Sunday, June 14, 2009

Will the recession make Europe's militaries weaker?

This is the headline of the blog post of Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Centre for European Reform in London, where he makes his assessment of the current financial crisis on the defence budgets and military capabilities of European countries.

He writes that the economic crisis has wracked government budgets across Europe, as revenues have fallen and spending on stimulus and bailouts has soared. Already, there are signs that defense spending across the continent will suffer. Finance ministers will be looking for ways to reduce deficit and debt, and military budgets are a tempting target.

He points to the two ways how European governments try to reduce defence budget costs:

1. Withdrawal of troops from the international military operations (example, Poland's withdrawal from all UN-led missions), which, although are popular staps at home, but might have grave implications for our hmeland security in the future;

2. Cutting multinational weapons programs and making any purchases domestically so as to protect jobs at home, which also carries risks to produce low quality products as it happened with A400M military transport aircraft.

3. Moreover, the impact of the budget cuts -- particularly the reductions in personnel and equipment -- also threaten to turn some European militaries into showcase forces, incapable of deploying abroad and thus irrelevant to most EU and NATO operations.

Instead, he provides with three possible solutions how to decrease the military spending costs without loosing the efficiency:

1. Rather than withdrawing from conflict zones, European countries and agencies should stop sending overlapping missions to the same trouble spots. Both the EU and NATO sent missions to Sudan in 2007, and three different forces are currently fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia. Better to roll those operations into one; the current duplication wastes taxpayer money;

2. Some of the key equipment that makes modern warfare possible -- such as planes providing air-to-ground surveillance or military transport -- needs to be jointly owned. NATO operates a common fleet of aircraft that coordinates air traffic, and the alliance plans to buy transport airplanes for its members to use. This arrangement allows militaries of smaller and poorer European states, like the new allies in Eastern Europe, to take part in complex operations in distant places.

3. Indeed, the time has come for European governments to consider abandoning parts of their national forces and infrastructure and to form joint units with their neighbors. Modern militaries do virtually all their fighting abroad and in coalition with others. If they lack the money to equip and deploy their soldiers overseas, they need to consider radical cost-saving measures. More governments should do as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg did -- they merged parts of their air forces -- or emulate the Nordic countries, which are considering joining their amphibious units.

Yes, indeed, the time has come for the joint military procurements, and some of European countries have started to follow this path.
On June 4, 2009, Estonia concluded a procurement contract, together with the Finnish Ministry of Defence and the French company Thales-Raytheon Systems, for the procurement of two 3D medium range radar systems, which will cover Estonia and its surrounding airspace with a single radar image.

Estonia and Finland will together procure a total of 14 radar systems of the Ground Master 403 series. The two radar systems intended for Estonia are meant to supplement Estonia’s current sole 3D long range radar in Kellavere, in West-Viru County, and to also provide a sufficient air surveillance image for Western and South-eastern Estonia.
According to Finland’s Minister of Defence, Jyri Häkämies, cooperation with Estonia in the radar acquisition is mutually beneficial and useful. “By combining our acquisitions we can achieve considerable savings. Materiel cooperation enhances further relations between Estonian and Finnish defence administrations,” said Minister of Defence Häkämies.
And the fact that Finland is not a member of NATO makes this deal and cooperation more interesting. Possible joint defence procurements have been discussed recently also among Estonian and Swedish Defence Ministries, NATO and non-NATO country.
On April 23, 2009, at the meeting in Tallinn the Ministers of Defence of the Baltic States discussed in detail the co-operation of the three countries in the area of defence related procurements. The ministers agreed that it is important to analyse in detail the legal and procedural differences between the three countries, the bypassing of which would make it easier to prepare future strategic defence related procurements, stressing this in a joint communique.
As Tomas Jermalavicius, researcher at the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn, writes, Joint Communiqué contains firm instructions to national armament directors to look into and harmonize national legislation, processes and procedures in defence procurement, in order to enable much more common procurement in the future. There are even some suggestions to consider joint maintenance as a logical extension of this idea, which would bring about further reductions in costs for the armed forces of the three nations.

Timely and relevant ideas and measures these are, given the budgetary circumstances. And some of the problems in developing cooperation projects between the three states could have been avoided, if joint procurement had been one of the first areas to advance and develop. The Baltic batallion (BALTBAT), which is now being groomed for a duty tour on the NATO Response Force (NRF) next year, is a good example: military experts are struggling to eliminate or mitigate differences in armament and equipment between the units contributed by each country, which stem from different national procurement choices. These differences have very real practical implications to the military effectiveness of common units, and their removal adds to the cost of military cooperation between the three countries.
Indeed, the Baltic states should work also on the interoperability of their own armed forces. For example, during the BALTBAT exercise Baltic Eagle 2009 had to apply common combat procedures and common language during the exercise, using different military equipment. Lithuanian soldiers use armoured M 113 personnel carriers, while the Estonians use SISU and the Latvians use an armoured Humvee wheeled vehicle. Joint procurement of the military equipment would not only enhance interoperability of the BALTBAT, but also save taxpayers money, which is so crucial nowadays as Baltic states face a sharp economic downturn.
And here is a very good presentation about the Baltic defence cooperation:
Military cooperation in the Baltic States: Where Do We Stand? Dr. Arunas Molis, Baltic Defence College, 12th December 2008

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