Four days after Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced that “for the first time ever”, the EU would “finance the purchase and delivery of weapons… to a country that is under attack”. A few days earlier, she had declared the EU to be “one union, one alliance” with NATO.
Unlike NATO, the EU is not a military alliance. Yet, from the outset of this war, it has been more concerned with militarism than diplomacy. This was not unexpected.
The Lisbon Treaty provided the legal underpinning for the EU to develop a common security and defence policy. Between 2014 and 2020, some €25.6bn* of the EU’s public money was spent beefing up its military capacity. The 2021-27 budget established a European Defence Fund (EDF) of nearly €8bn, modelled on two precursor programmes, which for the first time allocated EU funding to the research and development of innovative military wares, including highly controversial arms that rely on artificial intelligence or automated systems. The EDF is but one aspect of a much broader defence budget.
EU spending is indicative of how it identifies as a political project and where its priorities lie. Over the previous decade, political and social problems have increasingly been addressed militarily. The removal of humanitarian missions from the Mediterranean, replaced by high-tech surveillance drones and leading to 20,000 drownings since 2013, is just one example. In choosing to fund militarism, Europe has driven an arms race and prepared the groundwork for war.
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EC vice president and high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Josep Borrell said after the Russian invasion: “Another taboo has fallen… that the European Union was not providing arms in a war.” Borrell confirmed that lethal weapons would be sent to the war zone, funded by the EU’s Peace Facility. War, it would seem, is indeed peace, as George Orwell proclaimed in ‘1984’.
The EU’s actions are not only hugely irresponsible, but also show a lack of creative thinking. Is this honestly the best the EU can do in a moment of crisis? To channel €500m in lethal weaponry to a country with 15 nuclear reactors, where conscripted citizens must fight by any and all means at their disposal, where children are preparing molotov cocktails, and where the opposing side has put its nuclear deterrent forces on high alert? Inviting Ukraine’s military to submit an arms wishlist will only fan the flames of war.
Calls from the Ukrainian government and its people for arms are understandable and difficult to ignore. But ultimately, arms only ever prolong and aggravate conflict. Ukraine has a strong precedent of non-violent resistance, including the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Maidan Revolution of 2013-14, and there are already acts of non-violent, civilian resistance taking place across the country in response to the invasion. These acts must be recognised and supported by the EU, which thus far has primarily focused its attention on militarised defence.
History has shown time and again that pouring arms into situations of conflict does not bring about stability and does not necessarily contribute to effective resistance. In 2017, the US sent European-manufactured arms to Iraq to fight ISIS, only for those same arms to end up in the hands of IS fighters in the battle of Mosul. Arms supplied by a German company to the Mexican federal police fell into the hands of municipal police and an organised crime gang in Guerrero State and were used in the massacre of six people and the forced disappearance of 43 students in a case known as Ayotzinapa. Following the disastrous withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, significant quantities of high-tech US military wares were seized by the Taliban, including military helicopters, planes, and other equipment from the US war chest.
History has shown time and again that pouring arms into situations of conflict does not bring about stability
There are countless similar examples where weapons are intended for one purpose and end up serving another. Ukraine will likely, on Europe’s watch, become the next case in point. Moreover, arms have a long shelf life. These weapons will likely change hands numerous times in the coming years, fuelling further conflict.
This is all the more reckless when you consider the timing – while EU representatives came together in Brussels, contingents from the Russian and Ukrainian governments were meeting for peace talks in Belarus. Subsequently, the EU announced that it would expedite Ukraine’s request for EU membership, a move that is not only provocative to Russia, but to various Balkan states that have been diligently fulfilling accession requirements for years.
If there was even a tacit prospect of peace on Sunday morning, why didn’t the EU call for an immediate ceasefire and urge NATO to de-escalate its presence around Ukraine? Why did it undermine the peace talks by flexing its military muscle and enacting a military mandate?
This ‘watershed moment’ is the culmination of years of corporate lobbying by the arms industry, which strategically positioned itself first as a supposedly independent expert to inform EU decision-making, and subsequently as a beneficiary once the money tap began to flow. This is not an unpredictable situation – it is exactly what was supposed to happen.
The rhetoric of EU officials would indicate that they are captivated by the frenzy of war. They have completely decoupled the deployment of lethal weapons from the resultant death and destruction they will cause.
The EU must immediately shift course. It must step outside the paradigm that got us here, and call for peace. The stakes for doing otherwise are too high.
*This figure was arrived at by adding the budgets of the Internal Security Fund – Police; the Internal Security Fund – Borders and Visa; the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund; funding for EU justice and home affairs agencies; the Rights, Equality and Citizenship and Europe for Citizens programmes; the Secure Societies research programme; the Preparatory Action on Defence Research and European Defence Industrial Development programmes (2018-20); the Athena mechanism; and the African Peace Facility.
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