EU plans big jump in military spending

Belgian army Special Forces during a military exercise involving several EU countries. Under the European Defence Action Plan, EU officials propose spending €5.5 billion (S$8.35 billion) a year to help governments acquire hardware, including helico
Belgian army Special Forces during a military exercise involving several EU countries. Under the European Defence Action Plan, EU officials propose spending €5.5 billion (S$8.35 billion) a year to help governments acquire hardware, including helicopters and drones, and to develop military technology.PHOTO: REUTERS

Bloc to take greater responsibility for its own security but says it is not creating an EU army

BRUSSELS • European Union (EU) officials have announced plans for a big increase in military spending, pledging to take greater responsibility for their security at a time when the US appears to be taking a step back in its role in the world.

The bloc's top officials proposed spending €5.5 billion (S$8.35 billion) a year to help governments acquire hardware, including helicopters and drones, and to develop military technology.

Wary of concerns about consolidation of power in Brussels as member governments are under pressure from populist forces, officials stressed that the plan was in no way a step towards creating an EU army.

Member countries would own the hardware that was purchased, and much of the money would go to European companies.

But the proposal, known as the European Defence Action Plan, follows calls by Mr Donald Trump, the US President-elect, for members of Nato to devote 2 per cent of their gross domestic product to military spending. Of the 28 nations in the EU, 22 are part of Nato.

"If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us," Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said on Wednesday. "A strong, competitive and innovative defence industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy."

Total military spending by EU governments was about €200 billion last year, but the EU does not currently have a budget for military research or procurement.

The plan foresees a pilot phase of €90 million up to 2020 - and €500 million a year after that - for research into technologies such as drones and for cybersecurity tools.

A second plank of the plan foresees spending 10 times that amount to help governments develop and buy hardware. But rather than draw on the shared EU budget, member states would make individual contributions, and some of the money may come from project-related bonds.

Obama administration officials welcomed the increased spending.

"It is no secret that we've been asking them to do this for years," said one senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity. But the official also said it was imperative that Mr Trump reassured allies that his administra- tion's commitment to collective defence of Nato allies would be solid.

During his presidential campaign, Mr Trump questioned whether the US would automatically defend Nato allies if they were attacked, and said US support would depend on the willingness of those countries to pay their fair share for military protection.

But since then, a number of Republican lawmakers and foreign policy experts have insisted that the US commitment to Nato will remain strong.

EU leaders will discuss the proposal at a summit meeting this month. The member governments still must approve it, and that could be a lengthy process, given concerns about sovereignty.

Ms Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, said the plans did not amount to competition with Nato.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'EU plans big jump in military spending'. Print Edition | Subscribe