European Defense: the need for convergence criteria, including for France
Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has aroused unprecedented emotion and solidarity in Europe, in support of the heroic resistance of the inhabitants of this country, which may perhaps compensate for Russia’s presumed superiority. This war has also precipitated a salutary awareness of the need to strengthen the defense of the European Union and its member states, other potential targets of Moscow. The historic character of the EU’s responses and Olaf Scholz’s announcements has been rightly underlined, from the delivery of lethal weapons to the Ukrainians to the sustained increase in Germany’s military spending.
This German and European turnaround is as important as the one that led to the introduction of the euro thanks to the Maastricht Treaty: it can and must allow us to finally fulfill the promises of this Treaty in terms of collective security. However, such a turning point will only lead to truly substantial progress in European defence on the basis of convergences in strategic, political and industrial matters, to which France must pay close attention to effectively pave the way. Although our country is traditionally at the forefront in this area, this does not exempt it from making several significant adjustments to promote these convergences.
Strategic convergence first. The first lesson that Europeans will draw after the brutal Russian aggression is that the Atlantic Alliance is absolutely vital for our security. It is to the USA that Occidental turn when large-scale enemies threaten them, since Washington seems to be the only one capable of dissuading or confronting them: this is true at the time of the dramatic assaults on Mariupol and Kharkiv, as well as when Australia abandons us to renew its submarines in the face of China… This truth, which is undoubtedly hurtful to the French, will remain as long as the military upgrading of Europeans is underway – and as long as France has not extended the scope of its nuclear deterrent to the entire continent…
The quest for “strategic autonomy” must therefore be pursued resolutely in terms of energy, food and technology and with respect to Moscow: it would prove repulsive in military matters for many EU countries, which are more concerned than ever about preserving transatlantic strategic coupling. Strengthening the “European pillar of NATO” to better ensure the defense of our continent is then a code name that will open more doors and minds than an uncertain “autonomy” – what would it have changed in the face of Russia?
The advent of a European defense system also requires significant political convergence between Member States, from which France cannot escape, even though it has the great merit of having an efficient military tool and diplomatic network, which must be strengthened. Since most EU countries are committed to devoting 2% of their GDP to defense, including 20% to their military equipment (objectives set by NATO), it is in fact on the definition of the conditions for the use of force that the concrete scope of the resolutions generated by the current war will be determined.
In this perspective, any European convergence presupposes that decisions relating to defence – from arms exports to external military interventions – are subject to adequate political, parliamentary and public control. At this stage, the discretionary power of French presidents to send troops to Africa without a parliamentary vote is an anomaly in Europe: it loses in democratic and diplomatic legitimacy what it gains in military effectiveness and will continue to expose Paris to the risk of going it alone if it does not bring its practices closer to those of its neighbors. After the adoption of a new “Strategic compass”, the conditions for the use of military force must also be the subject of an in-depth joint evaluation, given that the effectiveness of recent external interventions has been challenged, from Afghanistan to Libya, via the Sahel – still waiting for Ukraine?
Finally, it is thanks to operational convergence that Europe’s defence has a chance to really grow. This implies accelerating joint R&D projects (notably through the European Defence Fund), armed forces projects, but also industrial projects, such as those dedicated to the Air combat system of the future (SCAF) or the combat tank of the future, on the basis of a delicate and equitable sharing between the countries involved. This industrial pooling must be urgently reinforced and extended to take full advantage of the increase in national defence budgets, unless we want to continue selling off national flagships that are likely to be abandoned for their American competitors – the latter sometimes continuing to be preferred in the short term…
Baptized 30 years ago and today plebiscited by the people who adopted it, the euro was not created in a day: it came about through the application of “convergence criteria” that required constant and irritating political adjustments, such as the one relating to the limitation of public deficits to 3% of GDP. The same will be true of the Europe of defense, which is more indispensable than ever, and whose advent calls on France to combine ambitions and concessions, at the price of a few ruptures as salutary as the objective they will serve: the preservation of our security and our freedom as Frenchmen and Europeans, that is to say, of our common destiny.