“There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline Books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
Winston Churchill, 2 May 1935
This was not a conference about pooling and sharing. For twenty years Europeans have launched initiative after initiative designed to improve the mass and manoeuvre of Europe’s armed forces. Almost all have failed, and the security and defence of Europe is now at risk. What will it take for Europe to become defence serious? This two day, high level event asked hard questions about, and consider radical futures, for European armed forces in the twenty first century. The specific question the conference addressed was:
Given the worst case, what armed forces will European countries need to have by 2030 and how to get them?
After all, Europe’s world is changing and not for the better. Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine to the East. The rise of IS/Daesh to Europe’s south. American military overstretch and growing frustration with the lack of European burden-sharing. The shift in the balance of military power from the liberal West to illiberal powers the world over. All point to fundamental strategic change and the role and value of military power in the twenty first century world order. Is a major war again possible in Europe? What role would European armed forces play in a major war in Asia-Pacific? What if the US is too over-stretched to guarantee Europe’s defence?
Such change also raises fundamental questions about the future of European militaries.
- What level of military force do Europeans need? What type of forces?
- How can Europeans afford and procure such forces?
- What balance to strike between a collective and common effort?
- What role will technology and skills play in the European future force?