A minefield of opportunity - Transatlantic defence in the Trump era

European Defence Studies

Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor

Senior Fellow for Peace, Security and Defence at Friends of Europe

For 70 years, NATO allies in Europe and North America have stood together to defend their territorial integrity and uphold a broad set of shared interests and values against common security threats. Yet, despite pledging in the North Atlantic Treaty to “seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and … encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them”, allies have largely gone their separate ways in their national defence industries.

With some political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic now questioning the relevance of the alliance, amid mutual accusations of deficient defence spending, failure to consult, protectionism and trade-distorting subsidies, the drive for industrial collaboration may seem less of an imperative. But the need to be able to conduct operations together – whether through NATO, on UN missions or in ad hoc coalitions – as well as the search for economies of scale, will continue to provide a strong incentive for cooperation beyond current political frustrations.

In this context, Friends of Europe released a study on transatlantic defence cooperation – what works, what doesn’t, whether and how it can be made to work better. It considers the opportunities and risks of the EU’s embryonic European Defence Fund and European Defence Industrial Development Programme, and the relationship with third country partners, especially the United States and the UK. It looks at new technological areas for potential transatlantic cooperation, including AI and autonomous systems, and examine the role of DARPA, compared to the hitherto civilian EU scientific research programme. Furthermore, it examines the vexed question of offsets and at where the legal, political, national security, technological and protectionist obstacles to closer cooperation lie.

With a total of four chapters, the report examines the strategic and political context surrounding transatlantic defence cooperation (1), the US defence market with its opportunities and limits (2) and it explores Europe’s fragmented defence market, EU efforts to reform it and US objections to it (3). Finally, the report concludes with recommendations on how to remove barriers and increase incentives for transatlantic research and industrial collaboration (4).

The study complements five similar studies on FranceGermany, the United KingdomPoland and Italy’s roles in European security and defence.

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