Michael Haas and Annabelle Vuille contend in this analysis that despite moderate growth in European defense budgets, conditions remain unfavorable for closing the investment gap that has emerged in the area of military equipment since the 1990s. Defense and armaments planners are still confronted with a modernization backlog that will be difficult to eliminate with budgeted funds. The authors suggest that a key piece to solving this issue are forward-looking armament policies adapted to the respective national context and cognizant of the potential for closer cross-border political and industrial collaboration.
Despite moderate growth in European defense budgets, conditions remain unfavorable for closing the investment gap that has emerged in the area of military equipment since the 1990s. In a majority of European states, defense and armaments planners are still confronted with a modernization backlog that will be difficult to eliminate with budgeted funds.
Disproportional cost increases and inefficient procurement processes, which are seen as causative elements of the structural crisis in arms procurement by some, are important aggravating factors in this regard. However, if we adopt a longer-term perspective, it becomes clear that the current urgent need for modernization is chiefly due to a set of flawed assumptions about the future development of European security that have largely proven unsustainable. At the same time, the effects of advancing material fatigue are making themselves felt with increasingly force.
After the end of the Cold War confrontation, given the perception that the plausibility of conventional conflict scenarios had diminished, it seemed justified to put major armaments investments on the back burner. Political deferments, structural adaptations of the armed forces, and upgrading of comparatively “young” main weapon systems allowed the planners to temporarily preserve the basic elements of a military defense capability.
From a broader, societal point of view, this approach has indeed proven beneficial over the past two decades, and has facilitated the reallocation of funds to other priorities. However, considering that many current systems are reaching the end of their useful service life, this approach has now largely exhausted itself. At the same time, the security policy environment has shifted markedly.
Against this background, even governments outside the NATO sphere acknowledge openly that the expectation that military risks will remain negligible cannot necessarily be extended into the 2030s and beyond. Therefore, the need to formulate forward-looking political foundations for arms procurement is once again gaining importance.
In line with the expectations presented in CSS Analyses No. 181 and 182, the focus of these developments is – once more – at the national level.
Click here for the full report (4 PDF pages) on the CSS website.