EDA's success in America's interests, as well as Europe's, Witney tells Washington
(Source: European Defence Agency; issued Oct. 25, 2006)

I shall try over the next 20 or 30 minutes to do three things:

-- to fill in some background about the European Defence Agency, to describe what it is, and what it is not – since it is a new initiative, and often not well understood;

-- to explain to you why I am optimistic about its chances for success – why, indeed, I feel that it is almost destined to achieve its objectives in due course. For me, the real issue is not whether, but when, and how much could be lost along the way if the process is too slow; and finally

-- to explain my belief that what we are trying to do is in American as well as in European interests and therefore, if successful, can only strengthen Transatlantic relations.


So, to begin with the background.

This is a very young Agency, rather small, confronting a big agenda. I suppose the story begins just over two years ago, when the European Heads of State and Government meeting in Thessaloniki at the end of the Greek EU Presidency decided that they wanted to see the establishment, by the end of 2004, of “an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments”. You might call this clear strategic direction, but not exactly precise. So it took a further year of intensive work to arrive at the point where the 25 EU Member States could agree a concept and a blueprint for the Agency – how big, how costly, with what responsibilities, to do what exactly, and with what strategic aims in view. But the consensus was achieved, the Agency brought into being as a legal entity, and the first skeleton staff recruited just in time for us to be able to claim that the Agency had indeed begun to function by the end of last year, as called for by the Thessaloniki deadline.

If that was what the military would call initial operational capability, then full operational capability was not achieved until this summer just past, when we had completed recruiting up to our initial ceiling of 80 staff, drawn from 18 different nationalities, and moved into our own headquarters in Brussels.

As you would expect, we have a mission statement, which is as follows: “ to support the Council and the Member States in their effort to develop defence capabilities for crisis management operations, to sustain the European Security and Defence Policy as it stands now, and will develop in the future”. And we have four prescribed functions:

--to work on European military capability development
--to promote cooperative defence Research and Technology in Europe;
--to promote armaments collaborations; and
--to work for the strengthening of the European defence technological and industrial base.

From the mission statement, let me pick out three points:

First, we are there to support the Member States. We are not some sort of Brussels-based supranational authority, attempting to tell the Member States what to do in matters of defence. We will act, I hope, as a conscience and as a catalyst, and an incubator of ideas and initiatives; but if Europeans truly want to raise their game and get their act together on defence (perhaps a less formal version of our mission statement), then it is they, individually and collectively, who have to take the necessary decisions. The Agency cannot do it for them.

Second, our focus is on military capabilities. Yes, the Agency has important functions related to, for example, the defence industry. But our leading light, the star we steer by, is the aim of building Europe’s military capacity – or, if you will, of trying to ensure that Europe gets a better output from what it spends on defence.

Third, the capabilities we are talking about are those required by crisis management operations. These are essentially deployed, multinational operations – the European intervention in Congo in 2003, or the more recent assumption from NATO of responsibility for keeping the peace in Bosnia. Neither the Agency, nor the European Security and Defence Policy of which it is a child, are concerned with the territorial defence of Europe – that remains NATO’s province, which is the key to deconfliction and complementarity between what we are trying to do and NATO’s role.

So much for our mission - now let me come back to our functions (military capabilities, R&T, armaments, the industrial base) and make two points about them:

First, you might fairly wonder how an Agency of 80 people with an annual budget of only $ 25 million, and no power to direct or enforce compliance, can hope to make an impact on such a wide agenda. I have two responses on that. First, to use Teddy Roosevelt’s term, we have a bully pulpit. Our key asset is our unique governance arrangements – a Steering Board, chaired by my boss, Javier Solana (the man who would be Europe’s Foreign Minister if the stalled constitution were in force today), and attended by all the European Defence Ministers, in person. We are meeting three times this year and, between these meetings, we have similar rendez-vous with the top officials for armaments, for R&T and for military Capability planning. So we have a persistent and continuous dialogue with the top levels of decision-making in all the European Defence Ministries. My second reason for optimism is simply that I think the tide of events is set in our direction. There are both military operational and also economic imperatives which make greater consolidation and coherence of European defence efforts inevitable – a theme I will return to.

My second point on our functions – though they represent a wide agenda, they are coherent. They are all, if you like, about the tools to do the job. The European Defence Agency has no involvement in military operations; it plays no part in the policy issues of European defence. But it has the privilege of interesting itself in, and seeking to integrate, pretty much every other defence agenda which relates to making Europe a more effective defence and security actor.

So, if our role is to help ensure that Europe has the defence tools necessary to do the job, you may reasonably ask “what job?”

Happily, there is a relatively clear and succinct answer to that question. It is contained in the document entitled “The European Security Strategy” and subtitled “A secure Europe in a better world” – which was agreed by the EU at the end of 2003. It defines the security environment with which we must deal at the start of the 21st century in terms which you would, I think, find sympathetic – the replacement of the old defence certainties by the new threats and challenges of terrorism; proliferation of weapons for mass destruction; regional conflict; state failure; and organised crime.

It points out that with nearly half a billion people and a quarter of the world’s gross national product, Europe has no choice but to be a global player – and, indeed, has a responsibility to play its part in the promotion of international stability and conflict resolution. It points out that to discharge this responsibility, Europe must be at once more active, more capable and more coherent.

And it stresses the importance of working with partners. “The Transatlantic relationship is irreplaceable. Acting together the European Union and the United States can be a formidable force for good in the world. Our aim should be an effective and balanced partnership with the USA”. When President Bush came to Brussels in February last, and observed that “America supports a strong Europe because we need a strong partner”, he reciprocated exactly that sentiment.

Sometimes, Americans underestimate what Europeans do already for the common cause of building global security. True, we spend less than half what you do on defence – but it is still something like a quarter of global defence spending. In recent years, the Europeans have maintained a fairly consistent level of around 70,000 troops deployed beyond their continent, from Afghanistan, to the Balkans, to Sub-Saharan Africa and, most recently, to Aceh in Indonesia.

In the six years since the European Security and Defence Policy was conceived, Europe has undertaken twelve operations – many of them, interestingly, as much or more civil as military in character. This, I suggest, is not trivial.

But it is also I suggest far short of what it could and should be. 70,000 deployed troops is not nothing – but it is a tiny proportion of the two million men and women that Europe maintains in uniform. More than $200 billion spent annually on defence is also not nothing – but it does not go as far as it should, when more than half of it is consumed by personnel costs, and Europeans are still maintaining about 10,000 main battle tanks and some 3,000 combat aircraft between them.

Yes, European militaries need to transform – and are lagging the US in recognising and acting on that need. For most, NATO’s new Allied Command Transformation will play a leading role in that process – but, with a rather different focus, the EDA will be pushing in the same direction.

So, if Europe wishes to live up to its ambitions and be an effective partner for the US, it needs, quite simply, to spend more on the challenges of the future, and less on the legacies of the past. And it needs to pool the efforts and resources of its 25 different Member States in doing so. This is fundamentally what the Agency is trying to bring about – and, understood like that, you can perhaps see why I think we are bound to succeed, fast or slow.

For the facts are that for European militaries – perhaps even for the US military – the future is expeditionary and it is multinational – and it frankly makes no sense at all for different national contingents deploying on such operations to bring along different guns requiring different ammunition, different vehicles requiring different spare parts, and different radios which cannot talk to each other. Interoperability is fundamental – and I hope it goes without saying that all European militaries accept, and my Agency wholly endorses, that NATO standards and NATO architectures for such things as information exchange and communication are the indispensable foundation for ensuring interoperability into the future.

This operational imperative to cooperate is reinforced by an economic one. For the hard fact is that, though the sum of European defence spending is substantial, there is no single national defence budget in Europe, not even the biggest, which is any longer capable of sustaining a fully competent defence technological and industrial base on a national basis. The defence industry matters in Europe, just as it does in America. It is important to the wider economy, sustaining hundreds of thousands of jobs; it is vital to the political consensus that supports the role and the purposes of our armed forces.

But it is simply unsustainable as 25 separate national entities. Thus, for both operational and economic reasons, Europeans are fated to cooperate; to converge their thinking on the capability needs of the future, and merge those into consolidated requirements and joint orders; to encourage the supply side of the defence industry to secure its future by restructuring and consolidating in response; and to bring the demand and the supply sides together in a genuinely continental scale of defence equipment market, where none at the moment exists.

I hope I have said enough to make clear why I believe that if the Agency succeeds – that is, if Europeans do increasingly get their act together on defence – then this will be not only entirely compatible with NATO’s efforts and purpose but strongly supportive of the Transatlantic relationship, positioning Europe to be the sort of partner that the US will need in the century ahead.

So I was particularly glad, only a few days ago, to see just the same thing being said in a major report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, entitled “European defence integration: bridging the gap between strategy and capabilities”. I recommend this report to you, and not just because its authors are wise enough to suggest that my Agency’s budget should be rapidly increased by a factor of ten! I commend it in particular because of its forthright defence of the proposition that “strong European defence capabilities are ultimately good for both sides of the Atlantic”, and for the evidence it adduces that, for Europeans, there really is no viable alternative to European defence integration – or, as I prefer to describe it, more pooling of defence efforts and resources.

So far, I hope, so good. But, before I finish, I must touch on one other issue that I know can cause Americans concern – and that is the industrial and technological aspect of our mission. Are we attempting to create what is sometimes tagged a “fortress Europe”?

No, we are not. Yes, we are pushing for convergence and consolidation of both the demand and the supply side of the European defence equipment market – and for the creation of something closer to a genuine market where the two sides can meet. Indeed, one of our major preoccupations in our first year of our existence has been to work on a Code of Conduct on Defence Procurement, which I very much hope the Member States will adopt before the end of the year. It will have the effect of opening up big segments of the defence procurement of each to industries based in the territories of all the others, where previously protected national markets have been the rule.

But there is nothing in this plan about “European preference”, or denying access to US defence companies. Our aim is to get each Member State to accept bids to satisfy its defence equipment requirements from other European countries, and then to evaluate them on a par with bids from its own national suppliers. Whether the Member State concerned also wishes to invite an American, or other third party, player onto the field in any competition will remain, as now, entirely a matter for the individual Member State to decide.

Sometimes, however, the concern is expressed to me in a slightly more sophisticated form. Okay, so the European Defence Agency enterprise is not about trying to turn Europe into a protected market. But the Agency has a mission to concern itself with the health of the defence technological and industrial base in Europe. It advocates rationalisation and restructuring of the supply side in Europe, elimination of industrial duplication, an evolution towards specialisation and recognition of centres of excellence, and acceptance of greater degrees of mutual dependence.

We argue, in short, that European policy-makers and industrialists should think increasingly of a European defence technological and industrial base, and not just the sum of its 25 national parts. Surely, the criticism goes, this is implicitly to subscribe to a future in which Europe constitutes one defence industrial base and market, and America constitutes another. Is that really what we want?

To that, I respond that we have to deal with the world as we find it. And the fact is that, the way things are today, Europeans find it hugely difficult to conduct meaningful defence industrial cooperation across the Atlantic. Despite certain welcome exceptions, such as the recent decision on the Presidential helicopter, the terms of transatlantic defence trade are notoriously unbalanced. The most favourable statistics I can find suggest that in recent years the US has been selling Europe four times what it has bought in return. And the problem is not just market access – the biggest impediment to doing defence business together is the controls and limitations you place on technology exchange.

In a sense, this is actually none of my business. Neither I nor my Agency has any mandate to address the externalities of what we are trying to do in Europe – as I pointed out a moment ago, our market-opening initiative simply does not touch the position of external suppliers such as the US.

So I am not here to criticise how you choose to manage access to your defence market, or to control technologies that your investment has created. You spend most, you call the shots.

My point is just this – that, given the way you call those shots, it is both natural and necessary that Europeans, increasingly feeling the need of industrial and technological partners and economies of scale, should focus on working more closely together.

Indeed, I tend to believe it may be only by doing that, and by creating on the European side a stronger and more integrated defence technological and industrial base, that we may, one day, be able to put transatlantic defence trade relations on a sounder, more equitable basis – to the ultimate benefit, I believe, of both sides.

Such reflections, as I say, are not strictly my business. But I thought it worth making the point, in order to highlight that greater integration of European defence industrial and technological efforts may actually contribute to a more mature and balanced Transatlantic defence relationship - just as a greater European capability to shoulder our share of the burden of responsibility for global stability and security assuredly will.

I quoted earlier from the European Security Strategy, about the irreplaceable nature of the transatlantic relationship, and the need for an effective and balanced partnership with the USA. The Strategy then continues to say “this is an additional reason for the EU to build up further its capabilities and increase its coherence.”

That is certainly what I believe – and I hope it makes sense to you too.


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