Time to establish a European Defense Fund – Asia Times

Time to establish a European Defense Fund - Asia Times

At a recent conference in London, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Olha Stefanishyna, gave a video speech that confirmed her government’s relief at the US Congress’s US$ 60 billion of defense and humanitarian aid, help which comes some months later but still rapidly sufficiently to make a crucial difference in the battle against Russia’s invasion.

But two other messages were also clear: that it is now Europe’s turn to provide more help, and that this is a war for the future of the whole of Europe, not just Ukraine.

These messages went beyond the rather general, frequently ambiguous notion of European strategic autonomy that has been discussed so frequently in speeches by our European leaders, as well as those delivered by Mario Draghi on the economy and President Emmanuel Macron on defense. For a continent sharing huge land borders with often hostile states, and an economy that is the most globally connected of all major regions, the idea of “autonomy” is almost meaningless. The real issue is security.

Europe has many challenges: the energy transition, immigration, productivity and competitiveness to name already four. None of these, however, is more fundamental than the need to maintain the continent’s peace and security, which was the main inspiration for the creation of the European Union in the first place. Defense is still not given the priority it deserves despite the enormous pressure from Russia’s invasion of a nation close to the EU.

That was the theme being delivered, in a courteous way, by Ukraine’s impressive deputy prime minister for European and Euro- Atlantic integration, to give her full title. And her point is that while Europe did increase defense spending by 4.5 % last year, that increase was still lower than the growth in spending seen in Asia, despite the fact that in Europe there is a real war in progress, which Asia, fortunately, does not.

Whatever Donald Trump might think, the need to spend more on defense is unrelated to the possibility that he might be re-elected as president in November.

For more than 50 years, American presidents have encouraged Europeans to spend more on their own defense. The European project’s success in easing tensions and reducing hostility on the continent has made up for the large portion of that time for the fact that all European countries ‘ military forces have been weak, aside from those of France and the United Kingdom. Our main defense against the only real threat was America’s nuclear deterrence against the Soviet Union.

Now, however, times have changed. The deterrent effect of nuclear weapons can be used in a way that is the opposite of how it worked during the Cold War: An invader using conventional forces can use nuclear threats and the resulting fear of “escalation” to deter other nations from supporting its victim.

We can all debate what might Putin’s, and indeed the elite that surround him, long-term objectives would be if he were to succeed in invading Ukraine. Clearly countries that are closest to Russia, including Moldova, the Baltic States and Moldova, have the greatest cause for concern. However, the real threat from Russia is not the only factor in doubt. As other powers decide or feel compelled to react to changing international circumstances, instability has occurred at numerous times throughout history as a result of a force-shifting change in one nation’s borders.

Since the invasion of February 2022, Europe as a whole ( including the United Kingdom ) has contributed roughly twice as much money to Ukraine as the United States has since provided the same amount of aid. Given our geography, this larger European role is entirely appropriate. However, what we are failing to do is to make the necessary investments in our own security and defense to ensure our future safety.

Italy is one of those nations whose defense spending is significantly below the NATO goal of 2 % of GDP: In 2023, Italy’s spending was less than 1.5 % of GDP, and it also fell below the NATO average in terms of the proportion of that expenditure going to be devoted to military equipment. More than 60 % of Italy’s defense spending goes to personnel, which is the highest proportion among all the NATO members. That compares with 40 % in France, 30 % in the United Kingdom and 28 % in the United States.

Given that Italy is one of Europe’s most important manufacturing nations, has one of Europe’s strongest defenses, and is working with Japan and the UK to create new fighter jets for the 2030s, it may seem surprising to an outsider. However, this is also one of the reasons why Italy has n’t been a major supplier of military or weapons to Ukraine.

Italy is not one of the European nations that owns any of the Patriot air defense systems, so the Ukraine is asking for at least seven of them right away. Germany has now provided three, and there is pressure on Spain, Greece, and Poland to send some of their own systems.

In the longer term, however, there is only one real solution for Europe’s, and Italy’s, inability to spend enough on defense. That is to establish a legitimate European Defense Fund, one that is funded by collective borrowing, in the same vein as the EU Next Generation Fund, which, during the pandemic, provided the funds for Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

This is controversial, especially among northern European nations. Given the high public debts held by nations like Italy, as well as the competing demands for funding from the energy transition and immigration, it is actually the only workable solution.

Italy could once more be a significant beneficiary of a European Defense Fund with a scale comparable to that of the EU Next Generation Fund. Its defense sector is already world-class, and other Italian manufacturers would make essential contributions to European defense supply chains.

Mario Draghi’s influence on the support of the Next Generation Funds was crucial. Giorgia Meloni should now concentrate on persuading EU members to pursue similar actions in terms of defense and security.

Formerly editor- in- chief of The Economist, Bill Emmott is currently chairman of the&nbsp, Japan Society of the UK, the&nbsp, International Institute for Strategic Studies&nbsp, and the&nbsp, International Trade Institute.

First published on his Substack, &nbsp, Bill Emmott’s Global View, this is the English original of an article previously published in Italian by La Stampa.