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European Defense Agency Raising Hackles in U.S. 


by Roxana Tiron 

The creation of the European Defense Agency is sending ripples across the Atlantic and raising questions about Europe diverting resources away from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Trans-Atlantic tensions over European commitments to NATO have caused some leading U.S. officials in the alliance—notably U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns—to question whether a heightened focus on EU capabilities will further sap resources that could benefit the alliance.

Not so, EDA officials counter. Instead, they maintain that any improvements European defense establishments derived from the new agency will complement NATO and help solve some European shortfalls in materiel and organization.

Entering full operations in early 2005, the European Defense Agency will have a projected budget of 25 million euro a year—about $30 million—for the next six years. The rest of this year will be dedicated to getting the operation in gear, and for that, the agency will have 2.5 million euro ($3 million).

“The setting up of the EDA is a vital period, of course, where we determine that it will do a practical job [and] will not be overly-bureaucratic,” Lord William Bach of Lutterworth, the United Kingdom’s undersecretary of state and minister of defense procurement, told National Defense. “These early years....will prove if we can really enhance European capabilities.”

The United Kingdom and France, with support from Germany, have proposed this intergovernmental agency to be set up within the European Union to supervise the development of military capabilities, research and armaments.

The agency also takes upon itself the creation of up to nine elite battle groups for rapid deployment to international trouble spots. With this plan, the EU will have up to 1,500 soldiers able to deploy to conflict areas within 15 days. The EU force would complement the 20,000-strong quick-reaction NATO Response Force the alliance began forging last year for the same purpose.

“Europeans are faced with a twofold obligation: to spend more on their defense and to spend better, [that is] organize themselves more effectively,” said Laurent Giovachini, director of cooperation and industrial affairs at the French Ministry of Defense and France’s armaments director within NATO and the EU. Giovachini recently spoke to U.S. industry officials.

“We are all actively seeking to improve the operation of the European defense market to make it more open and transparent,” Bach said during a presentation at a U.K.-U.S. defense industry symposium in London sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. “It will benefit us in Europe to align us to more efficient industry that is better placed to understand both our requirements and deliver the capabilities that we need.”

The agency will have several functions related to capability development, defense research and technology, management of cooperative programs and reinforcement of European industry, including the implementation of a European defense equipment market, Giovachini said in an interview.

“The agency will have to pursue and coordinate, or initiate, as soon as it will have been created, all the tasks entailed by these functions,” he said.

According to Giovachini, the agency will help identify and implement measures for building up an industrial and technological base in the defense realm and assisting the European Commission in supporting initiatives to set up a competitive European defense market.

The first aim of the agency, Bach told National Defense, is to ensure that the 10 new members of the European Union will play their full part in European defense and tap into their “niche capabilities that other countries do not have.”

“We also intend that it should lead to a more open system of cooperative equipment projects and it will have a role in that field as well,” he added.

The agency will be able to draw upon the expertise of the EU military committee, made up of the chiefs of defense of the 25 member states, and of the EU’s armament directors, according to Giovachini.

The European Union has made several attempts to collaborate and bring their defense power together, at industrial levels as well as in military operations. These attempts have materialized in agencies and agreements that, however, lack a focal point.

The Union’s failure to respond appropriately to the ethnic conflicts in the Balkans during the 1990s encouraged British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac to launch the idea of EU defense at their summit in St. Malo in December 1998. That led to the creation of the European Security and Defense Policy, or ESDP.

Its objectives are to strengthen European contributions to NATO by enabling European forces to take a larger share of the European security burden in circumstances where NATO as a whole is not engaged. ESDP also is meant to make military forces more rapidly deployable, effective and sustainable, and enable the European Union to play its full role on the international stage from political dialogue to civilian and military crisis management operations.

At the time of the summit, the 15 EU member states agreed that, when NATO is not engaged as a whole, Europe should be capable of handling, on its own, the peacekeeping and peacemaking operations known as the “Petersberg Tasks.”

They also agreed that the time had come to carry out the first EU-led operations, such as in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This political-military impetus was all to the benefit of European armament cooperation, said Giovachini. Five European countries joined the United Kingdom in its efforts to develop the Meteor air-to-air missile. Belgium and Spain joined France in the Hélios II military observation satellite program, conducted in close coordination with Germany and Italy, which are acquiring similar capabilities.

The much-delayed military cargo plane program, the Airbus M400, also took off last June, with an order of 180 aircraft for a total amount of 17 billion euro ($20.6 billion). The order was handled by Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’Armement, or OCCAR.

This European Joint Organization for Armaments Cooperation became a legal entity in 2001, acting as a multi-national agent on collaborative projects for its member countries.

Meanwhile, the progress made by the ESDP has helped revive the process of consolidating European industry, said Giovachini. The six leading European arms manufacturing countries—France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden—now are trying to implement the provisions of the framework agreement known as the letter of intent, or LoI, to simplify business for transnational defense companies, while ensuring to the governments some form of control.

On the operational level, the European nations also decided that they needed to work on capabilities to rapidly deploy and sustain about 60,000 soldiers, up to corps level, for at least one year. However, when serious shortfalls cropped up in nations’ capability commitments, the EU council launched the European Capabilities Action Plan (ECAP) to address a long list of shortfalls, including attack helicopters; special operations forces; unmanned aerial vehicles; nuclear, biological and chemical equipment and carrier-based airpower.

Despite all these endeavors, there still is insufficient coordination of defense requirements across the EU and no unity of supply, European officials asserted. The creation of the EDA would not only streamline processes, but also would be expected to be at the core of the development of a European foreign and defense policy.

Specific programs should be launched in the medium term as a result of the ECAP working groups that have been addressing the capabilities gaps within the past couple of years, Giovachini said. “The ECAP process will be animated by the agency.”

The agency will have to look for quick wins as well as predict the needs of European defense beyond 2020, Nick Witney, the head of the EDA establishment team, remarked at a press dinner hosted by New Defense Agenda.

Witney warned against expecting too much, however, because common defense procurement will not be able to take place within the next five years. He also said that he could not see the agency taking on projects of the multi-billion Eurofighter scale for several years.

Anticipating criticism from the United States—the lead nation in NATO—Bach countered that EDA is “absolutely not going to contribute to the creation of a protectionist Fortress Europe and our European allies know that very well.”

“It will benefit us in Europe to align us to more efficient industry that is better placed to understand both our requirements and deliver the capabilities that we need,” he said at the NDIA conference. “And I will stress that this should also be welcome to the United States.”

Bach said, the agency will help Europeans increase the capability they would contribute to NATO and coalition forces, and will create opportunity for companies that are based in the United States. “It is, of course, a long way to go,” he said.

Bach’s comments came amid a tense and controversial period for international cooperation, given opposition to freeing up U.S. export controls on certain defense items within the House Armed Services and House International Relations committees. European leaders view some House proposals as attempts to block possible avenues of collaboration.

“In contrast to European moves to begin long awaited reduction of market values, there are those in the United States who advocated heading in the opposite direction—closing off opportunity for cooperation and erecting barriers in the market place,” Bach said. “This will undoubtedly harm the U.K. both in capability and industrial returns. I believe strongly it will also damage the U.S. industry with which we have a very close relationship, and from which we acquire important and sometimes large elements of our national capability.”

NATO shortfalls already have become apparent in the first mission outside continental Europe. Charged with providing security in the Afghan capital of Kabul and the surrounding area, the International Security and Assistance Force suffers from a shortage of equipment, vehicles and personnel.

In particular, past ISAF commanders have complained of a lack of helicopters for missions and personnel to man and guard the Kabul International Airport. Progress in Afghanistan is lagging behind, say critics, because several of NATO’s member states do not seem to be making serious commitments to ISAF, either in troops or in money.

“Every project of the agency will contribute to reinforce NATO capabilities,” Giovachini told National Defense. “From a general point of view, the EU has to become a credible partner of NATO. Europe has to provide a more appropriate level of implication in its own defense and in the new missions of the alliance.”

Giovachini predicts that NATO will positively view the strengthened engagement of Europe in defense matters. “We have to keep in mind that the agency will be essentially composed of countries whose collective security interests are based on their membership in NATO,” he said.

The best way for Europeans to convince the United States of the merits of EU defense would be for them to enhance their military capabilities, asserted Charles Grant, director of the U.K. Centre for European Reform.

With a combined defense budget of 160 billion euro and 1.6 million troops, EU countries together boast the world’s second- largest military force. While the EU spends just under half of what the U.S. invests in defense, it has been reported that its military capability amounts to only a tenth of what the U.S. gets for its money because of duplicate and incompatible equipment. By pooling defense efforts, the EU saves up to five billion euros a year, according to experts.

Europe, however, will have to come up with ways to split funds between the alliance and the agency.

“The NATO and the EU capability processes have to keep standing alongside each other on a complementary basis,” said Giovachini. “Their relationships are ruled by already existing arrangements which have to be implemented and, if necessary, strengthened.”

To avoid the bureaucratic quagmires currently plaguing NATO, Giovachini said that in the initial stage the agency will assume operative functions and will also rely on external cooperative initiatives such as LoI and OCCAR, “which could be fully integrated in its mature stage.”

As a consequence, he said, the agency will have a 100 maximum staff in the next several years with most of the required positions provided on a temporary basis by national experts.

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