The Straits Times – In a dangerous world, as seen in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Europe and Asia need each other to defend the rules-based international order.
In a globalised world, there is no ‘faraway’. A war or major security crisis in one region affects everyone. It is also impossible to ‘compartmentalise’, to think that security tensions will not affect the economy. We can see it from the shockwaves Russia’s war against Ukraine is sending around the world, creating a global food and energy crisis.
Europe and Asia have a deep and shared interest in upholding what we call ‘the rules-based international order’ which is the condition for everything we hold dear. It makes states secure, people free and companies willing to invest. It therefore matters that this order is under growing threat.
Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine is the most dramatic example, creating a more dangerous world for all of us. It is a frontal attack on the United Nations Charter by a permanent member of the Security Council, violating the prohibition on the use or threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.
Neither Europe nor Asia can accept a world where military aggression against a weaker neighbour is somehow ‘normalised’. Faced with aggression, there is no neutrality. The European Union has always stood for the primacy of international law, from the Crimea to the South China Sea; and we will continue to do so. We count on our international partners to do the same.
This war is affecting people far beyond the European continent. We see fast-rising energy costs and food shortages and the whole world is risking stagflation. As usual, the biggest effects will be for those least able to shoulder them. All because of Russia’s war and its blockade – not our sanctions.
When it comes to Ukraine, our goal is clear: to ensure that Ukraine succeeds in defending its sovereignty and democracy. To that end, we must keep Ukraine economically afloat and militarily able to resist. We have adopted six packages of sanctions and we are providing €9 billion in macro-financial support.
We are financing military assistance to Ukraine – most of it lethal equipment – so far for a total of €2 billion – and this comes on top of what EU member states do bilaterally.
We are drawing wider lessons. On energy: we are cutting once and for all the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. This process is now underway with a ban on coal and a gradual phase out of oil imports, reaching 90% by year’s end.
STEPPING UP DEFENCE SPENDING
On security and defence, there has also been a major acceleration. We adopted the Strategic Compass in March with all 27 EU member states. This is our operational guide to develop the EU into a stronger and more capable security provider. Among other plans, we agreed to develop a rapid deployment capability and do live military exercises: a first in EU history. And we do all this while strengthening our partnership with NATO, based on the evident truth that a stronger EU role on security and defence will also strengthen NATO.
We know well that if you have defence ambitions, you need the capabilities to back them up. Here, we have a lot of work to do but also a new chance with defence budgets rising across the EU.
In 2021, total EU defence spending was over US$220 billion, compared to US$800 billion for the US, US$293 billion for China and US$65 for Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). So Europeans do spend a sizeable sum overall. But the rate of change is very different compared to others. The share of spending that goes on joint investment is going down, even as total spending goes up.
Last week, together with the European Commission, I presented to European leaders an analysis of our defence investment gaps. The figures are striking. From 1999 to 2021, EU combined defence spending increased by 20% against 66% for the US, almost 300% for Russia and 600% for China. When it comes to the share of joint investment spending it reached a historical low of 8% of all equipment spending.
Spurred by Russia’s war, member states have announced increases in their defence budgets for an additional €200 billion in the coming years. That is welcome. But we need to ensure that Europeans not only spend more on defence but also do more of that spending together.
This is what we are committed to doing with financial incentives for member states for more joint procurement. We are also strengthening the EU’s defence industrial and technological base. With EU funding, we are supporting R&D, especially into the potential of disruptive new technologies.
All this will make European armies stronger. It will also make us better partners for security cooperation with Asia.
In a dangerous world, Europe and Asia need each other and should work together to uphold a world based on agreed rules and law, not might makes right.
Josep Borrell is the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission.
This Opinion Editorial was published in The Straits Times, Singapore.