2017, 8.

[22] Ibid., 13.

[23] “Can PESCO Provide a New European Identity?” Deutsche Welle, 11-13-17.

[24] Elisabeth Braw, “NATO’s Enormous Arms Clutter,” Foreign Affairs, March 1, 2017.

[25] “European Defence Action Plan: Towards a European Defence Fund,” European Commission, November 30, 2016.

[26] Defence Data: 2016-2017, 11-12.

[27] Giegerich and Nicoll, 68-69.

[28] François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and Matteo Renzi, “Europa, ‘non si perda tempo,
ora si volta pagina’ Dichiarazione congiunta di Renzi, Merkel e Hollande,” Partito Democratico, June 27, 2016.

[29] Nicole Koenig and Maire Walter-Franke, “France and Germany: Spearheading a European Security and Defence Union?” Jacques Delors Institut Berlin Policy Paper no. 202 (July 2017), 12.

[30] “Twenty-five EU states sign PESCO defense pact,” Deutsche Welle, December 11, 2017.

[31] “Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) – Factsheet,” European External Action Service, November 16, 2017.

[32] Daniel Fiott, Antonio Missiroli, and Thierry Tardy, “Permanent Structured Cooperation: What’s in a name?” Chaillot Papers no. 142 (November 2017), 47.

[33] “The European Defence Fund: Questions and Answers,” European Commission, June 7, 2017.

[34] As quoted in Jacopo Barigazzi, “UK and US will be allowed to join some EU military projects,” Politico EU, October 1, 2018.

[35] “COUNCIL DECISION establishing the list of projects to be developed under PESCO,” European Council, March 1, 2018.

[36] David M. HerszenhornLili Bayer and Jacopo Barigazzi, “EU, founded as project of peace, plans military future,” Politico, August 20, 2018.

[37] Sebastian Sprenger, “Europe’s next-gen fighter is stuck in the bickering phase,” Defense News, November 7, 2018.

[38] The Military Balance: 2016 (London, U.K: IISS, 2016), 71.

[39] Paul Reynolds, “New force behind EU foreign policy,” BBC News, March 15, 2007.

[40] Michael Vincent, “EU Battlegroups: The European ‘army’ that politicians can’t agree how to use,” ABC News, November 16, 2018.

[41] Leigh Turner, “Ukraine Joins EU Battlegroup,” British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Blog, July 11, 2011.

[42] Alexander Mattelaer & Jo Coelmont, “Modern European operations: From Phoney Wars to sickle cuts,” in Sven Biscop & Daniel Fiott (Eds.), The state of defence in Europe: State of emergency, 33–37, (Brussels: Egmont – Royal Institute for International Relations, 2013), 35.

[43] Yf Reykers, “EU Battlegroups: High costs, no benefits,” Contemporary Security Policy 48, no. 3 (2017), 460.

[44] Ibid., 461-462.

[45] “UK and France commit to new defence cooperation,” Government of the United Kingdom, January 18, 2018.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Rainer Glatz and Martin Zapfe, “Ambitious Framework Nation: Germany in NATO,” Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, September 2017, 4-5.

[48] Ibid., 5.

[49] Claudia Major and Christian Mölling, “The Framework Nations Concept: Germany’s Contribution to a Capable European Defence,” Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, December 2014, 3.