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13th Aug 2022

Opinion

Why EU's increased militarisation should worry us all

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As the war in Ukraine enters its fifth month, with civilian deaths numbering in the thousands and displacements in the millions, the Russian campaign shows no sign of relenting. In response, Ukraine's allies continue to bolster the country's defences with unprecedented amounts of military assistance.

With the path to peace narrowing, the EU should consider the longer-term implications of unfettered defence support to Ukraine and the growing militarisation of EU foreign policy.

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  • Under Germany's Olaf Scholz, there has been a dramatic change from its previous position, which placed civilian approaches first, and that there is no military solution to complex, violent conflicts (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Preparing for a long war of attrition, European states are ramping up their own defence 'capacities' and expanding arms exports. This is a paradigm shift in European military thinking on violent crises and conflicts.

The EU's new "Strategic Compass" confirms this with its militarised 'security first' approach, with EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Josep Borrell calling for interoperable European armed forces.

Without long-term investment in building peace, the EU's approach to defence will only lead towards a more aggressive arms race. This exacerbates geo-political tensions and jeopardises the EU's founding principles and values, especially long-term peace, social justice and civilian protection.

As the line between foreign and military policies blurs, civilian-centred approaches of development and human rights fall by the wayside.

Witness the disparity in treatment between refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan, or the neglect shown towards the millions of Yemenis enduring their eighth year of brutal war.

A rush towards military solutions risks severe consequences — some have called the European Peace Facility (which has now pledged over two billion euros' worth of equipment to Ukraine) an 'unsecured gun'.

German U-turn

This shift towards a military mindset has emerged in unexpected places. Adopting the 'language of power', German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a spectacular defence policy change, with a new €100bn defence package.

Future German defence spending, he said, would represent more than two-percent of GDP, exceeding Nato's annual spending goal.

This is a dramatic change from its previous position, which placed civilian approaches front and centre and that there is no military solution to complex, violent conflicts.

Sahel, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan

This "significant reversal" of Germany's long-standing defence strategy reflects the trend of increasing dependence on military strategies to resolve escalating and complex violent conflicts. This is despite the well-documented, disastrous results of military interventions by European member states in the Sahel, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 2014, the EU has invested more than €1.4bn in the Sahel, supporting and equipping military and security forces in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.

The result? Security forces committing acts of deadly violence against civilians with impunity. In 2020, according to crisis-mapping specialist agency ACLED, and FIDH, a citizen of Mali was more likely to be killed by state security forces than by violent armed groups. Despite these catastrophic results, the EU is pressing forward with plans (as reported by EUObserver) to set up new military missions in the region.

Abuses committed by police and military forces and their allies, like those in the Sahel, show how the EU's heavy investment in building the capacities of national forces has failed to address the rampant corruption and widespread impunity endemic to these forces across the Sahel and in Afghanistan.

As people find themselves in the crosshairs between aggressive counter-terrorist agendas and violent armed groups, including local militias, public opinion in the Sahel region has turned against the French, who have led the international intervention. How does this promote long-term security and peace in the region, and elsewhere?

Instead, this militarised status quo has de-prioritised efforts to address the political violence driving conflicts across the Sahel where political elites are fuelling community violence, often to consolidate their own power bases.

If there is one lesson we can learn from these examples, it's that we urgently need approaches that de-escalate violent conflicts by focusing on people's needs; address the deep-rooted tensions that erupt into intensifying violence between communities, states and regions; and create conditions for peace.

Europe faces a test: rather than contributing to the proliferation of arms and the ensuing economic and security disasters — as seen in the Sahel, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq — we must take a courageous stand, and refocus our priorities towards promoting the EU's core principles of rights-based foreign policy interventions that can build peace.

Without intensive partnership work with people and communities, and without crisis responses that respond to the multiple dimensions of security beyond military strength (such as education, health, access to livelihoods and justice), military assistance is doomed to repeat deadly mistakes.

Author bio

Lucia Montanaro is head of Saferworld Europe and Louisa Waugh is an independent peace-building and humanitarian consultant.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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