The European defense project should be complimentary to NATO, according to Jiri Sedivy, the chief executive of the European Defense Agency (EDA), who tells Kathimerini in an interview that a separate mutual defense clause among European states, like that in NATO’s Article 5, would not be “realistic.”
The former Czech defense minister notes that defense spending has already increased in Europe in the past six years and expects it to rise even further, “as an immediate consequence of the tragic war in Ukraine.” Sedivy urges European nations to “bundle” their resources and capabilities for joint investments, economies of scale and for increasing effectiveness, “now as war has returned to Europe.”
The coordinator of the common European defense project highlights the active role played by Greece in the EDA, but refrained from commenting on relations between Europe and Turkey. It is worth noting that the United States is seeking an administrative arrangement with the EDA and that talks are under way.
At what stage is the project of a common European defense? What is the ultimate goal and what would be a realistic timetable to see some tangible results? How would you describe a picture from the future?
My short answer is this: EU member-states made substantive progress over recent years to move towards a more cooperative, unified, stronger and efficient European defense, but we are not there yet. Indeed, a lot remains to be done. But the ultimate goal is clear: to make of Europe a continent that is capable of protecting itself and defending its values and citizens. To achieve that, European countries need to bundle their skills, their resources and their defense capabilities. They need to work together, because none of them is strong enough to achieve that on its own. So, Europe’s future lies in the cooperation between its member-states, also in the security and defense domain. Defense cooperation makes sense: budgetary sense (developing, buying and using defense equipment together is less costly than if every country does it on its own), political sense (pulling on the same string increases Europe’s weight on the international scene) and – most importantly – operational sense, because cooperation enhances the interoperability and effectiveness of the defense capabilities used by our armed forces. That’s also why the European Defense Agency was created in 2004: to initiate, promote and support defense cooperation among its 26 member-states, especially in the field of collaborative defense capability development and defense research.
Would you say that the final destination is essentially a European NATO? And would that work in parallel with NATO and within NATO?
I’m happy you mention NATO because there is sometimes a misunderstanding on what European defense cooperation, and a strengthened European defense, would actually mean for NATO. Sometimes, it is even portrayed as a possible alternative to NATO, which is, or course, not the case at all. On the contrary, a stronger, more integrated European defense would be complementary to NATO and strengthen the European pillar of NATO, because a more robust and autonomous European defense would ultimately lead to a stronger NATO. A stronger Europe of defense makes NATO stronger, it is as simple as that. This is important to understand because NATO is and remains the cornerstone of our collective defense. The shared objective of NATO and the EU is to ensure the security of their citizens and to enhance the transatlantic bond. Both play thus complementary roles in providing security in Europe. And this is crucial, especially now as war has returned to Europe.
Some want a European defense system by which each member-state will literally guarantee the security of the rest and react accordingly to any external threat. Others describe such an approach as unrealistic. What is your opinion?
‘A stronger, more integrated European defense would be complementary to NATO and strengthen the European pillar of NATO’’
Are you referring to a kind of EU collective defense clause such as exists in NATO with Article 5? If so, I haven’t heard any such calls at a European political level, to be frank. And I don’t think it would be realistic nor relevant to consider such a debate at the EU level because we have Article 5 in NATO, of which most EU member-states are members. As I said before: The aim of closer EU defense cooperation is not to replace NATO but to further strengthen it.
Military power requires financial support. Will member-states be called upon to spend more money than they do today as European defense deepens?
Defense spending in Europe has already risen over the past six years and I expect it to further increase now as an immediate consequence of the tragic war in Ukraine. It seems that our governments are now ready to deal with security and defense as a matter of priority whereas it had been somewhat neglected for many years. But let me be clear: Putting more money on the table for defense will not automatically guarantee more security and better defense. We also need to spend the money efficiently and wisely. And the best and most efficient way of spending our defense budgets is to do it together, through cooperation. Why should country A not team up with country B in modernizing their armies if they operate the same or similar types of capabilities? It would not only help them save money, but also to make this equipment more interoperable, which means more efficient when deployed in joint missions and operations. By the way, the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation on defense launched in 2017, or PESCO as we call it, entails the obligation for its 25 participating member-states to spend more and better on defense by systematically looking for cooperation wherever possible. And believe me, there are many cooperation opportunities available, as the EU’s Coordinated Annual Review on Defense (CARD) revealed in its first report in November 2020. As the European hub for defense cooperation, EDA is there to actively support any collaborative projects.
What is the role of Greece? How would you describe its position in the European defense project based on its characteristics?
I can only speak about Greece’s position and engagement at EDA. And what I see there is very positive. Greece is indeed a very active contributor to EDA projects across all our activities – from capability development to research and technology to industry cooperation. Let me give you just one example: Greece is a key supporter of the agency’s Maritime Surveillance network, the so-called MARSUR project, which is a European network initiated by EDA to interconnect all the national maritime information systems of all the 20 participating countries – that’s 19 EU member-states plus Norway – to allow a voluntary exchange of information and dialogue among them. It is one of the most impactful and long-lasting projects launched by the agency, under way since 2006, with the strong support of Greece. I can only encourage Greece to continue on this path and to further increase its active engagement in collaborative defense projects, be it at EDA or in other fora. Speaking about other cooperation fora, you may know that EDA is also part of the PESCO secretariat. And Greece is also very active here: It participates in 16 PESCO projects, one of the highest numbers among participating member-states, and coordinates five of them.
How does the European Defense Agency approach the role of Turkey? Does it classify it as one of its potential partners, such as NATO, or as a potential external threat, direct or hybrid, to its European borders? We should note here the violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighters, the weaponization of immigrants in Evros and the irregular migration flows from the Turkish coast.
Turkey is not an EDA member nor has it signed an administrative agreement with the agency, as other non-EU countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Ukraine and Serbia have done. So, you will understand that I cannot and will not comment on Turkey.
What do the developments in Ukraine mean for the common European defense project? We see that Germany is setting up a fund to upgrade its defense. Would you say that we have enough momentum for European integration in the field of defense? What are the next steps?
As we speak, only days after the totally unjustified Russian aggression against Ukraine started, it is too early to say what long-term impact this invasion, this appalling war on European soil, will have on European defense cooperation in the longer term. But it might well be a watershed moment as it shows, more than ever before, that we cannot take peace, stability and security in Europe for granted. It shows that we have to defend our values, our interests, our citizens. And that we need to have modern, powerful, efficient and interoperable defense capabilities to do that. The only way for Europeans and the Western world to ensure those defense capabilities are available is to invest in them, and to do it together. Which brings me again to my previous point: Europeans must further increase defense cooperation by pulling together their budgets, their research and innovation skills, their technological know-how and their industrial capacities, to be able to plan, develop, produce, maintain and use the best possible defense capabilities – together. EU member-states need to think about further integrating their armed forces, to make them stronger, more efficient and more interoperable. By doing that, we strengthen NATO, which is and remains the guarantee for our collective defense. The two – a more integrated European defense and a stronger NATO – go hand in hand because they are complementary and share the same objective: to protect our citizens in a world that has become more dangerous.
What messages are you receiving from the US? How is it reacting to Europe’s quest to strengthen its defense autonomy?
Europeans and Americans are partners in NATO, and whatever strengthens European defense also strengthens the European pillar of NATO. I think this is well understood on both sides of the Atlantic. By the way, the US is more and more interested in what we do, also at the European Defense Agency. As you know, the US wants to conclude an administrative arrangement (AA) with the agency, of which we have four in place so far (Norway, Switzerland, Serbia and Ukraine). Last November, EDA member-states’ defense ministers approved a mandate for EDA to start negotiations with the US Department of Defense (DoD) on the conclusion of such an AA. It is impossible to say today what the objective of the future AA will be because the scope and modalities of the AA will be defined during the negotiations, which have not started yet. Preparations for preliminary discussions with the US DoD on how best to take forward a mutually beneficial cooperation are under way right now, but it would be premature for me today to mention a date for the formal start of the negotiations.