WASHINGTON ― In the two years since British citizens voted to leave the European Union, Europe has increased the focus on developing its internal defense capabilities, largely through the EU and its European Defence Agency, led by Jorge Domecq.
But with the EDA engaging in greater industrial-base projects, the potential for British companies — as well as those of non-EU nations like the U.S. — to take part in defense cooperation is unclear. Domecq laid out his vision during a June 13 visit to Washington.
We’re almost at the two-year mark for Brexit, which has been described by several European defense leaders as a wake-up call. Do you think the Brexit vote spurred interest in greater EU defense participation?
Well I would say that the [EU’s defense] global strategy was published the day after the Brexit referendum. The global strategy was elaborated over a year, with very wide consultation in Europe. And it responds to the need to step-change defense in Europe — responding to a worsened security environment in Europe, responding to the technological changes which are taking place there and from a strong pull, both from allies like the U.S. for Europe to stand up on its feet but also from our citizens.
Seventy-four percent of the population in Europe has asked EU to take a greater role in defense.
Once Brexit is completed, how do you envision working with Britain? Are they just pushed off to the sideline, or do you hope to continue working with them where you can?
The U.K. has expressed very clearly an interest to remain plugged into European security and defense initiatives. And the exact modalities of how that will happen will depend on the general negotiation, which is taking place — so the withdrawal agreement and what will follow. I think the U.K. has, undoubtedly, capabilities that can contribute significantly to European defense.
American officials have raised concerns that the EU will use things, like the Permanent Structured Cooperation initiative on security and defense, to create protectionist networks that could lock out companies outside the EU and their Europe-based subsidiaries. What do you say to those concerns?
Well I think you’re talking about the European Defence Fund, an initiative which is led by the [European] Commission, and what is called the European Defence Industrial Development Programme, which is a regulation that is still yet to be agreed [upon] by the European Parliament — hopefully next month. I think that there is a very careful agreement that has been looked for, because this European Defence Fund is part of the effort that we are doing to have a more coherent European landscape, which contributes also to NATO.
Now, it’s EU budget, which normally should be going to the reinforcement of European industries. The exact terms in which American subsidiaries can participate in these efforts are clearly established in this regulation. And I think saying that this is protectionism is forgetting, first of all, that this compromise [is to] strengthen the European defense-industrial base.
Do you envision EU nations coming together and working with non-EU militaries, such as the Pentagon, to develop specific technological capabilities?
There is a sincere desire to work with the U.S. and to work with NATO. I would remind you that the big strides that we have done — in ensuring that what we do in Europe is coherent with what is needed in NATO — has evolved exponentially in the last two years, and this is part of the defense package agreed to in the global strategy.
So the EU-NATO cooperation is part of the picture. It’s not a separate factor. There are a lot of disruptive technologies which would be important in the coming years. The U.S. is investing a lot on it, and in many other countries there is a particular interest in innovation. So there is a feeling that we could pursue further in the EU-NATO cooperation.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.