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Securing Europe’s future can be done but the path is a stony one

Euro-View: Hans Rodewald on Europe’s security choices

Hans Rodewald

Europe is at a junction in its history where the decisions it makes in the next two to three years will determine whether the EU develops into a true global player or shrinks to a swarm of political and economic dwarfs. One of the central questions it must address is how to provide security to its citizens.

Confrontations, often insanely justified, are spreading worldwide, while creeping globalization has prevented even the well-informed from understanding the complicated meshwork determining our daily lives. In times of growing insecurity societies tend to find scapegoats as they lean increasingly toward nationalism. The examples are all around us today.

What does this mean for Europe and the imminent decisions it faces?

With its historically belligerent mix of cultures it was only natural for Europe’s population to support supranational organisations (United Nations, NATO, EU) after exhausting itself once again during the last “great” war of 1939-1945.

Yet our Europe conceived as a “union of fatherlands” has not reached its founding fathers’ goals. As perceived by many citizens, the EU’s bureaucrats have busied themselves with finding answers to non-existent or minute problems rather than concentrating on more strategic policies as the basis for a successful global player.

The EU’s tangle of regulations has confused us all, while the impact of its truly great achievements – the Euro’s introduction, for example, or the Schengen Agreement – were mitigated by including unqualified member states, causing the EU to stumble from one crisis to the next. Not surprisingly, national politicians blame their own failings on the EU as the main culprit.

What should Europe do?

I do not advocate simple solutions. But they have to be done with great resolve and energy to set our continent back on the right track at this dark hour of “five minutes to noon”.  These actions include:

* restricting, but also concentrating, EU authority to the essential binding, supranational elements of foreign, judicial and financial matters (including fiscal and monetary aspects) and, of course, comprehensive security and defence;

* boosting education and awareness campaigns about the benefits of “Europe”; and

* using the concept of security, in the broadest sense of the word, as a means for spreading prosperity to all of Europe’s regions.

This last action is particularly critical. So-called asymmetric warfare (AW) no longer implies conflict between nations under the rules of the Geneva Convention. AW attacks the boundary between military defence and civilian law enforcement. This provides obvious advantage to the aggressor, who can ignore traditional humanitarian concerns as the bombings of Aleppo have only too graphically shown us.

To counter such aggression comprehensive approaches that combine military and civilian forces are the only solution. Currently, Europe’s defence is de facto dependent on NATO under US leadership. Should US resolve weaken, Europe has only limited resources and structures to protect itself.

But the writing (from the new US administration) is on the wall: Europe will need, very soon, to start finding and paying for practical, affordable and effective solutions for dealing with the threats it faces – on its own, as circumstances dictate.

What should these entail?

The first step would be to produce a cohesive European security and defence strategy, or “white book”, which commits all EU nations to integrated military defence and civilian law enforcement as two synergetic components of one strategy, including a common border control concept in view of the world 25 million refugees. One example of an integrated tool is the multinational joint headquarters, based in Ulm, that stands ready with comprehensive capabilities for either NATO or EU missions.

Second, we must overcome the cultural/political barriers that block the teaming (not merging) of these organisations.

Third,  the ministers of EU members should regularly meet within the format of a new “security equipment” council to deal with requirements and compatibiliy issues as well as export control matters. This new format could: facilitate the complexities of forging a real defence technological and industrial base versus the fictional one of the last 25 years; coordinate better access to EU research and regional funds for security; and push ahead with an EU internal market for security equipment.

Given the declarations by EU leaders at their defence summit in Brussels on 15 December, I feel confident that the “shots” have been heard. Indeed, the EU is now setting out on the right path – but it is a very stony one, with not a lot of time to negotiate it.

So I remain optimistic, but with a proviso: namely, that we must translate all of the above into an understandable language which gains our citizens’ support and allays their fears about loss of public security or their historic European values.

A former colonel in the German army, Hanswilm Rodewand is executive manager of North Rhine Westphalia’s Association of Security Industries (www.GSW-NRW.de). He can be reached at either hwrodewald@green-defense.de or hr@gsw-nrw.de.

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