By Horst Teubert and Dr. Peer Heinelt
Complaints about a lack of “European autonomy” and calls for increasing national military budgets beyond the two percent limit have dominated the debate in the run-up to this year’s Munich Security Conference, which began Friday, Feb. 17.
Whereas in past years, the demand for independent power politics on the part of the EU was a staple of German pleas at the conference, the former head of the significant event, Wolfgang Ischinger, now judges that “strategic autonomy” remains, at least for the time being, “a nice vision.”
An expert from the German Marshall Fund of the United States judges that, at the latest with the Ukraine war, NATO has “clearly gained the upper hand as a platform for European defense and security.”
According to Ischinger, the EU’s weakness has much to do with a lack of rearmament: “The 100 billion euros are not enough.”
Defense Minister Boris Pistorius wants to declare the two percent mark the lower limit for the military budget.
Other NATO countries now demand a minimum of three percent of economic output for national defense budgets. Poland is aiming for military spending of five percent.
EUROPE’S POWER PROJECTION
In recent years, the call for an independent EU power policy has been a staple of what German politicians have said at each Munich Security Conference.
At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, for example, then-Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that the EU had not yet “made its mark in this world” but that it should work on this:
An independent “power projection” of the European cartel of states “into the world” was necessary, and “the military” was part of it.
In 2019, Gabriel’s successor Heiko Maas said that one had to strive for “a strong Europe capable of acting”; otherwise, the EU risked being “pulverized in a world of great power competition”.
Already in 2017, the then head of the Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, had judged that Donald Trump’s U.S. presidency was “the end of the West” with the United States as “torchbearer”; now it was “Europe’s task” to “replace this loss.”
Foreign Minister Gabriel supplemented Ischinger’s thrust with the statement that “America” could “not remain the leading power”; the EU was therefore entitled to “a partnership at eye level.”
This was often ciphered as a demand for “strategic sovereignty” or “European autonomy”.
NATO INSTEAD OF THE EU
It is true that the demand for “European autonomy” or “strategic sovereignty” remains unchanged in Brussels and in various EU member states.
But the Ukraine war has revealed that the EU is moving noticeably away from its implementation.
The militarization of Eastern and Southeastern Europe is taking place not within the framework of the Union but within the framework of NATO.
There is talk of stationing troops not on the EU’s eastern flank but on NATO’s eastern flank. The arming of Ukraine is coordinated in the Ramstein format under U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Kyiv’s practical warfare is also directed by the United States rather than the Union. At the same time, the EU is weakened by internal tensions.
Differences between Berlin and Paris regularly paralyzed the Union.
At the same time, Poland and the Baltic states, in particular, repeatedly carried U.S. positions into Europe – a role usually held by Great Britain until its withdrawal.
For example, the latter can be seen in the steady advance of the states above in arming Ukraine and in targeted political provocations against China.
There is virtually no sign of an EU army, the creation of which has been regularly called for for years.
Diplomats and foreign policy experts confirm this with a view to this year’s Munich Security Conference, which began on Friday.
The former head of the conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, writes: “The hopes for a more capable EU in terms of security policy have unfortunately not yet been fulfilled.”
There have been many initiatives, for example, the agreement on a “strategic compass.” But all this “viewed in the light of day … has had little effect.”
“Strategic autonomy remains just as much a nice vision as the distant goal of a European army,” Ischinger explains:
“Instead, many EU members define their security … even more strongly than in the past by being as closely tied as possible to the U.S. as a protecting power.”
Bruno Lété of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States expresses a similar view.
“The dream of strategic autonomy for the EU,” Lété judges, “is much further away than a year ago.”
“European security policy” will “not lead to an EU army”; NATO has “clearly gained the upper hand as a platform for European defense and security.”
At best, the EU could “contribute” – such as “through the joint procurement of weapons systems” or “the development of new technologies.”
100 BILLION IS NOT ENOUGH
Ischinger sees “two main reasons” why “despite all the lip service, Europe appears incapable of defending itself.”
He says one reason is the lack of “common security policy goals and decision-making procedures” that “allow the ability to act in a crisis.”
Berlin is responding to this, for example, by calling for majority decisions in EU foreign policy – but so far, without success.
The former chairman of the Munich Security Conference sees a second reason that “the military capabilities” are lacking.
“The 100 billion euros in special assets,” Ischinger judges, “are not nearly enough to equip the Bundeswehr in a modern, digital, and effective way.”
Indeed, a debate about increasing the German military budget has long since flared up.
Ischinger’s successor, Christoph Heusgen, who is chairing the security conference for the first time this year, echoed the call for more funding for the Bundeswehr at the start of the week.
“The 100 billion euros are not enough,” Heusgen declared, “We have to understand that our security is costly.”
Recently, the Bundestag’s defense commissioner, Eva Högl, said that instead of 100, at least 300 billion euros were needed. Heusgen said that the Bundeswehr should be given more money.
TWO, THREE, AND FIVE PERCENT
On a broad level, the demand for further military budget increases is currently being discussed within NATO.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg argues that the current two percent limit should no longer be set as a guideline but as a mandatory lower limit.
Defense Minister Boris Pistorius agrees that two percent of the gross domestic product must be “the basis for everything else in the future.”
Some NATO members are already advocating a target of three percent of economic output – especially countries approaching or exceeding this value.
Latvia (2.10 percent), Estonia (2.34 percent), and Lithuania (2.36 percent) are all beyond the two percent threshold, as are the United Kingdom (2.12 percent), Poland (2.42 percent) and the United States (3.47 percent).
The clear leader within NATO is Greece (3.76 percent). Estonia aims to reach 2.8 percent this year, then 3.2 percent in 2024.
Poland targets four percent in the short term and five percent in the long term.
This post was published first here.