Europe must give itself a second life insurance inside NATO.


The outburst of Donald Trump, who in South Carolina on 10 February accused NATO member countries of being "bad payers", has raised concerns in Europe. In Germany, the debate questioned the "life insurance" that NATO represents for Europe, in the words of Analena Baerbock, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the summit of the Weimar triangle on 12 February, in La Celle-Saint-Cloud (Yvelines). His French counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné, replied: "We need a second life insurance, not as a substitute, not against NATO, but in addition."

Europe must give itself this second life insurance, in NATO. It can. While in 2024, Russia will increase its military spending to the equivalent of €106 billion, the European countries of the Alliance, according to the NATO Secretary General, will devote more than €350 billion to it. The combined budgets of Germany and France will amount to nearly €133 billion. These figures give a relative picture of the balance of power, since Europe does not have an army, but has as many as there are nations; Nevertheless, they show that the way is open. It is in NATO, whose new Strategic Concept adopted in Madrid in 2022, says that it " recognises the value of a stronger and more capable European defence that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to, and interoperable with NATO.” However, the objective of life insurance cannot be confused with the objective, even if it is important, of reaching the threshold of 2% of GDP for military budgets, which will be done by 20 NATO countries in 2024. While Alliance diplomats believe that this increase could help win Trump's trust if he were to be elected, this vassal reasoning, turning a blind eye to the risk, rules out the possibility that Europe can defend itself on its own.

To this end, the EU must urgently organise a conventional capability from national armies to respond to aggression. It must then powerfully develop its defence industrial and technological base. Finally, it can consider the subject of the nuclear shield.

Since Brexit, the EU has included defence in its budget and has created, within its military staff, the military planning and conduct capability, which could be a precursor to an operational staff. In its Strategic Compass, adopted in 2022, it plans to consolidate this military capacity and to be able to rapidly deploy 5,000 soldiers. A first manoeuvre took place last October in the south of Spain. It is now necessary to create a real operational staff, capable of planning crisis scenarios and coordinating significant deployments of troops capable of facing a real war, in confidence with NATO. The Eurocorps, based in Strasbourg, can command up to 60,000 troops for the EU or NATO. France also launched in 2018 the European Intervention Initiative, which brings together 13 countries, including the United Kingdom, to develop a common strategic culture and military engagement capability. In addition, cooperation between neighbouring countries has to be brought into line with each other. Today, Ukraine's effective support, if necessary, by them alone, is a test for Europeans.

In order to strengthen its European Defence and Technological Industrial Base (EDTIB), the EU has created various instruments, such as the European Defence Fund, the European Peace Facility, the Permanent Structured Cooperation in 2017, and the European defence industry reinforcement through common procurement act (EDIRPA) and the Cyber Defence Strategy in 2022; in 2023, it decided on the joint production of ammunition to help Ukraine (Act in Support of Ammunition Production - ASAP); it has the European Defence Agency and can rely on the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, OCCAR. The Commission will soon unveil its European Defence Industrial Strategy (EDIS). To go further, Commissioner Thierry Breton has proposed a €100 billion fund to boost the defence industry, and Estonia has advocated raising European debt for aid to Ukraine and rearmament. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's idea to create a post of European Commissioner for Defence is a step in the same direction.

The sensitive issue of nuclear power is also raised. In January, President Macron, recalling his speech at the Ecole Militaire on 7 February 2020, stressed in Sweden that France was a "nuclearweapon state whose vital interests have a European dimension" and reiterated his proposal for a strategic dialogue with its partners on the role of French nuclear deterrence, the only one in the EU. The proposal, which was overlooked in 2020, sparked heated exchanges in Germany, leading Defense Minister Boris Pistorius to declare on Feb. 14 that the nuclear debate "is an escalation in discussion that we don't need." However, the weekly Die Zeit devoted a full page the next day to the question "Does Europe need the bomb?", from which it emerged that the French proposal must be studied, with, without calling into question France's sovereign decision to use nuclear power, issues such as participation in French nuclear exercises or a reflection on a temporary stationing in Germany of Rafale planes carrying atomic bombs.

Europeans have the capacity to coordinate and build, within NATO, the organization that gives an operational character to Article 42-7 of the Treaty on European Union: " If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power..." Europe can become sovereign, as an effective partner of NATO, if it wants to. It owes this in view of the threats it faces.

Translation from French of an article in Le Monde – 27 February 2024 

Authors are two board-members of Eurodefense France:

Cyrille Schott, f
ormer director of the "Institut national des hautes études de la sécurité et de la justice (INHESJ)" 

Jean Paul Perruche, Lieutenant general (ret) , former director EUMS


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