European defense: opportunity or mirage?


A topic that continues to be debated in Brussels, even in these coronavirus times, is the development of the European Union's defense political dimension.

Despite the serious health crisis that has hit Europe, and the looming economic crisis that is its direct dependence, dangerous threats to its security continue to persist. Threats mainly represented by an international situation characterized by multiple arcs of crisis, even at the physical borders of Europe, and by the accentuation of unconventional challenges, such as terrorism in all its multifaceted manifestations and the same migratory phenomenon, in all its complexity of its components. To accentuate the feeling of impending risk are added the ambiguous signals coming from the Trump administration, which has significantly loosened its attention on the Euro-Mediterranean area to devote its energies, partly with good reason, to other areas, first of all the Pacific, where China is slowly but decisively expanding its political, economic and military influence. Just the aforementioned US neo-isolationism, for example, has led Washington to withdraw from the OPEN SKYES program in recent days. A withdrawal that has annoyed many observers, also because the new American course, although as said in part justified by an increased commitment in the Pacific, seems to go against the current security needs of the old continent.

With this international framework many European countries, despite the presence of NATO, feel the need to grow their role as security suppliers, with the aim of reducing at the same time their level of security users, for years mainly ensured by the powerful American friend and ally.

However, despite the recognized need to create a military instrument that can operate in a credible and independent way, its practical development is rightly subject to the real political will to share the resources, the means and above all the personnel to be shared. It is the game of democracy, where the military instrument is subordinated to politics. And it is precisely from politics that the greatest "problems" arise. Although the military has repeatedly shown its willingness to find solutions that would allow it to build a credible and effective structure, European defense and security policy has remained somewhat vague, when not totally absent. Security is, on the other hand, a primary need of populations, to which politics has a duty to respond.

But what response can a policy that struggles (and is an understatement) to give answers, even only economic, to recognized emergencies such as the one we are going through? The health storm that hit the old continent brought out the worst in every European state, limiting the very collaboration that should have been the basis of the Union. Unfortunately, discussions and technicalities have provided the image of a Europe that still thinks of the past and which, over the years, seems to have lost its visionary and innovative capacity. If some partners are not yet willing to share a few billion expenses to eradicate the virus and its potentially devastating economic effects, how can we think of sharing thousands of billions for means, armaments, infrastructures intended to safeguard security? If you are not in favor of giving money to deal with an emergency like the present, how can you be in favor of giving your own men, be they soldiers, sailors, airmen or military police for operations to support the protection of all Europe, operations that however involve a certain danger for the participants?

To date, the political will of the member countries to equip themselves with the necessary structures to support a true Common Foreign and Security Policy is, in fact, extremely incomplete, so much so that Europe has for years been marginalized by any truly significant initiative, limiting itself to start joint operations without clear objectives or clear rules of engagement, which have not returned any truly significant political results. This was largely favored by British "Europeanism", viewed with suspicion from the beginning also by De Gaulle who was immediately clear, as to many other observers, how London had entered the Community precisely to curb its unitary aspirations and instead develop its economic potential, of pre-eminent British interest. When the latter reduced their drive (also due to the serious crisis of the last few years), the British took a bowler hat and umbrella and left. Nonetheless, if until last year the excuse of the handbrake pulled by London could have been partially valid, which has traditionally opposed any initiative aimed at developing integration also in the defense sector, today it has been understood that individualism exasperated (often manifested only for electoral purposes) of a few members is another great enemy to fight against.

It is therefore clear that greater integration, at least in the current phase, cannot be done at 27, taking into account the hostilities above all in the Central and Eastern European countries and the hesitations of the neutral countries. However, precisely the exit of the militarily powerful Great Britain and the volatility of the signals on the American defensive coverage could induce those same countries to a greater availability than in the past.

This unfortunate 2020 has therefore become, despite himself, a fundamental year for the European future, not so much for the important economic implications related to the health emergency, such as the expected generalized reduction in GDP, but because this forces a critical examination of the situation. overall in which we find ourselves. A first economic response, after long and often tough comparisons between partners, was given with the Commission proposal about i Recovery Funds however, in order to be disbursed they need a green light from all European members. However, we do not delude ourselves that these funds can solve any problem, even if their final approval should take place quickly. They will still be tears and blood for everyone, maybe less than they would have shed without those funds, but the situation to overcome will remain critical.

In any case, the crisis caused by Covid-19 has finally made it clear that a purely economic dimension of pro-European initiatives is, by its very nature, unable to lead to a truly united Europe, as advocated by the founding fathers. The economy can certainly help rationalize the collection and distribution of wealth, but without a real political will in a unitary key, all declarations of intent are destined to remain a dead letter. Therefore, only politics can trigger the vital spark that will allow the creation of a Europe made up of countries truly "united in diversity", as its motto says.

Consequently, even if a common military dimension represents, at the moment, difficult to achieve immediately, in the absence of a political dimension (in particular foreign) which is still evanescent today, it is not a working hypothesis to leave in the drawer. There are, in fact, numerous reasons that push instead precisely in this direction, and which suggest re-examining the defensive needs of our continent, also in consideration of the worrying US neo-isolationism.

First of all, the resurgent Russian military capacity that sees, for example, a Navy that is slowly but surely returning to the potential of the Cold War, with new submarines, new missiles and, above all, a powerful nationalistic spirit that has returned to animate the crews . Despite the considerable economic difficulties, Moscow is in fact rebuilding an overall credible and effective military instrument, certainly not yet able to represent a global threat, but capable of worrying many countries. In addition, the Russians are weaving a dense network of alliances with other military developing countries, first of all China. From a strategic point of view, Moscow is reorganizing itself to also recover the ground lost during the years of the political and economic crisis. Just think of the interventions in Syria and Libya, just to mention two very close to our home.

Secondly, it should be remembered the vast area of ​​crisis that embraces the southern shore of the Mediterranean starting from Libya, on whose territory still fighting for supremacy and which sees Turkey lined up on one side (in support of al-Sarraj) and on the other Russia (in support of Haftar). Also to the south are the unsolved crises in the Middle East, Syria, not yet fully pacified, not to mention Iraq and the self-proclaimed Islamic State jihadist terrorism, which is now consolidating in the area around the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. Important and potentially devastating crises, which are taking place at the gates of the common European house and which affect all member countries directly or indirectly, as the events of illegal migrants produced by these profound crises demonstrate, events that have also highlighted little or nothing cohesion and solidarity between the partners Europeans.

A member of NATO, the aforementioned Turkey, also fits into this context of widespread instability, with its unprejudiced policy conducted across the board with the aim of expanding its area of ​​influence, including economic, especially on the Mediterranean basin and its resources. The hope of being part of the EU has been abandoned, due to known international problems, Ankara is working hard to build a network of connections both with some countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and with the countries of the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Cor 'Africa, such as to bring to mind a neo-Ottomanism 2.0.

Then there is the growing economic pressure of China which, with the Silk Road, intends to penetrate Europe economically and which, with the 5G network, raises more than one doubt about the possibility of putting a serious mortgage on the cyber security of the old continent.

In all of this, NATO certainly still represents a credible deterrence and security instrument but, nevertheless, it cannot represent the only protection instrument available to Europe. Not anymore. President Trump recently voiced the aforementioned US neo-isolationist approach, for example, with the statement that he wanted to withdraw US troops from Germany. It is not yet clear whether these troops will always be redeployed in Europe, to the numerous bases still present, if they will be transferred to Poland to a new base or if they will be brought home toto. If these were always redeployed in Europe, the strategic situation would not change but, if their destination were to be another, it would be a different matter. And, you know, the geopolitics of security behaves like gases. There is always someone ready to fill in the gaps left by those who withdraw.

Given the undisputed presence of other powers that intend to assert their reasons on world theaters, therefore, it is now more than ever essential to ensure a dense network of alliances. No country can now afford to face the challenges ahead for itself. THE partners Europeans, even in the security sector, are in dire need of each other and the United States, whether they want to admit it or not, needs Europe exactly like Rome, Paris, London and all other EU capitals need Washington. Paraphrasing a well-known advertisement, today we need each other "more than yesterday and less than tomorrow". A review of the US approach therefore appears indispensable, so as to be able to strengthen the transatlantic relationship as a fundamental pillar of common security and an important support for the construction of shared European security.

In the debate, the issue of nuclear deterrence cannot be ignored which, after Brexit, has remained the prerogative of France alone in the EU, which, as is known, has a very precise position on the matter: "Le nucleaire ne se partage pas". However, the discussion is important in the perspective of a common defense and this aspect must also be evaluated, if not as a sharing of the instrument, at least as a sharing of the deterrence induced by it. In this context, NATO continues to represent added value thanks to the presence of two other countries (USA and the United Kingdom) equipped with nuclear weapons.

As for the partners Europeans, the question is whether these great nations (great for the contribution each has made to Western civilization), will be able to strip themselves of the legacy of centuries of increasingly devastating dominant struggles, which have risked leading them almost to mutual destruction, and if they will know take the path to define a real and common foreign and defense policy, an indispensable step to arrive at the goal of a common European homeland, to be defended together.

This could represent that qualitative leap capable of transforming, in our too long postponed process of continental unification, the currently stammering and contradictory European international presence, increasing its prestige, authority and concrete political influence. In essence, it is a matter of proceeding towards a political-strategic integration that allows us to make use of the capabilities of our economic area to achieve our international strategic objectives. An economic area today severely dominated by Germany, appreciable for the results obtained so far but which, in its decades of life, has proved completely incapable of generating an authentic continental unity.

In this Europe, squeezed between an incipient depression, a growing nationalism of some fringes within it, a worrying presence of crisis areas on its borders, a Turkey with renewed expansionist aspirations, an alarming US isolationism and a huge economic and military development Chinese therefore needs a vigorous unified recovery, with specific objectives of increased security and strengthened international authority. A revival that is becoming increasingly indispensable and urgent, and only i partners they can make the conditions for this real progress mature.

Will this Europe be able to find the will and energies for such a mental revolution and for a substantial epochal change?

cv pil (res) Renato Scarfi

Photo: Bundeswehr / Ministry of Defense / EUNAVFOR MED IRINI / Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri / Elysée