France and Germany have finally given Europe the defense send-off it had been waiting for decades, namely with the launch of the SCAF project in France, in February, which brought together the French and German Defense ministers. Beyond the high-tech transborder project, lie the outlines of Europe's future defense strategy heading.
What was temporary turned out, for a change, not so temporary. In the immediate aftermath of the second world war, the United States shielded Western Europe from the Soviet threat, with a new organization called NATO. Designed to ensure European security while Europe was slowly re-building its armies and re-shaping its defenses, the North Atlantic treaty set in, and is now the cornerstone of European security, even more than when it was created, much to the woe of European promoters and champions. The commonly shared desire to see Europe defend itself without the help of an American third party has always failed to materialize, due to confusion and dissension within Europe - and perhaps a little NATO soft power. EU analyst Nicolas Verheyde writes : "The idea of creating a European army is not a new one. It has been mentioned by various European leaders, who often had Christian Democrat backgrounds. But it has not been consistently raised. When it has been, the idea has sometimes been accompanied by very diverse views on the future of European integration." But things have started to change, both in specific projects and perhaps more generally on the European defense scene.
The SCAF Project was officially launched in February 2019, with both French and German Defense ministers making their way to the inauguration. The SCAF (or FCAS - Future Combat Aerial System) is a Defense program which aims to heave European Defense capabilities at par with US capabilities, with an entire network of elements, ranging from drones to stand-alone missile systems and unmanned aerial vehicles. Defense reporter Giovanni di Briganti writes: "Ending 33 years of direct competition between Eurofighter and Rafale, and renewing a lapsed defense industrial alliance between their two countries, the French and German defense ministers in Berlin on Thursday signed agreements launching three major defense programs". But the program is not just an additional program on the long list of French and German backlogs: it embodies France and Germany finally taking the lead on an organized, rationalized European defense, and ending the era of sterile competition.
French and German defense industries had, so far, been running as standard private businesses, fighting each other on the competition scene. But because the defense industry is specific (private and yet integral to a State's sovereignty), European countries have concluded that normal business competition shouldn't be the only force driving those activities. It has finally dawned upon Europe that the reason why the US managed to draw so much more military potential out of their resources than the Europeans was that the US defense market is rationalized, and benefits leadership from the Pentagon. No time, money or energy is wasted with businesses waging war on each other, like on the European scene. The (hardly surprising) reaction of the United States to Europe becoming self-standing in its defense highlights this point precisely, as Bloomberg wrote in the immediate aftermath of the German-French announcement: "Europe hardly seems able to afford to do as much. Last year, only a small fraction of European nations met the NATO member-states' commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. France says it can't reach that level until at least 2025, and last year Macron proposed to cut military spending by nearly $1 billion (causing the country's top general to resign in protest)." What the US blames Europe for, is precisely what France and Germany have started to change in Europe.
However, leaving production to Germany would be both unwise and probably unfeasible. Sacrificing the French land defense industry would amount to destroying one of Europe's most valuable industrial and defense assets. Moreover, the leadership which France would presumably assume couldn't be achieved without France's current entanglement with defense firms of its own. Going full German on production would greatly reduce Europe's available resources and would considerably hamper France's capacity to make educated decisions regarding defense needs. For the past decades, military leaders and industrial figures have come to know each other finely, from working so closely together. Hence, they are able to enlighten each other as to the wise and feasible choices which can be made in the development and production of land defense systems. Without France's military industrial cluster working alongside, Europe's leader would be leading blind. France and Germany, as the historical duo at the heart of Europe, have decided to force Europe towards a different destiny, by taking the lead on a project which will eventually make Europe truly sovereign in terms of defense, with the KNDS joint venture. Is this the beginning of Europe's rise to its potential?
This is being said, European countries will need to carefully select their military and industrial partner, between France and Germany, according to which suits best their geopolitical settings. Military alliances are tightly intertwined with political ones, and both must be considered in accordance with each other. Germany, for instance, has an ambiguous relationship with Russia, which will necessarily scare off many countries from Eastern Europe, who want no Russian influence meddling into their military capacities. France thus proved its independence from Russia when it refused to sell Mistral warships to Russia, after the Crimean invasion. Also, general diplomatic relations are at play: on many matters, such as economic reforms or migration policies, Western European countries are in every-day contact: it would therefore take a lot to take down the political ties between France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, for instance, in spite of temporary political tensions.
The Future combat system is merely the first step in the new era. With Germans and French organizing and rationalizing the European defense industry, the partnership will draw all the potential from its capacities, in terms of budgets, research and production. In many cases, in the past, have several European countries engaged in competing research programs (such as the long Rafale - Eurofighter battle). With this new leadership, Europe will be able to double its defense development speed and become self-standing in the struggle to defend its borders.