Industrial Competition Remains Challenge for Transatlantic Security

  • Petr Boháček
  • 22.3.2019 08:11

The weakness of European business in the global competition of national champions from China and the United States is nothing new. Finding an effective industrial policy to protect European businesses also extends to defence, together with its large geopolitical implications. While screening mechanisms for foreign investments, especially from China, are gradually being adopted across the EU, caution must also be exercised towards Europe’s most important partner, the United States.

The Bruxelles2 website has published an exclusive account describing the US efforts to derail European initiatives to address its military-industrial weaknesses. They include luncheons, secret meetings, bilateral nudges and a repeated message of caution for Europe to watch the possible impacts of its actions. While the strategy remained the same, the tactics have changed from open criticism to more subtle and hidden lobbying. On 12 February 2018 during the Europe trip with the US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Pentagon’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Katie Wheelbarger voiced concerns over divergences between EU’s PESCO defence integration initiative and NATO. A few weeks later, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that Europe cannot defend itself without NATO and that 80 % of defence spending in the Alliance will come from non-EU countries after Brexit.

 

All attempts to ensure that EU taxpayers’ money goes to EU industries and that Europe addresses its technological and military weakness are viewed as problematic by the United States. 

 

The point is clear. PESCO and the European Defense Fund can channel money away from US businesses to the European ones. The US is worried that the EU defense and industrial programs that are destined to fix Europe’s military and defense spending malaise will not simply turn into more American weapons sales. For the current transactional White House administration, such sales might be the main benefit of the Transatlantic security partnership. The European use of US military technology is confined by extremely strict limitations under the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), which translates not only into the inability to get to know the technology and use it in European industries but in many situations also in operational restrictions. Meanwhile, all simple attempts to ensure that EU taxpayers’ money goes to EU industries and that Europe addresses its technological and military weakness are viewed as problematic by the United States.

The Buy American approach cannot be the only way to strengthen deteriorated Transatlanticism. Much more likely it can be harmful to it. It is not sustainable in the long term, as this approach of outsourcing technology and military equipment production overseas is bringing limited benefits to European markets, economies and technology base. Further, in September 2017, a study by the European think-tank ARES said that the development of the European defence industrial base is hampered by bilateral agreements with the US. If the United States wants Europe to be a reliable and indispensable military partner, it must allow for its full development instead of setting it back.

 

With China as the main strategic rival and the return of a more traditional isolationist and Jacksonian foreign policy to Washington, the challenge to protect the Transatlantic security partnership is up to Europe. 

 

The inability to find a way to improve the asymmetric Transatlantic relationship carries huge geopolitical risks in the increasingly unstable world. The danger here is not that Europe would not be able to convince the Trump administration about its valuable contribution to American security – a problem Poland tries to quickly patch by buying US weapons systems or building Fort Trump. The biggest risk is that Europe will fail to accomplish this task with the next United States administration, regardless of whether in two or six years. With China as the main strategic rival and the return of a more traditional isolationist and Jacksonian foreign policy to Washington, the challenge to protect the Transatlantic security partnership is up to Europe. More specifically, up to building true European industrial and technological capacities that can foment a real military capability valuable to its main ally. Such a goal, however, also requires some concessions on the side of the United States.

About author: Petr Boháček

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