"Europe's leaders have not discussed defense for seven years."

Graham Muir, a British security expert, has his work cut out. He is Head of the Policy & Planning Unit of the EU’s European Defence Agency (EDA) based in Brussels. This means he has to come up with compelling reasons for EU states to reduce duplication and make better use of their defense budgets to maintain and develop their military capabilities. In short, the EDA tries to foster cooperation across the board. Yet heads of states and government are not yet as interested as they should be, as Mr. Muir explains in an interview with Carnegie Europe*.

With the Euro crisis, defense budgets have been slashed all over Europe. Does that make your job—convincing member states to pool and share their capabilities—easier?

There are two aspects to this crisis. Our shareholders now have less money to spend. This means that the only way they are going to retain key capabilities is if they do it together. Otherwise they risk not having a key capability at all.

At the same time, cooperation can lead to job losses, which is particularly painful at a time when the economy is not doing too well. Job cuts are politically difficult to sell, irrespective of the member state concerned. Just look at BAE-EADS: The main concern, at least in the United Kingdom, was whether this was going to result in a loss of jobs in the UK.

And then, of course, there is the issue of sovereignty. Few areas are as sensitive to the nation state as defense.

Actually, I think member states disguise the issue of sovereignty. Bear in mind that member states have no difficulty in deploying together even though that makes them lose an important degree of national sovereignty. When they are deployed they are not under national command, but a NATO, or EU, or UN command. So trust is not the issue.

But that does not seem so far to have translated into trying to work together to ensure that the capabilities that you need once you are deployed have been developed and conceived cooperatively.

Why not?

I think this has less to do with sovereignty than with the fact that it would require structural changes within some national administrations and national defense bases, leading to some loss of jobs. The issue of sovereignty is used to cover up for the fact that most of the concerns have to do with economics and jobs.

Also, when it comes to defense issues, it’s not easy to win over public opinion in Europe.

Could you explain?

Generally speaking, Europeans don’t feel at risk. I think they feel comfortable. They don’t feel threatened, perhaps with the exception of terrorism, but there have been no terrorist incidents on the continent for some time now. I think the last one was in 2007. Public opinion is one reason why security and defense is so rarely on the agenda when European heads of state and government meet within an EU framework. It came up six months ago at the NATO summit in Chicago where they committed—again—to sharing and pooling.

Do EU leaders even discuss defense issues during Summits?

It has not happened since 2005. The last time was at Hampton Court during the UK presidency. Ever since there has not been a substantive discussion at summit level of security and defense.

Unbelievable! That’s seven years ago.

President van Rompuy announced recently that he wants defense matters to be discussed at the European Council at the end of next year. This will be huge opportunity to put defense on the radar screens of our heads of governments.

They might be more interested in the matter if they realized how much more money they could save through pooling and sharing.

My own view is that we have reached rock bottom in terms of the level of investment. Pooling and sharing, or smart defense, or regional or bilateral cooperation, cannot serve to justify further defense cuts. But they are necessary to harness and maximize the resources that are available. And that means a single member state acquiring a shared or pooled capability it might not be able to acquire individually.

Is defense spending in Europe still so inefficient?

There are two measurements here: the input and the output. If you look at the input, collectively, the EU member states spend 200 billion euros on defense. I know that it’s a third of what the Americans spend. But actually, it’s not an unrespectable amount of money.

The difficulty is the output. When you measure the output, I don’t think we get enough value for money. I think there is a lot of investment that does not produce expeditionary capabilities. There is a lot of investment in static forces. There is a lot of investment for national domestic reasons that don’t deliver capabilities.

But haven’t we heard all this before: the need for capabilities, the need to reduce duplication. Yet not much has happened.

It’s true. There have been a lot of political initiatives, but they don’t get transformed into real deliverables. Within national administrations, there has in the past perhaps been some inertia or resistance. But I think that we have reached a point where all of our member states, to one degree or another, have realized that there is no other way. The campaign in Libya was a wake-up call for European governments.

Please explain.

The only way that that operation could have been conducted successfully and so quickly with minimum loss of life was with American involvement. After the Libya mission, Gates made that speech in Brussels in June of last year.

The figures were quite staggering. For example, the Americans provided 80 per cent of the air-to-air refueling sorties; and over 90 per cent of the targeting.

Gates also said that the Europeans can’t expect the U.S. to repeat that in the future. That provided a real spur. I think a lot of European countries have woken up to the fact that they will not be able to rely on the U.S. to the extent that they did in the past.

Yet European leaders won’t even talk, as you said yourself, about defense at their summits.

But there is progress. You just need to look at the EU’s Pooling & Sharing and NATO Smart Defense, and the growing number of regional clusters of cooperation. Only two or three months ago, Spain and Portugal decided that they would try and work together in terms of capabilities. You have the Visegrad 4—that involve Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. You have the Weimar Triangle—France, Germany and Poland—and the Franco-British cooperation. You have all these clusters. Countries have reached the point where they realize they cannot do this alone.

But if it is all about regional cooperation, what do you need the EDA for?

We do not pretend in any way that we are a panacea. The member states either use us or they don’t. But the fact that European allies in NATO and member states in the EDA are working to try and make up some of these shortfalls is not insignificant. And all these approaches—regional or through EU or NATO—are not mutually exclusive: there is no one-size-fits-all. EDA will continue to help acquire together what’s out of reach individually. That’s what we do, and who we are.

* The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the EDA.