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Europe’s destiny: security and defense priorities

  • Rome
  • 10 April 2024

        For a country such as Italy, the rapid, far-reaching changes in the global system call for broader and more effective defense sector undertakings, in terms both of national capability and integration with allies. Although it has been underway for some years now, this trend has thus far been seriously underestimated, even by European partners, and directly concerns the vital economic interests of countries heavily inter-dependent in terms of foreign trade. It thus calls for the generation of synergies between a wide range of sectors that include military instruments. The fact that deterrence – to be understood as the best possible “defense of peace” – is absolutely crucial to the sustainability of the entire European social and political model raises a highly sensitive question of communication with public opinion. After all, political consensus is a precondition for country system resilience in the face of recurrent and sundry crises in which social stability is a major factor. 

        From this perspective, a more technical yet extremely pertinent question for the future of European defense regards the Stability Pact, the rules of which should be carefully reviewed and assessed in order to be compatible with the push to strengthen continental defense. This would be a first step toward aggregating resources and sharing efforts to rationalize supply and demand and therefore investments.

        The time factor is also decisive: investments in defense, especially as regards armaments and high technology networks, require a medium- to long-term timeframe and thus cannot be activated only at moments of acute crisis. This in turn presupposes a broad and uninterrupted consensus unbound by electoral cycles and incidental political majorities to counter the systematic efforts of hostile external forces intent on manipulating the public debate – which is the greatest comparative advantage of autocratic regimes over liberal democracies.

        As for the integrated European dimension, it must be recalled that the institutional and organizational bases for the close coordination of member countries already exist; nevertheless, some decisive steps have yet to be completed in order to advance from general ambitions and non-binding pledges to a true sharing of resources, complex arms systems and decision-making mechanisms. Parallel to that, NATO procedures offer a widely tested common platform that needs neither replacement or duplication. Important therefore will be the utmost pragmatism in maximizing available capacities and developing those still lacking. 

        In addition to popular consensus and industrial support then, also necessary will be a shared strategy for channeling efforts toward what, according to some, would be better defined a collective, if not necessarily integrated, defense – thereby facilitating the participation of partners such as the UK, and leveraging links with the U.S. and other NATO countries. In any case, a point of departure in this direction is compliance with one basic criterion: the full compatibility of every foreign policy action with existing agreements on European security policy guidelines. In other words, it is crucial that, at the very least, national governments refrain from international actions that contrast with the general aims jointly established at EU level or risk losing credibility and global importance.

        The debate remains open on specific priorities in terms of weapons and munitions procurement and forms of training; indeed, positions vary on the Russia/Ukraine conflict as a “model” for future crises, as well as on the sustainability of Western support for Kyiv, upon which Ukraine’s ability to defend its independence and limit loss of territory depends. The general defense policy discussion therefore is inevitably entwined with the diplomatic and strategic choices regarding ongoing conflicts.