War in Ukraine is now raging towards its third week. We have witnessed hundreds of civilian casualties, the shelling of playschools and hospitals, and the heroic feats of Ukrainian soldiers in the face of sustained and unjustified Russian aggression. These developments, along with a desperate plea by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for military assistance, have (finally) forced Europeans to reconsider their collective strategic responsibilities and reinforce their solidarity with Ukraine beyond sanctions and troop rotations to eastern NATO members.
A watershed moment
One day after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a revolution in German foreign affairs with previously unimaginable plans for post-Cold War re-armament and increased defence expenditure, on 28 February 2022 the Council of the EU also approved EUR 450 million to Ukraine for (lethal) military materiel and a further EUR 50 million for fuel and protective equipment.
For the first time, the EU is promising lethal equipment, ranging from ammunition to fighter jets, to a third country through the European Peace Facility (EPF). High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP) Josep Borrell got ahead of pacifist critiques, stating that the EU ‘want[s] peace in Europe, but we have to be prepared to defend this peace’.
Various institutions, civil society organisations, and citizens have long clamoured for a similar change in EU strategic culture and greater foreign policy convergence among EU Member States. It seems that Russia’s senseless attack on Ukraine has inspired, at least, a temporary European Defence Union of action.
Internal EU divisions, which Russia has played its part in actively sowing since the EU’s ‘Big Bang’ enlargement, have long impeded such unity. Member States should use this tragic moment to sustain the momentum for a more Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) rather than hit the brakes. While Member States should certainly push for qualified majority voting in CFSP, expand the remit of Military Mobility beyond the confines of the EU and NATO, and increase their commitment to European Defence Union initiatives, they must also consider the far-reaching implications of the decision to mobilise funding for lethal equipment for the very first time.
Dissecting the implications
The recent Strategic Compass makes expanded reference to the EPF, (re-)stating the EU’s newfound ability to provide military equipment alongside its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions. While the recent decision is surely appreciated in Kyiv and Washington spurning the scepticism previously aimed at the EU’s seeming inertia before Russia’s full-on invasion, it raises questions over the EU’s readiness to provide materiel in a coordinated manner to make the best and most transparent use of EUR 500 million in appropriations (10 % of the EPF’s total envelope under the Multiannual Financial Framework).
First, despite initial and (potentially) premature promises made by HRVP Borrell, it is difficult to envision the rapid delivery of fighter jets that Ukraine’s air force is already trained to fly. The only Member States operating Russian-made MiG-29s and Su-24s – Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia – have thus far refused to provide those aircraft to Ukraine, underlining their importance for their own self-defence. But the deliveries to Ukraine may actually happen should the US speed up their own delivery of F-16 orders, particularly to Poland. Such an uncertain situation should never have come to pass in the first place.
To prevent these sorts of blunders, Member States should draw up a scenario-based and predictable inventory of military capabilities they are willing to provide under the EPF. In the medium-term, Member States must remedy dependence on each other’s good will by outlining a roadmap within the Strategic Compass for intermediate steps towards EU procurement of military capabilities.
Second, while the EU Military Staff carry out their evaluation of required materiel with their Ukrainian counterparts, Member States have been providing Ukraine with significant quantities of anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions and missiles. In the interim, these efforts must be proactively coordinated by the French Rotating Presidency of the Council to multiply their effectiveness. Furthermore, Member State military advisors must be sent in situ to prepare the Ukrainian armed forces for their active use. Furthermore, all able Member States should allow Ukraine to use NATO bases as command and control centres and logistical bases.
Third, the need to address the non-existent (direct) democratic oversight mechanisms surrounding such a decision at EU level. The balance between responsiveness and consultation is hard to achieve and the pendulum certainly swings toward the former in wartime. Member States must seriously reflect on the long-term democratic legitimacy of such choices, including how unforeseen events and consequences may impact their credibility.
Therefore, the EPF should be brought on-budget in due course so that it may be subject to scrutiny by the European Parliament (EP), as well as the financial, compliance, and performance audits of the European Court of Auditors. Until then, the EP’s Foreign Affairs committee and Security and Defence subcommittee should make full use of their powers to request exchanges of views on the political, operational and financial aspects of the EPF’s use, including its most classified aspects.
The EEAS should also make its Integrated Methodological Framework, the guiding principles and criteria under which the EU grants assistance under the EPF, publicly available. Not only is this in the public interest due to the significant resources and cost of life involved in wartime, but it would allow the public to identify when the EPF could potentially act as a deterrent to prevent armed conflict.
Just two months ago, the Council had agreed a mere EUR 31 million to train the upper cadres of the Ukrainian military and finance field hospitals, logistics units, and cyber support alongside its CSDP Advisory Mission to Ukraine on civilian security sector reform. Some may rue the mobilisation of the EPF as too little, too late – and are even calling for HRVP Borrell’s head to roll over the botched fighter jet promise. Others fear a step towards a warmongering EU beholden to the military-industrial complex or a naïve EU unaware of the long-term strategic effects of such a decision. Regardless, the shift in how the EU now assesses and acts upon threats to European security is undeniable.
Momentum towards a more Common Foreign and Security Policy must be sustained now that there is finally a consensus that Member States have a significant stake in defending peace in Europe. They must do so, and they must do it responsibly so as to not undermine progress with poor coordination, ineffective funding, or a gaping democratic deficit.