Russia’s war against Ukraine exposed the dire state of European defense once and for all. European capability gaps are vast; defense industries have been scaled down; and Europeans hardly cooperate. But the war could unleash new dynamics. Carried by public support for greater defense spending and cooperation, European policymakers have committed themselves to transforming European defense. The EU is trying to seize the moment by launching several initiatives that, if properly supported and funded, could help overcome the pathological fragmentation of Europe’s defense industrial base and establish the Union as a strategic enabler for NATO. But more needs to be done.
The report highlights that Europeans need to up and keep their spending pledges both to close some of the key legacy and new capability gaps and assuage criticism that they do not pull their weight in the transatlantic relationship. But not all capability gaps can be closed. Europeans therefore need to prioritize and plan better together, both within and between the EU and NATO, including by learning the lessons from the battlefields in Ukraine. Setting joint priorities should lay the foundation for deeper cooperation on joint arms projects. However, Europeans hardly cooperate on development and procurement, which causes costly duplications, weakens Europe’s defense industrial base, and undermines the interoperability between armed forces. Europe’s responses to the war risk even exacerbating this fragmentation. Aimed at mitigating fragmentation, the EU initiatives need to be better funded and supported by the member states.
The report concludes with five policy recommendations on how Europeans can come off the fence on European defense.
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