In the years following World War II, French foreign minister Robert Schuman declared that ‘world peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it’. In 1951, these creative efforts were realised in a treaty between previously historic rivals who agreed to make war ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’.1 The European Coal and Steel Community, which eventually evolved into today’s European Union (EU), was born.
Almost 60 years later, EU member states pledged to ‘preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security’ in the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2009.2 However, preserving peace was no longer about finding creative solutions to pre-empt brewing conflicts between rivals, but rather a business opportunity within a capitalist system, where profit and growth is the ultimate goal, regardless of the deadly consequences. Guaranteeing peace was seized upon by lobbyists for the arms trade, who positioned themselves as security experts and enjoyed unfettered access to the corridors of power. This corporate model of keeping the peace, and the politics that underpin it, only serves to secure capital, protect the elite, and line the pockets of the lucrative private security sector, while consigning the vast majority of the world’s population to a continuous cycle of insecurity and instability.
To exemplify just how embedded the arms industry is in influencing policy it is worth examining the Group of Personalities on Defence Research, an advisory body tasked with advising the EU on funding research and development within the context of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.3 The Group of Personalities was composed of 16 representatives, nine of whom were directly affiliated with the arms industry. Based on their final report, the European Commission (EC) allocated unprecedented amounts of public money to private security companies for weapons research and development (R&D).
European Network Against the Arms Trade and Transnational Institute ‘Fanning the Flames’ March 2022
The initial precursor programmes got almost €600 million4 while the European Defence Fund (EDF) received an €8 billion budget. To date, the arms companies that directly influenced the creation of these funds have received €122 million or 28.1% of the current allocation, although this will undoubtedly rise once the entire budget is granted.5
In 2021, the EC approved the € 5.7 billion European Peace Facility (EPF),6 which, contrary to what its name suggests, finances EU military operations, such as those in West Africa or the Horn of Africa, as well as the provision of military equipment and training, with Ukraine being the first to receive such assistance. The fund is off-budget and therefore circumvents transparency, oversight and accountability procedures.
Research by Statewatch and the Transnational Institute found defence spending more than doubled from one budgetary cycle to the next, with €43.9 billion allocated for the 2021–2027 budget.7 By comparison, the amount allocated to the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme is just €1.4 billion. Arguably though, funding civilian peace initiatives would be much more conducive to building an enduring peace and align more closely with the EU’s founding principle of safeguarding it.
Statewatch and Transnational Institute ‘At What Cost?’ April 2022
Increased military spending is part of a worldwide trend, however. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that the 2021 global military budget surpassed US$2.1 trillion for the first time.8 The US invested US$801 billion, while Europe’s top military spenders combined spent the equivalent of US$329.2 billion. China’s budget came in at US$293 billion, and Russia’s at US$65.8 billion. Although the EU’s €43.9 billion over a seven-year period may pale in comparison, the intended direction is clear and indicative of how the EU’s identity is shifting to include a growing military dimension to the union. This began long before the Ukraine war.
The share of world military expenditure of the 15 countries with the highest spending in 2021
Source: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, Apr. 2022.
Since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the EC has indicated that it intends to increase the EDF and EPF budget lines, as well as create a €500 million fund to incentivise joint arms procurement among member states to replenish military materiel sent to Ukraine.9 In the run-up to the June 2022 NATO Summit, European Council President, Charles Michel, announced an increase in military spending to an unprecedented €200 billion in the coming years.10