Future of Europe’s 10 Nation Army – defence: can the EU actually protect itself against Russia? Driving Forces. (Part 2 of a 3 part series)
Telegraph.co.uk September 2018.
A European army … and a British ally?
Though he is German, Cpl Könecke speaks English with a strong Sheffield accent. His father is British, and met his mother while he was serving with the British army in Germany – in the same camp where his son is now based as a German soldier.
“We’d like to see more cooperation with the British army,” says Col Niemeyer. “Maybe not in terms of full integration like this. But we always feel good when we see the Brits back here for Nato training. We’re aware of your history and contribution to Lower Saxony.”
There is still a small ex-British army community in the area, and Col Niemeyer is the regional representative for the Royal British Legion. The irony is that before the Brexit referendum, the possibility of a European army was largely seen by the British political establishment as a threat, but attitudes have softened in the past year as the international security situation has changed.
“In defence, we’ve gone from being sceptical about a European army to being in many ways the cheerleaders for European defence,” says Prof Anand Menon of King’s College, London.
When French president Emmanuel Macron proposed his new European Intervention Initiative, the UK was one of the first countries to sign up. But Prof Menon remains sceptical about Europe’s ability to defend itself.
“I think Libya was a salutary lesson,” he says. “Effectively we were fighting a bunch of men on camels – Libyan forces are not that good. And yet for all the Americans said about leading from behind, their commitment ended up longer than anyone else’s.”
Shared weapons without a shared enemy
Without the US, Europe has serious gaps in its military capabilities when it comes to transporting forces and unmanned surveillance, Prof Menon says. But he argues that the problems go deeper. “To act together you need to agree on a threat,” he says. “Italy is looking south while the eastern Nato flank countries are looking east towards Russia. And European states vary dramatically in their attitude to the use of force.” The EU’s attempts at a common defence policy have been hobbled by the different aims of member states, says Claudia Major of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWR).
While Poland and the Baltic states are focused on territorial defence against Russian aggression, France is more concerned with the threat from Isil and Islamic extremism. That’s why Mr Macron wants a European intervention force, she says: to project force beyond the EU’s borders in North Africa.
“There are many problems with a European army. One is: who is deciding? Who’s going to make the decision to send troops into harm’s way?” he says. “Europe needs to start thinking and acting as if security threats are real. When they discuss strategy in Brussels they talk about climate, the environment. In Washington they talk about Iran and security,” adds Prof Menon.
He holds out little hope for Pesco, the EU’s military integration scheme.
“I still see fundamental differences in approach between member states,” he says. “France talks more about sending soldiers to places where people are firing at us, while for Germany the debate about defence is essentially a proxy for debate about political union.” But he says there is a role for the EU in defence alongside Nato.
“There are specific advantages the EU has. Because it’s an economic and political union it finds it easier to do full spectrum response than Nato, which is a purely military alliance. And there are parts of the world where the EU is seen as more legitimate because of the US presence in Nato. Of course, that’s not to say the EU will actually do these things.”
Cyber attack: the real threat
One area where you might expect Europe to be better placed to defend itself is against the cyber threat. Fears are growing that sophisticated hacker attacks could bring a modern country to its knees by disrupting transport networks, power grids and military communications.
On a virtual battlefield, where troop numbers and weapon stocks don’t count, you might think Europe would be able to go it alone without the US. But that’s not the case, according to Lucas Kello, senior lecturer in international relations and director of the centre for technology and global affairs at Oxford University. The greatest weakness in European cyber defence is also the greatest virtue of our political systems: their openness Lucas Kello, Oxford University
“It’s difficult for European nations to operate independently of the US because of the vital role intelligence plays in cyber defence,” says Dr Kello, whose recent book The Virtual Weapon and International Order explores the cyber threat. “Neutralisation of advanced weapons requires deep and persistent intrusion into adversaries’ computer terrain. In Europe, only large nations such as Britain and France have such intelligence gathering capabilities, but even they rely on close cooperation with the US intelligence community, which in turn relies on us.”
Europe faces a “grave cyber threat”, according to Dr Kello. “International cyber conflict originated in Europe with the attacks that crashed Estonia’s computer infrastructure in spring 2007,” he says. Until now, the focus of cyber security policy has been on protecting basic infrastructure such as power grids and stock exchanges. But increasingly there is a new focus on information security and the threat from coordinated fake news campaigns designed to undermine democratic society.
“The greatest weakness in European cyber defence is also the greatest virtue of our political systems: their openness,” says Dr Kello. “Autocratic nations such as China and Russia are able to manage their domestic information spaces with heavy-handed surveillance and censorship. This confers advantages in information security. Such measures, however, are contrary to liberal values.”
Another problem, he says, is the emphasis on traditional concepts of war.
“Western policy-makers struggle to deal with acts of ‘un-peace’, that are not physically violent like war, but which nevertheless cause significant political, social, or economic harm,” he says. “Our adversaries understand better than we do that so long as their actions do not cause significant physical destruction or loss of life, they will largely go unpunished.”
Nato has taken steps to confront the cyber threat in recent years, setting up a strategic think tank in Tallinn, and an emerging security challenges division at its Brussels headquarters.
“A severe cyber attack may be classified as a case for the alliance,” Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general, said recently, implying it would be grounds to invoke Nato’s mutual defence clause.
Dr Kello predicts the EU will become a significant player in cyber defence in coming years.
“The European Commission is pursuing a bold plan to establish a ‘digital single market’,” he says. “Consequently, European security planners will have to contend with a vaster and more tightly integrated attack surface. Greater digital integration will necessitate greater security cooperation and even centralisation.”
Brexit could weaken Europe’s cyber defence, he warns.
“Brexit’s greatest implication concerns intelligence gathering, and cyber defence is an intelligence-rich activity,” he says. “Brexit will likely complicate intelligence sharing across the Channel, and cyber defence efforts will suffer on both sides as a result. The continentals may suffer more, because Britain is Europe’s most capable intelligence player and enjoys the strongest ties with America’s intelligence community. Brexit will weaken intelligence cooperation between Britain and the continent and, therefore, probably also between the US and Europe.”