Thursday, May 22, 2008

Europe Must Better Coordinate Defense: Experts by Antonie Boessenkool

European countries will need more interdependence in their defense spending habits to get to an optimal level of capability, as individual countries don't have the budgets to meet the costs of developing the necessary capabilities, a senior official from the European Defence Agency said May 21 at a discussion on European defense spending trends.

Defense spending in European countries is "too fragmented," said Ulf Hammarstrom, director for Industry and Market at the European Defense Agency. "We go so much to the same operations with very different equipment, and we have to have our own logistical and maintenance chains."

Hammarstrom and others spoke at a Washington presentation of a Center for Strategic and International Studies report on European defense spending trends. CSIS researchers found that European nations' defense spending has increased only slightly from 2001 to 2006, outpaced in most European countries by economic growth.

Yet spending on defense procurement, research and development has gone up 26 percent. The total number of European troops deployed overseas, not counting those at permanent overseas bases, increased from 65,000 to 80,000, but total troop levels among European countries decreased by 12 percent from 2001 to 2006. If those trends continue, future European forces could be smaller and better equipped than they currently are, CSIS reported.

But to better equip and protect their forces, European countries need to better coordinate their defense spending, said Jim Townsend, one of the speakers and director of the Program on International Security at The Atlantic Council.

"We will never get the capabilities we want … unless we do it in a collaborative, transparent way," Townsend said, speaking of capabilities for NATO member countries.

More coordination of European defense outlays means countries will have to look outside their borders for their defense needs, according to Hammarstrom.

"Traditionally, not only in Europe but around the world … countries try as much as possible to be self-sufficient in providing equipment for their forces," Hammarstrom said. "This does not have a future in Europe."

Stronger European capabilities for operations, be it EU-, NATO-, or UN-led, will only come through a stronger European security and defense policy, he said. "The basis of the nations is too small for that. Therefore, we need a more common market for the defense industries to be able to develop within."

Most member nations of the EDA have agreed to take part in a relatively new initiative by the EDA to publish their defense contracting opportunities on an electronic bulletin board for other European nations to see and promising fair competition for those contracts, Hammarstrom said. Under the initiative, started a year and a half ago, countries have published contracts totaling 10 billion euros. One fifth of those contracts have now been awarded, and one third of the awarded contracts have gone to non-European countries.

"To ensure that we have a competent and competitive industrial base for the future, we should also try to seek less dependency on non-European sources of supply, and this of course means less dependence through more effective programs and industrial strategy," Hammarstrom said.

"It does not mean fortress Europe or non-dependent," he added. "We will always cooperate outside of Europe." The EDA has started to identify "key technologies which we want to preserve or develop within Europe." A list is to be developed soon on these areas.

The defense trade relationship between the United States and Europe is undergoing "tectonic shifts right now," Townsend said, and Northrop Grumman's and EADS' partnership on the Air Force refueling tanker competition is a prime example of that shift.

"Usually, industry is way ahead of the government in these kinds of things," he said. "I hope that we are able on an industrial basis to be in collaboration as well."

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