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08 September 2006
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Bayonets bared for Europe’s military future
Enzo Mangini
Eurotopia no 2, January 2006

The EU and the arms industry are preparing the ground for a common European army and ‘security’ policy - with hardly the beginning of public debate.

’The LTV (Long Term Vision) will look 20 years ahead and be based on three themes: (1) the global context relating to such issues as the economy, society, demography, the environment and the law; (2) the nature of future crisis management operations; and (3) science and& technology trends. If you have expertise in any of these areas, we would like to hear from you ...’ This is not the recruitment advert of an elusive think tank, but the appeal that appears on the official website of the European Defence Agency (EDA), the EU body for military matters. The LTV’s sub-title is ’What the future holds for Europe’s Armed Forces’. And that’s a very good question. Some trends are clear already - clear and worrying. In October 2005 Terrence Guay, researcher in foreign relations at Pennsylvania State University, wrote: ’Europe’s defence industry is at a crossroads.’ That is true also for the broader EU military policy (EU military capacity, relations with NATO, border security and so on). It is a crossroads at which the EU seems determined on taking the wrong turning.

’You can do anything with bayonets but sit on them,’ Napoleon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand, once famously observed. The EU is discussing the shape of its bayonets and how to make them well in advance of deciding what to do with them.

On 21 November last year, an Associated Press report announced: ’EU adopts plan to open Û35 billion arms market.’ It referred to a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels, which decided to introduce a new code of conduct for the industry. This code, which takes effect in July, will open the European arms market and military procurement to the sort of deregulated market policies that the EU is now pursuing in every possible sphere. A particular cause for concern is that this deregulation coincides with a concerted process of merger and consolidation within the industry, whereby the ’free’ market is leading to increasing domination by the biggest companies. Since this particular market involves tanks, aircraft carriers and electronic surveillance, and not underwear or oranges, the concerns are correspondingly larger.

In the past ten years, the wave of mergers and acquisitions in the European military industry has reduced the number of players and increased the size of those who remain - notably in key sectors such as missiles, aircraft and helicopters, with further mergers ahead in shipbuilding and the manufacture of ground vehicles.

Today, the military market in the EU is dominated by a handful of big conglomerates: BAE Systems (UK), EADS (France-Germany and Spain), Thales (France) and Finmeccanica (Italy), to name the biggest. Governments and corporate lobbyists are pushing for another wave, which would further reduce the number of firms. This is one of the specified aims of the EDA, clearly stated in its mandate when it was established in 2004.

The degree of concentration is reaching US proportions. A 2003 Pentagon report found that the 50 largest defence suppliers of the early 1980s had been transmogrified into the top five contractors today. Indeed, competitive pressure from the US is the main driving force cited by industry CEOs and politicians alike when it comes to explaining the merger fever. The need to stand up to the US military-industrial complex and preserve European political autonomy is also often given (including by significant figures on the left - see pages 31-33) as the reason to support the idea of a ’strong’ Europe.

Judged on its own terms, this policy seems to be working. In the decade from 1991 to 2000, 57 per cent of co-development or co-production projects in the EU were between member-state companies and only 28 per cent with US firms. Two decades earlier, the figures were 42 and 46 per cent respectively. This trend is likely to continue, as the merger wave hits the new member states, some of which have considerable military industrial capacity, and all of which need to reorganise their armed forces according to EU standards of interoperability, common communication systems and arms procurement procedures.

The EU’s military industries are also on the rise in the global market. The US share of world arms sales had shrunk to 30.7 per cent in 2004 from 40.4 per cent in 2000, according to the 2005 report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Part of this loss is due to Russian companies entering the market. But among the world’s top ten exporting countries, four are EU member states (the UK, France, Germany and Sweden). All of these countries, plus Italy, are trying to access the Chinese market, dodging the embargo on military supplies declared after the Tiananmen massacre or openly calling for its end, as did Italy’s president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, during his official visit to Beijing. At the same time as consolidating the internal EU market, EU firms are aggressively trying to out-compete US firms in exports, often turning a blind eye to who uses those arms and for what. The Middle East and South Asia are the favourite export markets.

The political significance of these trends is that the consolidation of an industrial-military complex in the EU - and hence the growth of its potential power - is proceeding at a faster pace than the development and convergence of the foreign and military or ’security’ policies of the EU member states. This leads us back to Talleyrand and his bayonets.

Let’s zoom in. Supporters of a strong Europe point to some military or dual-use (civil and military) programmes, such as the A400M strategic transportation aircraft or the Galileo satellite network, to stress the need for autonomy from the US in modern military systems if the EU is to be able to carry out its own foreign policy. And since the US, after 9/11, is digging itself into an increasingly unilateralist hole, this means that a more autonomous Europe is necessarily linked to the emergence of a multilateral world. This may be correct, but as with its US model of industrial consolidation, the EU is developing means of military intervention that could hardly be said to reflect a `multilateral’ world vision.

The first EU military missions were in Bosnia and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the first steps to the construction of a European army are being taken by using military police and ’battle groups’ - that is, rapidly deployable units. The first of these units should be inaugurated as early as next year. Together with the NATO rapid reaction force and a number of inter-state naval or ground units, these units will form the backbone of a military instrument that can work in harmony with American systems. Apparently, the connection between having an autonomous foreign policy and having a fleet of aircraft carriers cannot be severed. The underlying idea is that to match the political global reach of the US, the EU should match their military might.

There has been no public debate about this development. It appears to be more a consequence of the ’Americanisation’ of the EU industrialmilitary complex than of any democratic political decision-making. The Transnational Institute of Amsterdam has produced a detailed report documenting the strength of the industrial-military lobby in Brussels. Its influence has reached a point where the articles of the European Constitution related to common defence policy were written after consultation with the CEOs of the top military firms - a privilege that was denied to NGOs or peace organisations.

As TNI’s Frank Slijper writes: ’That the arms industry has substantial influence on EU defence matters is perhaps most clearly shown by its involvement in the preparatory work for the EU Convention. The working group on defence invited 13 experts to give their advice. Together with toplevel Eurocrats, two representatives from the industry (BAE Systems and EADS) and the president of the European Defence Industry Group (EDIG) had the honour of putting forward their ideas ...’

Two elements in this scenario are especially striking. The first is the Americanisation of European military and security policy, exemplified in part by British, Spanish (until April 2004) and Italian involvement in the Iraqi war in the face of overwhelming domestic opposition. The second is that European citizens are not even vaguely aware of what is going on.

Both are a consequence of the socalled ’Global War on Terror’. The Americanisation of the EU’s approach to military and security matters received a powerful push from the bombings in Madrid and in London. A few days after the Madrid attacks, Romano Prodi, then head of the European Commission, presented the results of the security policy review ordered by the Commission after the attack on the Twin Towers. The main recommendations of this review were for increased cooperation among EU police and intelligence services and more spending on security.

Since the adoption of a new military doctrine by NATO in 1999, official documents have linked the term ’security’ with ’defence’. The doctrine does not adopt the idea of pre-emptive strike, but it nevertheless defines a complex security and defence apparatus in which the boundaries between military and civilian are fading in a problematic way. ’Security’ includes using navies to counter ’illegal’ migration; ’security’ means controlling citizens through a European global satellite network and restrictions on civil liberties. The very use of the word ’security’ means the actions can’t be questioned.

During G8 summits in Genoa (2001) or in Gleneagles (2005), the techniques of crowd control and deployment of some military units as police were the same as in Kosovo or Iraq. The EU is making a special contribution to redrawing the common-sense notion of ’war’. Through the tradition of militarised police corps in some countries (notably Italy and France), which proved particularly suited for ’peacekeeping’ operations, this ambiguity is being injected into the very basis of EU military policy.

National - or European - pride can help this militarisation on its way. A lot of our fellow citizens, even on the left, are proud of challenging the US - of being better ’peace-keepers’ - though probably not so many would like to admit it openly.

This is the breach through which the troops pass. The rift opened between the US and EU by the Iraq war, the different approach to a range of global issues, from the Kyoto Protocol to Israel/Palestine, makes the idea of a European Army even more attractive. As Marco Minniti, would-be undersecretary of defence in the future possible Italian centre-left government and military expert for the Democratici di Sinistra (Left Democrats), has said: ’A European Army is a truly reformist goal.’

Thus, courted and frightened, European citizens keep on thinking that ’our’ army and security system would be inherently different from that of the US. Why? A common answer points to a supposed European wisdom in international affairs and reluctance to use force.

Is it so? Over the past couple of years, many analysts have been arguing that the dominant position of the United States is slowly and perhaps inevitably on the decline. Its foreign political hegemony, from the chaos of the Iraqi occupation to the failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, is shrinking. Meanwhile, the two top buyers in the global arms market are China and India, who are working rapidly to reorganise their military systems to look like, if not act like, regional or even world powers. It will take time, but meanwhile the temptation for the competing US and the EU is great: control of the ’arch of instability’, which runs from western Africa to Afghanistan, could be the prize for whoever wins the race. If we look at the processes taking place inside the high echelons of EU policy making, it seems that here too it is felt that the American century is coming to an end.

With such immense geo-political shifts taking place, it is clearly not unimaginable that the next few decades could turn Europe into the fulcrum of world hegemony. The Europe we would like to have would use it to pursue policies of equality, social and environmental justice and peace. The EU we have, however, is one that has other ideas - not least about the use of bayonets in carving out the future for the world.