EU defence policy ready for psychiatric treatment

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Albert Einstein's "insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" maxim applies perfectly to the EU's defence policy. [Lisa-Lisa/ Shutterstock]

Calls for a more militarised Europe have grown and grown, while the EU Council recently concluded that “Europe must commit additional resources” to defence. But increasing military expenditure is not the way forward, warn Bram Vranken and Laëtitia Sédou.

Bram Vranken is a researcher and campaigner with Belgian peace organisation Vredesactie, while Laetitia Sédou is EU programme officer with the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT).

Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. According to this definition our defence policy is ready for psychiatric treatment.

With mounting pressure from the Trump administration to increase military expenditure, defence spending is high on the European agenda.

In November, the Commission proposed measures which would earmark €3.5 billion of the EU budget to the arms industry to develop new military technologies from 2021 onward, with the objective of boosting “the competitiveness of the European arms industry”.

Other measures include wider access to EU funds such as COSME (for SMEs), regional funds and Erasmus +, as well as new funding from the European Investment Bank for military projects.

More military expenditure, however, won’t lead to peace and security. The problem isn’t the lack of weapons, but the lack of political vision for sustainable peace.

Do we really not spend enough on defence already?

A look at the total sum of military spending puts things into perspective. EU member states combined are the second biggest military power in the world. Only the United States spend more on defence.

In 2015 alone, EU countries spent the astronomical sum of €203.14 billion on their armies and weaponry.

By comparison, the Russian military budget is approximately €60 billion a year. Since the end of the Cold War, EU member states have systematically overspent Russia by a factor of more than three to one. If the result is that Europe is still military weaker than Russia, then something has gone terribly wrong with our taxpayers’ money.

Under the NATO framework EU members have regularly reiterated their commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on the military sector. This would mean a drastic increase of €85 billion annually leading to severe budget cuts in other budget lines such as social security and development aid, but won’t make us safer.

But isn’t a European army more efficient? If all 28 countries would join their military budgets that would mean more bang for one’s buck, wouldn’t it?

That’s the big question: which objectives should a common European defence policy serve? What operations would a European army be involved in?

A defence policy is never a goal on itself but is only one of the instruments of a foreign policy. As long as a European foreign policy is lacking, a European defence policy is premature.  The most important distinction between an army and a gang of robbers is that an army is politically controlled.

Giving money to the arms industry, as proposed by the European Commission, without resolving these serious shortcomings will not only be a waste of public money but will also exacerbate instability.

The arms industry is an industry unlike any other but one that profits from selling weaponry worldwide. Such an industry should not receive preferential treatment from the EU.

In the absence of political leadership, what remains is an economic policy. The result is a set of proposals that favours arms companies, including their capacity to export sophisticated weaponry, funded with public money, to non-EU countries.

For decades we have been told that more weapons and military spending would lead to more security and stability. However, none of the major conflicts of the last decades have been solved through military means. The military interventions in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq were disasters which have only made matters worse.

Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, the EU should come up with more innovative and courageous solutions in tackling the root causes of conflicts and drastically increase its support to peaceful ways of resolving them.

Of course, the EU has a critical role to play to confront the major challenges and numerous problems we are being faced with. Climate change, nuclear proliferation and increased inequality are only a few of them.

These problems will not be solved by investing more in weapons. On the contrary, higher military expenditure means less money to tackle these challenges in a sustainable way.