Opinion

European defence is a vital topic, and we always welcome keen and practical debate about ways forward. The opinion pieces below are not the opinions of EDA. Rather, they are reports and articles produced by others, which EDA feel make a valuable contribution to the contemporary defence debate.

Pooling & Sharing: conditions for long-term success

Brussels - 15 May, 2013

Camille Grand, Director of the Paris-based Fondation Pour La Recherche Stratégique, believes that if pooling and sharing programmes are to reach their long-term goals a number of important conditions will need to be in place.

Many observers and senior European officials argue that pooling and sharing is the only way to address the capability shortfalls of Europe in times of fiscal austerity. It is indeed the most promising approach in terms of capability development as it can and should allow participants to develop, acquire and operate assets jointly, generating potential substantial savings. It is however important to set the basis for long term success. Otherwise polling and sharing runs the risk of becoming another bumper sticker approach with limited effects in the real world.

Among the keys to long-term success three elements are essential.
Pooling and sharing will succeed if it is developed without a single model and if it follows a pragmatic approach. Projects can be developed by two, three, four or more countries. It is extremely difficult to develop projects that meet the requirements of ten or more countries without generating additional costs when the extra costs can be constrained in smaller groups. Success is also more likely among small groups of like-minded participants sharing a common interest.

It should also deliver in terms of financial savings for the nations. The geographical and political closeness between partners involved in a given project are additional elements for success - it is easier to work jointly for Nordic or Visegrad countries and one of the reasons for the development of Franco-British defence cooperation is the shared strategic culture. For these reasons European Union (EU)-wide projects are unlikely to succeed. But it is how important to maintain the door open to partners willing to join a project at a later stage.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) has a particular role to play in that context as it serves as a project initiator, a facilitator, and a clearing house for pooling and sharing, beyond its broader mission of promoting the concept.

Because of political constraints, pooling and sharing is likely to prove more complicated as the concept moves closer to combat. In terms of combat assets armies are more likely to rely on capabilities meeting their exact requirements. They will require full availability. Pooling and sharing will have the most significant effect when focusing on key enablers (unmanned air systems and air-to-air refuelling, for example) as European capability shortfalls are the most significant in this field.

Other major areas for developing pooling and sharing are support and training as unnecessary duplications continue to exist. This will also have the second rank benefit of bringing closer the armed forces of involved European nations. Whatever the nature of the programme, an effort to preserve a pooled-and-shared approach throughout the life of the programme should be pursued or the benefits are likely to remain limited.

Last but not least, the availability of capabilities is essential. Ways and means offering guaranteed access to pooled and shared capabilities is a last essential challenge, or nations might be reluctant to jointly acquire assets which could not be unconditionally accessed when a crisis occurs. This last point should address the constitutional constraints of several European partners and the end result must ensure issues of legal constraints and insured access are dealt with. This challenge is even more significant for the largest EU countries that still have - at least to a certain extent - the option of national developments and purchases.

Without being a precondition for success the good articulation of pooling and sharing with NATO is important. This is not so much to avoid duplications and rivalry between the concepts of “pooling and sharing” and “smart defence” or between the organisations themselves - they will always exist and can to a certain extent prove useful - but to insure that capability development efforts conducted by the EU and NATO are compatible and mutually reinforcing. Permanent exchanges between the EDA and the various structures of NATO - such as the international secretariat and Allied Command for Transformation (ACT) - are probably the best way to de-conflict the potential problems and to develop fruitful cooperation. A successful pooling and sharing project can also deliver capabilities much needed to NATO. A good example of this is the effort associated with air-to-air refuelling.

Pooling and sharing offers a very useful route towards achieving simultaneously a political objective - to create an incentive and a narrative favouring deeper defence integration in Europe - and the financial objective of delivering military capabilities while reducing acquisition and possession costs through cooperation.

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