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Standing up for defence

by Dirk Hoke, CEO Airbus Defence and Space

Dirk Hoke is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Airbus Defence and Space as of 1 April 2016

Geopolitical changes are forcing the nations of Europe to reassess their relationship with one another. It is up to us to act if we wish to secure and preserve Europe’s independence, peace and prosperity. We must be strong politically and militarily, and not just economically, if we are to prevent other powers from dictating how we in Europe live.

This means that we must take responsibility for our own defence, even though this is a message that many do not wish to hear. Europe’s nations disarmed massively following the end of the Cold War. Today, our forces lack manpower, weapon systems and equipment. Only 22 percent of all Germans believe the Bundeswehr, the German Armed Forces, is sufficiently well-equipped and mission-ready.

State-of-the-art defence systems are expensive, particularly when we develop them ourselves to avoid becoming dependent on others. This burden is simply too great for most European countries to bear alone.

But is it really necessary for each country to develop and procure its own weapon systems? Does each EU member nation really need its own standard rifles, combat vehicles or corvettes? A simple comparison reveals the answer. Economically and in terms of troop strength, all EU nations together are roughly equivalent to the US. But the difference in military striking power is dramatic.

It therefore makes much more sense for Europeans to procure their military equipment jointly. Large order quantities would enable Europe to maintain a defence industry of its own. A further benefit is that larger quantities mean lower unit costs, as high development expenditures are amortised more rapidly. Taxpayers would receive more for their money.

France, the UK and Germany cannot stand alone. However, the spread of nationalist tendencies is endangering cooperation within Europe. Germany and France have recognised this risk: in the Treaty of Aachen, they agreed to establish a bilateral defence and security council to frame policy and further promote the development of joint defence programmes. So far, so good. But a declaration of intent alone is not enough. We require a resolute implementation. As one of Europe’s core military powers, it is essential that the UK be involved in this process. That is in the interest of all Europeans. This is one more reason why a no-deal Brexit must be avoided at all costs. Economic cooperation is not possible without a functioning legal framework.

In the past, Europe has demonstrated that it can work together. The founding of Airbus and its development since the 1970s has been a major success for commercial aerospace. Airbus can boast of multiple successes in the military sector as well. The Eurofighter, the A400M transporter, and the NH90 and Tiger helicopters attest to this – despite all problems. We must now take this cooperation to a new level and expand it. To enable this, Germany needs to swiftly enact the consensus on export regulations set out in the Treaty of Aachen. Germany’s current posture on this sensitive issue is unacceptable to France, Spain and the UK, and isolates us in precisely the European context which we want to strengthen. France will not want to develop a Eurofighter successor with Germany if our country’s default reflex is to block exports of the aircraft. Berlin needs to move on this.

The private sector is ready and waiting. Without the corresponding orders, however, it will not be able to retain its research and development capacities in the long term. Losing these capacities would damage Europe’s economy, which not only benefits greatly from the developments and as suppliers to the defence enterprises. If we put Europe’s security at risk, other industries will also find themselves weakened by foreign influences. The current exodus of so many businesses from the UK provides a taste of where this can lead.

We have debated the topic of defence cooperation long enough. The security situation, the state of the armed forces and the obligation to handle taxpayers’ money responsibly all demand that we tackle the issue of joint defence procurement now. Otherwise, we run the risk that others will dictate how much peace, freedom and prosperity we can enjoy in Europe.

As Germans in Europe, it is time for us to stand up and demonstrate the courage and fortitude needed to secure the joint defence of our continent – before it’s too late.

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