On the 25th of February, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, the UK, Norway and Sweden announced the beginning of a new joint military project during a meeting in the German city of Bonn. A photo posted on twitter by a Swedish officer present at the meeting shows the discussions revolved around the development and acquirement of a new generation of all-terrain vehicles that should be the successor of current models such as the Bvs10 model or the Bronco 3. The project is however only at its initial phase and little additional information has been made available to the general public (Gain, 2019). One thing is certain, there is a common need for military cooperation and joint acquisitions of military material in Europe. Nonetheless, while the EU is increasing its initiatives regarding European defence, this project will be developed outside EU and NATO mechanisms. On the other hand, it is not surprising to see that countries like France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom are present at that meeting. These countries all have the Bvs10 vehicles within their vehicle fleets, and they might be looking to seize good opportunities to find a substitute to these vehicles. In the continuity of the Bvs10, the new generation all-terrain vehicle should be highly adaptable to varying environments ranging from mountains, arctic landscapes, jungles, and deserts. Moreover, the vehicles should be modular in order to be adaptable for the different uses required by the countries involved in the project.
Another aspect of the project is that it will not be executed within either an EU or a NATO framework. Such an initiative is definitely not the first of its kind, and it is a common thing for European countries to work on a multinational basis outside of the EU and NATO. Projects such as CAMO and SCAF illustrate this trend. In this case, one reason might lie in the fact that many of the countries involved are neither NATO nor EU members at the same time. Only Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are members of both organizations. However, in the case of the UK, the different options regarding defence policies have not yet been premised for a post-Brexit scenario. On the other hand, neither Sweden nor Finland are NATO members and their defence policies are oriented towards neutrality, while Norway is only a NATO member. This might partially explain why these countries feel a need to work together within a multilateral framework. Moreover, it could also be argued that countries prefer to cooperate with other nations with which they already have a history of corporation. While some might regret that these initiatives are outside of EU monitored mechanisms, it should rather be seen as a good compromise for the EU and European countries. By not buying foreign ‘off the shelf’ equipment, these countries would not only improve European defence industries but also their strategic autonomy, thus reinforcing both the EU and European members within NATO.
Multilateral ventures are of great interest as they provide substantial benefits to partnering countries. They enable countries to share know-how and decrease costs related to R&D, while also providing economies of scale (Delcker, 2017). At the same time, it increases interoperability between their different national forces. However, recent defense industrial projects have shown that cooperating on the development of new weapons and equipment is not an easy task. Indeed, certain issues related to exportation, manufacturing, and weapon usage; if not clearly defined at the beginning of the process, can undermine the benefits provided by joint ventures and can even create political tensions amongst partners (Wintour, 2019). This was for instance the case when Germany blocked the export of Meteor missiles manufactured by MDBA to Saudi Arabia, which included German-made components. This led to great frustration for France and the UK, Germany’s major partners in this venture, which could not guarantee the execution of a contract estimated at 1 billion dollars. The German embargo was mainly enforced for national political reasons following the Khasshoggi affair, and due to Berlin’s reluctance to transfer arms to any party involved in the Yemen war. Restrictions on exports imposed by one partner is the most common reason for tension between partners as an embargo can deteriorate the credibility of a countries defence industry. Moreover, it can also affect the defence industry’s dynamism as the different partners and manufactures involved in the development of equipment or weapon are at stake.
Technical specifications are another issue that needs to be determined at the beginning of the process. A good example was the Airbus A400m project were each country demanded that the plane should be equipped with several technical specifications for their own national imperatives. This, in return, increased the costs and delayed the production of the Airbus A400m significantly. These issues can push some countries to downsize their orders or even to withdraw from the project – as in the case with Italy – thus only increasing the unit cost of the plane (Macalister & Willan, 2001). As we have seen, defense cooperation can provide substantial benefits but also creates the necessity for countries to discuss future issues regarding technical specifications, restrictions on exports in order to avoid cost overruns, and more importantly keeping the credibility of their Defense industries vis-à-vis potential buyers. One thing is sure, the current six countries involved in this project will have to find ways to develop efficient mechanisms that will enable them to avoid political issues, as well as sustaining exports. The European Defence industry is incrementally confronted with new competitors coming from countries like Brazil, South Korea, Israel and others whom are now able to provide sophisticated valuable military equipment to countries all around the world. While this ‘venture’ is still a work in progress, it would be interesting to see how these countries implement new processes that could improve European Defence.Written by Emma Marty on behalf of the Finabel Permanent Secretariat
Written by Victor Mahieu on behalf of the Finabel Permanent Secretariat
- (2019), WINTOUR, Patrick, “Jeremy Hunt urges Germany to rethink Saudi arms sales ban”, The Guardian, (Accessed 7 March 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/20/jeremy-hunt-urges-germany-to-rethink-saudi-arms-sales-ban
- (2001), MACALISTER, Terry & WILLAN, Philip, “Italy flip-flops on Airbus project”, The Guardian, (Accessed 8 March 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/business/2001/oct/24/13
- (2017), DELCKER, Janosch, “EU could slash costs by pooling military spending: study”, Politico, (Accessed 7 March 2019) https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-military-spending-cuts-study-news-trump-russia-mckinsey
- (2019), GAIN, Nathan, “Six pays s’unissent pour un nouveau chenille tout-terrain”, Forces Operations Blog, (Accessed 3 March 2019) http://forcesoperations.com/six-pays-sunissent-pour-un-nouveau-chenille-tout-terrain/?fbclid=IwAR0wjg7IiEKCMeEpO1adTLyg0X7iA7Cr9j6Wy7kFmAcK0xJcSek70xeo7j0