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22nd Feb 2020

Robots and media scrutiny to shape EU military future

EU defence ministries are going to have to contend with a shrinking recruitment pool for soldiers, a public that is more cautious about interventionist operations and 24/7 media scrutiny, according to a long-term military planning report approved by defence ministers on Tuesday (3 October).

The 28-page study looks to a future where Europe will be externally dependent for 90 percent of its oil and 80 percent of gas by 2025 and where "strong migratory pressures" due to the fast-growing populations in Africa and the Middle East offset by stable and ageing European population are set to cause "direct or indirect challenges" to Europe's security interests.

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However, Europe's possible need to act in any of these regions or situations will be tempered by a more clued-up, risk-averse society.

"Military action, not explicitly authorised by the UN, may become increasingly controversial," states the report, adding "military operations will be subject to ever-increasing scrutiny by elected officials, media and populations."

It also notes that the spread of readily accessible information and ideas about basic rights as well as the "environmental impact of military action" are also likely to affect people's perceptions of military conflict.

"Caution may be reinforced by increased concern with the legality of military action, as globalisation disseminates the concept of international law," says the study.

No more soldiers?

As well as the social perceptions, defence ministries will also have to deal with the fact that less and less people are likely to become soldiers, with the armed forces recruitment pool (16-30 years) to fall by over 15 percent by 2025.

"As armed forces professionalise and the falling birth-rate increases competition in the labour market for young men and women, personnel costs will, in practice, pre-empt more and more of defence spending unless manpower is reduced," says the report.

With some 2 million people currently in uniform in Europe, "there is plenty of scope to do this," it highlighted.

One way of overcoming this problem would be to "outsource" and to resort to "increased automation, from warships to robots," the report suggested.

Looking at the changing nature of warfare, the report notes that "we are transitioning from the industrial age to the information age of war."

It suggests that future conflicts will be "high-tech against low-tech, Goliath against David, centrally-controlled and network enabled operations against disruptive tactics of local or regional [and] transnational guerrilla groups."

In the future, the objective of intervention by force will not necessarily be "victory" in the traditional sense but "moderation, balance of interests and peaceful resolution of conflicts" although the force needed to require this outcome may be "substantial."

The report concludes by suggesting that member states cut manpower numbers, exploit new technology more quickly and improve intelligence - leading to a point where EU military planners react more rapidly to situations using many actors including other international organisations, are selective in the type of force they use and can provide sustainable solutions to conflicts.

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