European defence has undergone several important evolutions since the establishment of the Helsinki Headline Goal in December 1999. At that time, the focus was on achieving specific quantitative goals with respect to military (and later on civilian) capabilities. Among the better-known goals was to be able to deploy 50,000-60,000 personnel within 60 days for a distance of up to 4,000 kilometres. Over time, the EU entered a second wave prioritising qualitative dimensions and establishing specific support bodies. Through the Headline Goal 2010, the emphasis shifted towards qualitative aspects such as achieving greater interoperability, sustainability, deployability, and other related objectives among European forces.
In 2014, a third wave of European defence commenced in the aftermath of the European Council ‘defence matters’ Summit held in December 2013. Trademarking this third wave were numerous defence initiatives aiming to intensify links across capability requirements, boost transparency among national defence policy plans (through CARD), and promote collaborate defence projects (PESCO) – all while introducing a new financing option (EDF). Besides strengthening European defence, these current initiatives serve to decrease industrial fragmentation and capability duplication.
European Defence 3.0 – Sustaining the momentum
Leveraging this third wave will require attention to at least three issues. The first, and probably most crucial, is to consider amplifying the prominence of one of the four ‘elements’ that serve as the foundation of the Capability Development Plan (CDP). Presently, the CDP process examines four perspectives: 1) current CSDP shortfalls, 2) lessons from CSDP operations, 3) Member States’ defence plans and programmes, and 4) the long-term capability trends - recognising technological developments and changes in the security environment.
It is the last component, the examination of disruptive technologies and the security context from a longer-term perspective, which is increasingly critical to defence planners and policy makers – especially given how quickly the security landscape can change. Already now, we can discern how developments in areas such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and quantum computing might be employed via hybrid means. As countries and societies move towards ‘smart cities’, ‘smart grids’, and ‘smart logistics’ to name but a few, vulnerabilities and challenges will materialise in ways previously unseen – requiring new strategies, capabilities, and tactics.
From a different vantage point, trends in other (non-technological) areas such as climate change and urbanisation are also likely to impact defence requirements in ways unseen. For instance, the effects of climate change spread unevenly across the globe. They are more notable in the Polar Regions and along central geographic belts – affecting Africa and Asia in particular. As a result, some countries across those continents may suffer more from challenges associated with food security, health security, water security, or megacity governance to name but a few. These in turn will have implications for European defence, especially concerning its contribution towards the integrated approach and capability development.
Overall, these trends place a greater premium on more wide-ranging and frequent examinations of global and technological trends over the next five to ten years1. Such reflection should largely inform the CDP process, helping to identify future force requirements and new types of operational needs. It is encouraging that the capability development priorities approved in June 2018 include cyber responsive operations and innovative technologies for enhanced future military capabilities (under the heading cross-domain capabilities contributing to achieve the EU’s level of ambition). Guiding the practical implementation of these priorities are the Strategic Context Cases endorsed on 27 June 2019, which guide the 11 European capability development priority areas over the short, medium and long-term horizons up to and beyond 2035. Going forward, such reflections should ideally have ample space to guide future revisions, including with reference to the Overarching Strategic Research Agendas used to identify research and technology priorities and the Key Strategic Activities for industrial manufacturing capacities.