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Munich Security Conference: Start of a post-Western era?

Joint weapons systems are an area in which cooperation can be improved. Instead of 17 different tanks, the EU could copy the US and just have one. [Expert Infantry/ Flickr]

The Western world order as we know it is at risk, according to the annual Munich Security Report. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In order to give Europe some breathing space in populism’s “post-truth era”, more money has to be spent on the military, insist experts.

“In the West and elsewhere, illiberal forces are gaining traction,” wrote the authors of this year’s report. Over the last 12 months, the study maintains that the entire western order has come under threat.

Externally, illiberal regimes have thrown the international status quo into flux and, internally, populism’s “axis of fear” has wrung political capital out of people’s concerns.

Germany says will boost defence spending, demands clear US agenda

Germany, under fire from US President-elect Donald Trump for not meeting NATO’s defence spending goal, is boosting military budgets, but also wants Trump to map out a consistent foreign policy agenda, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said.

The result: intergovernmental institutions, free trade and the public’s liberal-democratic consensus are in question and the end of the western world order could be nearing an end.

We could also be witnessing the end of an era here in Europe, says the report. Distrust of the Brussels institutions is growing. Anti-European forces and attacks march on and the uncertainty caused by Donald Trump’s election victory makes 2017 a defining year for the EU, comparable to the fall of the Berlin War or the end of the Second World War.

The report, used to kick off the Munich Security Conference, is published on an annual basis and a recent study by the Pew Research Centre shows that Europeans are keen for the EU to remain or increase its role in world affairs.

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The report authors have a clear idea about what kind of enhanced role the EU can have in the world. It entails common defence research and cooperation, as well as military build-up. The report also insists that Europe can only compete with the United States as a “superpower” and exert diplomatic pressure on other world players by ensuring it has a military foundation.

Munich Security Conference Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger insisted that sufficient military power is also a strategic necessity and is the only way to counter scepticism.

The report also highlighted the need to develop common weapons systems. For example, the member states have 17 different types of battle tank. The US army uses just one.

That is why it has backed initiatives like the EU’s Defence Union, which would cut out such examples of duplication and, ultimately, save costs. It also asked: “When, if not now, should Brussels’ clout in the world ever be on top of the menu?”

To what extent additional military spending and merging European armies are the right answers to the EU’s crises, the report’s authors leave open.

Another study by the Pew Research Centre showed that only the Poles and Dutch favour increasing defence spending, while most countries advocate keeping it the same.

 

So while most Europeans may want the EU to take a more active role in global affairs, the bloc is divided over whether that should be through spending more money on battle drones or development aid.

How the arms industry is staging a European coup

The EU is increasingly taking a pro-military stance, as the arms lobby exercises more influence. The election of Antoni Tajani last week as European Parliament president means the arms industry’s influence will grow further in the coming years, warns Bram Vranken.