The news about massive job losses at BAE is a disaster foretold. Last year BAE which had put all its eggs in the US military-industrial defence basket based on the uncritical worship of anything American of the Clinton-Bush years realised Washington was cutting budgets and had no special relationship with US arms makers.
Sensibly BAE looked to a merger with the French based EADS to create a real European defence industry. Briitsh ministers accepted this despite their residual dislike of anything with Euro in the title.
But it was torpedoed by Angela Merkel who is highly protectionist when it comes to German defence contractors.
So now BAE is in trouble and its employees will pay the price.
Can ministers and other politicians raise themselves from their distrust of all things European and talk to France about shaping a real UK-French Euro defence capability with willing partners? If the Germans want to stay outside, so be it.
I made some of these points in an article for teh French think tank CEPS last spring. It was also published by British Influence in London.
Point of View: Europe undefended
Written by Denis MacShane on Friday, 19 April 2013. Posted in Defence, News
Amongst his many problems, France’s President Hollande has a tricky decision to make. He has to decide soon whether France’s military budget falls below the 2 per cent of GDP level set by Nato as the minimum to be taken seriously as a military puissance. France is scheduled to produce a white paper on defence which will decide whether France a military power with at least modest global reach.
As always in France three options are being discussed. The lowest budget spend would take French military spending down to 1.3 per cent of GDP. No more rapid deployment forces backed by warplanes to knock Islamists back from their attempted conquest of Mali.
The contents of the defence white paper – written by a committee which included the British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts – is being leaked as different factions jockey for the president’s ear.
Regional papers in France are printing horror stories about base closures and the removal of regiments which ever since Napoleon’s time have been stationed in every French region so that the military were fully integrated into the fabric of French state administration.
France would thus join Britain as a shrinking military nation. In last month’s UK budget setting out spending for the next years the Ministry of Defence suffered the biggest cuts of any government department. Britain’s national security officials are desperately massaging defence figures to keep total spend around 2 per cent but with polls indicating a change of government after 2015, the chances of a beleaguered Labour-led administration spending new money on defence are zero. The imperatives of spending on education, health and welfare to secure re-election for governments in Europe’s lost decade trump any national security demands on taxpayer’s money.
Britain and France are slowly becoming members of the Euro Defence Club of Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark or Sweden where defence spending as a share of GDP is just a shade above 1 per cent. According to the London-based security think tank IISS, European NATO members’ defence spending in 2012 was, in real terms, around 11% lower than in 2006.
Both Britain and France will hang on to their nuclear power status which gives the entry ticket as permanent members of the UN Security Council but the rest of their military spend will allow them to provide bands and parades for visiting dignitaries or funerals but putting an army into the field is now beyond Europe’s capability. The intervention in Libya was only possible because of US reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities. President Hollande made much of his reception in Mali after French soldiers chased out Islamists but they have simply gone to the hills and are waging a slow war of killing French soldiers one by one or kidnapping and executing any French citizens they can find.
This slow erosion of Europe’s military capability comes as Russia and China are increasing military budgets and the US appears to have given up military power as a tool in stabilizing the world. As China over-takes Britain to become the world’s fifth largest arms exporter, Washington is pulling its troops out of Germany where Britain is also evacuating its post-1945 military presence. The Polish government offered London barracks and huge military training areas in the hope that Britain would build a new military relationship with its old ally, but London rejected the offer out of hand. Poland is also nervous as the US is dropping its plans to install missile shield bases on Polish soil.
One obvious answer would be to Europeanise Europe’s defence and military spending and profile. Europe’s combined military spend is still pretty big but each nation insists on maintaining its own fragmented defence industries producing different armoured vehicles, warplanes, rifles, helicopters and naval vessels. Each country is producing its own drones when a common Eurodrone, based on the Airbus model of inter-state cooperation, makes more sense. There was a move last year to merge BAE, Britain’s main defense contractor and EADS, the European aerospace and defence giant. But it was torpedoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel under pressure from German defence firms who feared competition.
There is no defence lobby of weight left in Europe other than parochial local industries. No-one dares question the sacrosanct development budgets even though the military probably contribute more to stability and the possibility of peaceful open market growth than all the armies of development workers. Another suggestion is that defence spending should be excluded from the limit of 3 per cent of GDP for government borrowing – in other words a form of defense Keynesianism that would be welcome by skilled workers who see jobs evaporating as politicians raid defense budgets.
Most probably Europe will continue its slow disarmament. The rising Asian powers now spend more on defence than Europe. Defence is too costly, complex and controversial for the average politician as Europe slashes military budgets in the hope its diplomats and development ministers can deliver a stable world. At a Franco-British summit a few years ago President Chirac turned to the British prime minister and said ‘You know, Tony, there is only group more conservative than the military and that is the defence industry.” Sadly there is no political leadership around to knock sense into European soldiers and defence firms before it is too late.