By Lin Yuan
European countries have recently accelerated the process of air defense integration under the pretext of regional security threats, according to foreign media reports. While accelerating the process of European defense autonomy, the relevant situation will also have a significant impact on the geopolitical security pattern.
According to foreign media report, NATO's 14 European member states and Finland signed a letter of intent for an air defense system alliance called the European Sky Shield Initiative at NATO headquarters in mid-October. It is reported that the signatories include Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, the UK, and Finland.
NATO's European member states have high expectations for the European Sky Shield Initiative. NATO said in a press release that all participating countries will jointly develop an air defense system “using interoperable, off-the-shelf solutions”, which will “offer a flexible and scalable way for nations to strengthen their deterrence and defense in an efficient and cost-effective way”.
European countries have recently continued to increase military investment in addition to strengthening integrated air defense. The official website of the Ministry of Armed Forces of France recently released news that France's defense budget in 2023 will reach 43.9 billion euros, an increase of 3 billion euros or 7.4 percent over 2022, and an increase of 36 percent over 2017. The move lets France meet NATO's requirement to "commit at least two percent of GDP to defense". The UK has also sought to increase military spending. The Daily Telegraph quoted British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace as saying that British defense spending will increase significantly by 2029, doubling from the current 48 billion pounds to about 100 billion pounds. The UK government has pledged to increase defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2026 and 3 percent by 2030.
In recent years, with the cooling of US-EU relations and the escalation of the situation in Europe, European countries have a stronger sense of crisis, constantly advocate and strengthen the concept of "strategic independence” and take multiple measures to improve their independent defense capabilities. Recently, the formation of a rapid response force has been written into the Strategic Compass of the European Union (EU)'s. The signing of the European Sky Shield Initiative by multiple European countries and the increased military spending by major European countries such as the UK and France all reflect the strong willingness of relevant countries to promote European defense independence.
The process of "self-binding" of European countries may be further accelerated in the future. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently expressed his support for the enlargement of the EU again. He said that Ukraine, Moldova, the Balkan countries, and Georgia, which is expected to be a candidate country for accession, must satisfy the conditions for membership. In addition, Europe must strengthen its own capabilities and advance European defense work.
Although European countries have a strong will to continue to promote defense autonomy, in fact, European integrated defense still has a long way to go.
First, it is difficult to achieve internal coordination. The defense policies of European countries are quite different, the internal coordination mechanism is not smooth, and it will be difficult to achieve common arms procurement in the future.
Second, it is difficult to withstand external pressure. For many years, European security and defense have been highly reliant on US-led NATO. Their equipment is insufficient or even outdated, which affects their own combat capability to a certain extent. In addition, the armies of most European countries lack actual combat experience, and it will be difficult to effectively deal with the pressure from the US when promoting defense autonomy in the future.
Third, it is difficult to secure funds. Taking the UK as an example, the pound is currently in a depreciation channel, and the exchange rate of the pound against the dollar continues the downward fluctuation. The negative impact of this trend on some defense procurement projects is obvious. Even if interest rates are raised, the growth rate of military spending set by the British Ministry of Defense will be difficult to achieve.