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EU military boost would bring benefits, says bloc’s top general

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

Gen. Claudio Graziano said the EU could act as a mediator between the US and China.

Confronted with a debate between the French president and the German defense minister on how much Europe should rely on the U.S., the EU’s top military official, Gen. Claudio Graziano, opted for a defensive tactic: strategic compromise.  

In an interview with POLITICO, Graziano stepped into the fraught political debate over whether Europe can aspire to “strategic autonomy” in the military sphere — the extent to which the bloc along with regional allies such as the U.K. can deter aggressors and intervene with military power beyond its borders. Yes, the EU’s military capabilities are limited, but growing them would bring security and economic benefits, so the thinking goes.

The Italian general sought to tread a middle line between German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who in an op-ed in POLITICO earlier this month argued that as security provider “Europe still needs America.” Her piece prompted a fierce response from French President Emmanuel Macron, who in an interview said that he “profoundly” disagreed, describing her argument as “a historical misinterpretation.”

Rather than being drawn on the question of whether Europe can rely on U.S. intervention, Graziano said the debate was not about “autonomy from someone,” but instead an ambition for “the autonomy of doing something alone, if necessary.”

“Strengthening the EU [Common Security and Defence Policy missions] will bring stability to our region,” he said, though he stressed that working with partners, and NATO in particular, was the preference.

Yet critics argue it makes little sense for the EU to talk about being a security provider given its current limited military capacity. “I don’t agree completely but there’s always some truth,” said Graziano.

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The EU already acts alone militarily, he pointed out. Operation Atalanta, for example, is an ongoing naval mission to fight piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. In March, the EU launched Operation Irini to monitor the U.N. arms embargo on Libya through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets in the Mediterranean.

But Graziano acknowledged that the EU could do much more. “If we had already the strategic autonomy, we would have not needed to launch all the initiatives that we have launched to make strategic autonomy more credible,” he said referring to the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The military pact launched in 2018 is developing 47 common projects, while €7 billion has been allocated in the EU’s long-term budget to a European Defence Fund to develop cooperation on research and development of military technology.

Building military capability will have other benefits too, argued Graziano. “[It] will reinforce the EU industrial base, translating into technological sovereignty from China and from the U.S. — because those who will have the technology will be dominant.”

One of the obstacles is that EU defense expenditure has not fully recovered from budget cuts following the 2007 financial crisis. The European Defence Agency recently warned that EU countries are not spending enough on defense research and technology, calling into question their ability to achieve strategic autonomy.

Graziano said the key point was how the money is spent. “In terms of overall defense expenditure, Europe is among the three top security entities in the world, so it’s not a matter of spending more but spending better,” he said. “[The EU wants] to be a global security provider … if we are united on defense and security we can have a very significative impact on many fronts.”

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One of those, he suggested, was to play a role between the U.S. and China as the latter continues its economic and military rise. That could mean a damaging military conflict in the future. But, he said, a stronger EU “will help the global powers to avoid that tensions between the U.S. and China escalate … There are many instruments of power to avoid the collision and the EU is the only organization owning a well-recognized, complete set of tools (politics, diplomacy, military and economy), for a truly integrated approach.”

But first the EU has more immediate military tests. In the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa, French troops are engaged in a mission to eliminate what is seen by many as a safe haven for Islamist fighters who want to target Europe. Fifty French soldiers have died there since 2013, in a conflict that has been dubbed Europe’s Afghanistan. France reportedly would like to withdraw several hundred of its current 5,100-strong troop contingent to make space for a stronger EU presence. EU officials point out that the presence of other EU countries in the region, including Estonia, illustrates the willingness on the part of nations that are far removed from the conflict — and don’t have a colonial history in the region.

“The entire Sahel: it’s to me the very priority for the European Union, if we want to be credible in running [military] operations as a global security provider,” said Graziano.

Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-military-boost-would-bring-benefits-says-blocs-top-general/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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