Security in Unity: EU Defense Integration and Ukraine's Place in It

Ihor Petrenko

10 mins - 5 de Abril de 2024, 07:00

The current geopolitical landscape of Europe is experiencing unprecedented challenges. Difficulties (primarily internal discussions) in the US support for its allies and partners, as well as Donald Trump's statements indicating a possible reduction in US involvement in the defense of other NATO member states, prompt a rethinking of the European Union's defense strategy. The lack of U.S. leadership in the security sphere, especially in light of potential threats from Russia, imposes on the EU the responsibility to strengthen its own defense capabilities. This is not about the distant future or an ephemeral threat, but about Russia's concrete preparations to expand its aggression to EU and NATO member states. In particular, analysts at the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believe that a number of Russian financial, economic and military indicators demonstrate that Russia is preparing for a large-scale conflict with NATO not in the near future, but probably in a shorter timeframe than some Western analysts initially assumed. So, what should the EU do and what place can Ukraine take in the process of defense integration?

The current security situation in Europe is characterized by increasing unpredictability, especially in light of potential threats from Russia, which continues to build up its military capabilities and demonstrates its readiness for aggressive actions. The situation is further complicated by the decline in U.S. leadership and commitment within NATO, which calls into question the alliance's ability to respond effectively to potential crises. Given the growing threats, the EU must take decisive measures to strengthen its security component. This includes increasing defense spending, integrating defense efforts between member states, and establishing effective crisis response mechanisms. In addition, an important aspect is the development of the EU's own defense industry potential, which will reduce dependence on external suppliers and ensure a rapid response to possible threats.

To achieve the EU's defense integration, a number of steps need to be taken, taking into account the timeframe and potential risks:
  • Political will and consensus: A pan-European consensus on the need for and scope of defense integration, including agreement on strategic goals and priorities, needs to be secured.
  • Establishment of a common defense policy: development and implementation of a common foreign and defense policy, which may include joint procurement, development of defense technologies and standardization of military equipment.
  • Increase defense spending: all EU members should strive to reach or exceed the recommended level of defense spending of 2% of GDP. It is also important to ensure that these funds are used efficiently within each EU country. Separate funds for defense can also be created or drawn from existing ones, which should also receive appropriate funding.
  • Establishment of European defense forces: Consideration of the possibility of creating joint military formations capable of acting independently and/or in coordination with NATO.
  • Integration of the defense industry: deepening cooperation in the defense industry to strengthen the European industrial base and reduce dependence on external suppliers.
Given the scale of the steps, the question of the timeframe for such transformations is logical. The process of EU defense integration can take from several years to decades, depending on political will, institutional reforms, development of military capabilities, and the dynamics of international relations. Each stage of this process requires time for planning, coordination, implementation, and finally integration. It should also be borne in mind that this process may be phased, and some aspects, such as establishing joint procurement or coordinating military exercises, may be realized more quickly than more ambitious goals, such as creating a single European army or fully harmonizing the defense industry. Given the potential obstacles and challenges, such as the need to preserve national sovereignty, divergent defense priorities among member states, and the need to align with NATO defense policy, EU defense integration is a complex process that requires careful consideration and ongoing dialogue among all stakeholders. But it is worth remembering that time is short and the enemy is actively preparing for aggression.

At the moment, we see the political will or at least the desire for it, and Macron's recent statements are aimed at this. 

But is there a demand from European societies? According to a survey conducted by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, 87% of Europeans support the idea of a common EU defense policy. This indicates the readiness of European societies to accept and support the strengthening of defense ties and cooperation at the EU level. Studies show that support for deeper defense integration among European citizens has remained stable over time. This suggests that Europeans are homogeneous in their perception of the importance and benefits of joining forces in defense. An additional study conducted by the University of Amsterdam found that citizens from five European countries favor ambitious ideas for European defense. This includes transferring responsibility for military spending and even deploying troops from national governments to the EU. These data show that while there are concerns about a populist backlash to a stronger EU defense role, there is real public support for such initiatives. This may give EU politicians and lawmakers more confidence in pushing forward with defense integration plans, knowing that they have strong support from their voters. However, it should be remembered that the willingness of European societies to spend more on defense and support greater defense integration varies by country, regional security situation, historical experience, and general perceptions of threats and international relations.

In addition to political will and public opinion, risks to consider include resistance from individual member states, for example, Hungary or other countries may oppose certain integration initiatives due to national interests, sovereignty, or political differences. It is also important to avoid duplication of efforts and conflicts of interest with NATO. It is necessary to ensure that integration does not weaken NATO's ability to provide effective collective security, nor does it undermine the Alliance's cohesion or strategic objectives.

Greater defense integration of the European Union should not contradict NATO's founding documents, and this issue requires careful balancing and coordination between the two organizations. Therefore, strengthening the EU's defense integration should take into account the following aspects:
  • Complementarity, not competition: The EU and NATO already have a number of cooperation agreements that emphasize the complementarity of the two organizations in ensuring European and transatlantic security. EU defense integration can contribute to greater European responsibility for its own security, which in turn can strengthen NATO.
  • Compatibility of standards: It is important that any EU defense initiatives are compatible with NATO standards and procedures to ensure effective interoperability and cooperation between EU and NATO forces.
  • No duplication: One of the principles of EU-NATO cooperation is to avoid unnecessary duplication in the defense sector, which ensures the rational use of resources and efforts.
  • Mutual Defense Clause: Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is a key provision that ensures the mutual defense of NATO members. No EU initiatives should undermine this commitment, although the EU also has its own mutual defense clause in the Lisbon Treaty (Article 42.7), which should be aligned with NATO member states' obligations.
In general, the deepening of EU defense integration can be seen as a complement to NATO aimed at strengthening pan-European defense capabilities. This not only strengthens Europe's defense capabilities, but also promotes greater cooperation and synergy between the EU and NATO, ensuring that the efforts of one organization complement and support the goals of the other.

Defense integration at the EU level could also help address some of the current challenges faced by NATO, such as the lack of defense funding by some Allies or the need to share responsibilities and resources. In this way, a more integrated EU defense policy could help to increase NATO members' contributions to their own security and defense, which is in the common interest of the alliance.

However, it is important to ensure that any EU initiatives are transparent and coordinated with NATO to avoid any potential misunderstandings or conflicts of interest. Cooperation and ongoing dialogue between the EU and NATO are key to ensuring that both organizations work together to maintain and enhance transatlantic security and stability.

Ukraine already plays an important role, and can play an even more important role, in strengthening EU security. With one of the most capable armies in Europe and a strong track record of repelling Russian aggression, Ukraine plays a strategic role in ensuring EU security. Its experience and potential can be useful in developing new defense doctrines, strengthening military-technical cooperation, and increasing readiness to respond to threats. Currently, we have an unprecedented level of cooperation with the EU, with President Zelenskyy playing an important role in this, whose policy is aimed at developing relations at the level of EU structures and bilateral relations with member states, and good personal relations with European leaders are also important. Ukraine is also actively concluding bilateral security assistance agreements with European countries, which create opportunities for Ukraine's integration into the EU security space, especially in terms of developing joint defense industries and unifying the defense establishment.

For effective integration into the EU security environment, Ukraine needs to:
  • Strengthen bilateral relations with EU countries, in particular through military-technical cooperation, joint military exercises, and intelligence sharing;
  • Participate in European defense initiatives, such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defense Fund, to demonstrate its readiness to cooperate and contribute to European security;
  • Expand international dialogue on security issues, intensifying participation in international forums and conferences to enhance understanding and support from European partners;
  • Internal reforms in the defense and security sector, including army modernization, improved governance and transparency in defense procurement.
Strengthening the EU's security component is a key element in ensuring Europe's stability and prosperity in the face of the challenges of the 21st century. Ukraine's role in this process cannot be overestimated, as its contribution and experience can play a crucial role in shaping a new European defense identity. Therefore, it is natural that the EU and Ukraine are already working together to create a strong, integrated and interdependent defense structure capable of withstanding the threats of our time. However, this process should be accelerated. Cooperation and engagement will be key to strengthening the EU-Ukraine relationship, not only by guaranteeing security but also by underpinning the foundation for long-term stability on the continent. In this context, Ukraine can act not only as a beneficiary, but also as an important strategic partner capable of strengthening the defense capabilities of Europe as a whole. Thus, the expansion of defense cooperation between the EU and Ukraine opens up new horizons for ensuring peace and security in the region, while contributing to building a stronger, fairer and more resilient Europe.

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