New challenges, old threats

As the world deals with the economic fallout from COVID-19, new European Defence Agency chief executive, Jirí Šedivý, tells Rajnish Singh that previous security threats have not gone away and therefore defence funding should remain a key EU priority.
European Defence Agency chief executive, Jirí Šedivý | Photo credit: EDA

By Rajnish Singh

Rajnish Singh is Commissioning Editor at the Parliament Magazine

09 Jul 2020

As the world deals with the Coronavirus,crisis, newly-appointed European Defence Agency (EDA) head, Jirí Šedivý, describes the pandemic as an example of a ‘black swan’ event. “It is a disruptive challenge, one that is coming at us very quickly and unexpectedly, changing our lives, our economy and even our perception of the world,” he explains.

The new chief executive, appointed in May, is keen to remind European leaders that they should not forget the traditional security and defence challenges the EU continues to face. “We still have conflicts and threats on our borders, as well as cyber and hybrid warfare challenges from countries like Russia, who are using disinformation and fake news to undermine western democracies.”

He believes the pandemic has now ‘sharpened’ the dangers Europe faces. Šedivý, an expert in the defence field for more than 30 years, began his career in academia in Prague, where he lectured on security issues before serving as Czech defence minister from 2006 to 2007. He has also worked at Nato as an assistant secretary general, and for the last seven years as Czech ambassador to the Alliance.

“We should avoid what happened ten years ago, when very deep, chaotic and uncoordinated cuts weakened, in a critical way, our defence capabilities”

However, despite his extensive experience, he says, “I am coming to this position in the most challenging times since the end of the Cold War.” At a time when Member States have been focused on addressing the challenges posed by the Coronavirus crisis, Šedivý has been busy pushing the EDA’s message: better defence cooperation. “Since day one of my appointment, I’ve been emphasising that Europe should continue to advance the development of a full spectrum of high-level military capabilities, with the EDA at the centre.”

He acknowledges this will be challenging given the financial pressures on European budgets, warning, “We should avoid what happened ten years ago, when very deep, chaotic and uncoordinated cuts weakened, in a critical way, our defence capabilities.” He believes that in the current financial climate, “It’s only logical and rational that we cooperate more and create more collaborative projects that develop our military capabilities. This will bring about economies of scale which can then lead to more enhanced interoperability.”

The defence chief argues that multi-national projects can o er many advantages, bringing together numerous industries and research organisations from across the EU, describing it as a ‘win-win’ situation. However, despite the challenging economic situation, Šedivý is still optimistic about the future, saying, “We now have policy instruments that not only promote defence cooperation, but also protect investment in military projects.” For him, there are three key instruments to consider in Europe’s defence planning: The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) and the European Defence Fund, which he believes will provide a ‘strong stimulus’ for more cooperation. He also points to Nato’s Defence Investment Pledge, which requires members to commit to spending two percent of their GDP on security each year by 2024. During the Coronavirus pandemic, Europe’s military personnel and equipment were put to use supporting civilian authorities.

Šedivý says that in light of this experience, it is important that “we learn from these lessons so that we can be better organised for any future challenges.” However, he warns that projects relating to the development of military capabilities, such as those defined in CARD, should not be radically altered whenever a new crisis occurs. “The priorities are well set out and should continue to lead us into the future. We should also keep in mind that capability development takes time: 10, 15 or even 20 years. We therefore cannot change the fundamental priorities every two years. However, we should look at some sort of adjustments to reflect the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“It’s only logical and rational that we cooperate more and create more collaborative projects that develop our military capabilities. This will bring about economies of scale which can then lead to more enhanced interoperability”

A top priority for Šedivý will be the development of even closer cooperation between the EU and Nato. “This is crucially important, because the EU and Nato are the two key security pillars of the West, and as organisations they overlap in terms of membership, with the EU and Nato sharing 21 common Member States. We are built on the same values and goals, and it’s obvious that we should now cooperate even more,” says Šedivý.

But to limit resources being wasted, he accepts that there is a need to avoid duplication, saying, “Non-duplication is one of the important criteria when we assess and defi ne the objectives of projects.” Šedivý also believes that good relations with MEPs can help Europe establish a genuine Defence Union and he has wasted no time in forming a dialogue with key policymakers such the head of the Security and Defence (SEDE) sub-Committee, Nathalie Loiseau.

In fact, he has already told the French deputy that he is available to visit Parliament and meet members of the SEDE Committee. “I see them as our natural ally, as some of them were former defence ministers,” he explains.

Šedivý argues that by addressing MEPs he can access a wider audience of policymakers. With the EU’s budget still being wrangled over, the head of the EDA hopes he can convince MEPs that the European Defence Fund (EDF), and other funds for research and innovation which have military implications, will be well supported. “Deputies are important as we need to persuade them that money for the EDF and other funds will have a multiplier e ect as they can help contribute to the economic recovery.”

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