Too much business, not enough politics

A joint strategy for "external action" and defense is lacking in Europe. Industrial potentates prevail

“Potentates linked to military industries are very influential. Europe’s military industry is way beyond that of the US”, affirmed Francesco Vignarca, national coordinator of the Italian disarmament network. Vignarca took stock of the situation with Riccardo Benotti for SIR Europe in the light of Barack Obama’s recommendations to increase military spending and pursue rearmament in Europe. What has been Europe’s response to the appeal of the US President? “It’s the usual role playing. Earmarking 2% of GDP on military spending is not a new request. It’s a proposal that dates back to 2002, after the overhaul of NATO at the summit in Prague, but the countries did nothing to respect it. Even in this case I do not see a real intention to change things. In fact, only few NATO Countries complied with the threshold. All the large countries are below it. If, for example, Italy wanted to reach 2%, for Premier Renzi it would mean to allocate approximately 10 billion euro on a permanent basis”. Who spends the most on weapons in Europe? “Turkey and Greece, for historical and political reasons. It’s a paradox considering that these two Countries are part of the same alliance and that they spend so much because they view each other with hostility. Military spending is driven by political – not by technical – motivations. When Greece was under the grips of the Troika, France and Germany demanded sacrifices but they equally requested high military expenditure because the Germans had to sell submarines and France had to sell ships. Even the United States, which have reduced military investments, provide full financial coverage of Israel’s Iron Dome. American taxpayers pay Israel’s security out of their own pockets. In Europe, Britain and France’s military budget is slightly higher than the other nations. Both are nuclear powers and the management of nuclear weapons requires greater resources”. Would the creation of a European army be a solution? “A European army should be an intermediate step towards complete disarmament when, quoting from Prophet Isaiah, ‘they shall forge their swords into ploughshares.’ The reason is twofold. The first is political in nature, namely, with its own military force Europe will play a different role also in terms of foreign affairs. Despite its many flaws, Europe has implemented political avenues that are enabling the management of internal conflicts, sparing violent actions. But a strong foreign policy is also based on a strong common defense”. And the second reason? “It’s economic in nature. The Institute for International Affairs estimates that a European armed force comparable to the of the US, with high standards, would enable European Countries to save 100 bln euros a year. But scarce progress has been made so far, and this is reason for concern”. How could a European armed force be created? “Following a rational model. It wouldn’t make sense if each nation put a piece or sent a battalion since, in that way, each Country would continue to keep also its armed forces. But in case of a transition, for example, from 2 million to 500 thousand units, regardless of the Country, then a common ground could be created”. Who are the lords of rearmament in Europe? “The potentates tied to military industries. Europe has outstanding military industries that do not fear the comparison with those of the United States. BAE Systems is the largest European military industry based in the United Kingdom. EADS, Finmeccanica, Thales, Safran and many others aim at rearmament, urging Europe to put in place a military response for any crisis. These are industries with strong protections. Just think of the BAE Systems: the Blair government has invoked the state secret privilege on the possibility of inquiring on the very existence of corruption phenomena related to the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. From the political point of view the military industry that wants to continue its orders, and can have them only by the States, exerts enormous influence”. On the many fronts open worldwide, is military intervention the only possible solution? “The military approach to the crisis continues reverberating even at a later stage. When it is obtained, reconstruction occurs only in material terms. But without social reconstruction the former is useless. If peace-keeping forces left some of the Balkan areas where they are now, problems would linger on even today. The same is true for Lebanon and other world countries. This doesn’t mean that peace-keeping forces are useless in preventing the outbreak of armed conflicts. But unless efforts focus on major social and economic resolutions, we will always be forced to resort to armed forces that only serve the scope of making endemic situations ever more problematic”.

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