In 1525, Pavia was the site of the first European battle in modern history in terms of army composition and geopolitical scale of objectives and operations. A revolutionary battle in which a conventional armed force (cavalry) came up against new technology (the musket). This confrontation between instruments of the past and present is being repeated today in the Ukraine conflict, where conventional means are facing off with advanced weaponry such as drones, satellites and cruise missiles. Trench warfare also is meeting cyberwarfare in another, and not dissimilar, conflict in the Middle East. Here too, just as in the past, absolute modernity stands in stark contrast with scenes of tragic human reality.
The 2023 second edition of the Conference of Pavia is part of the “The Battle of Pavia and the Future of European Defense (1525-2025)” project aimed at promoting reflection on common European defense. The project examines the analogies between a notable event in military history – the Battle of Pavia – and current ongoing geopolitical challenges. The event schedule runs through 2025 (the 500th anniversary of the battle), and includes conferences and proposals on the topic of European defense.
Also published on the occasion of this year’s conference was the second edition of the “Battle of Pavia and the future of European Defense (1525-2025)” Report. This year’s report avails itself of a contribution by the Italian Airforce – now more than a century old – to the historic analysis segment, which confronts three main themes: the future of European defense, the insights gleaned from observing the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the future of air power in light of recent and future technological innovations.
The conference discussions centered on two principal topics: defense culture from a European perspective, and the skills and technologies the armed forces require today to ensure the security of European citizens.
Defense has once again come to be considered an essential public good to be shared and financed by extending the scope of Eurobonds to defense and to a common European intelligence.
Consensus emerges on the need, now after two years of conflict in Ukraine, for all European states to review their defense systems and military budgets. On the one hand, echoes of the first conventional conflict between two major nations and their armed forces (the battle of Pavia) reverberate; on the other, a a 21st century Europe witnessing the employment of mercenaries and cyber weaponry, “intelligent” artillery and drones, AI and fleets of armored vehicles, and that must consider the political-strategic significance of this conflict along with the future of international security and its implications for peace and stability in Europe. In other words, European defense.
Examining this conflict brings the need to boost European defense even more clearly to the fore; something neglected over recent years despite the many public declarations in favor of a joint military force to which concrete follow-up from EU member states has not been forthcoming.
Military and geopolitical issues combine with the major technological advances of recent years, starting with the development of artificial intelligence and the growing use of the most advanced drones as well as of the military for civilian purposes. Today’s conflicts are unfolding not only on land, sea and air, but in new dimensions such as space, cybernetic dominion and the physical and digital networks that make it possible for our society to function, and even the ocean floor where essential internet cabling and energy pipelines are laid.
In this context, the countries of the European Union would do well to rethink some of the assumptions on which they have acted over recent years. Defense spending, which had fallen since the end of the Cold War, is once again increasing across the Old World, as Europe awaits significant progress towards a common defense system.