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07 September 2020

EU must act to avoid pandemic causing 'deep decline' in military capabilities

The European Union’s resources must be better targeted and used more efficiently to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic causing a “deep and lasting decline” in the bloc’s military and defence capabilities, according to a new report.

The European Parliament in Brussels. Picture: Guillaume Périgois
The European Parliament in Brussels. Picture: Guillaume Périgois

With the fallout from the pandemic expected to lead to a new era of fiscal restraint, an academic team believes it is essential the EU is also clearer about its objectives in security and defence as it attempts to balance tighter resources with higher political stakes.

The recommendations are made in a new report, How the COVID-19 crisis has affected security and defence-related aspects for the EU, prepared by academics at King’s College London for MEPs on the EU’s subcommittee on security and defence.

The report notes: “European command structures, operations and missions have proven their ability to adapt quickly, but more needs to be done to increase readiness, resilience and speed of action. Resources need to be better targeted and used more efficiently to avoid the crisis leading to a deep and lasting decline in military and industrial defence capabilities.

“COVID-19 poses, in stark terms, the need for the EU to be even clearer than before about its priorities and strategic objectives in an era of tighter financial resources and higher political stakes.”

The role of the armed forces during the pandemic is also assessed, with the report noting that all member states made use of military personnel to provide medical, logistical, and organisational support.

The authors noted: “Military medical units have provided critical augmentation to the civil health response, and military hospitals have contributed to local health system capacity. Non-medical military personnel have been trained to operate COVID-19 testing units and COVID-19 screening services outside hospitals, whilst military medical personnel have been relocated to augment existing civilian facilities, including members of the reserve forces mobilised for this role.”

The pandemic had had a “significant impact” on routine training and recruitment for the armed forces, however, the longer-term impact of which member states would need to carefully assess in future.

The report was authored by Professor Christoph Meyer, from the Department of European and International Studies, Professor Martin Bricknell, from the Department of War Studies, and Sophia Besch, a senior research fellow with the Centre for European Reform.

The report examines the impact of the pandemic on the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, focusing on the earliest stages of the crisis between December 2019 and June of this year.

The report also notes that the pandemic has highlighted the risks to the bloc of being “overly-dependent and divided by great powers” as well as of weaknesses in the global supply chain.

It adds: “Tough choices lie ahead, in terms of the cost of self-reliance versus the benefits of open markets, the safeguarding of conventional capabilities versus dealing with new threats, maintaining co-operation with great powers whilst resisting undue pressure and who to trust, on what issues, under what conditions and over what timeframe.”

In this story

Christoph Meyer

Professor of European & International Politics

Martin Bricknell

Professor in Conflict, Health and Military Medicine