EDM: The war in Ukraine has prompted Europe to break taboos. But it has also exposed years of neglect. How do you rate progress so far?  

We must remember that our urgency to help Ukraine is not only altruistic. In the new strategic documents of the European Union and NATO that date from 2022, Russia’s war of aggression is defined as a threat to European security. So it’s in our interests to keep helping Ukraine. Ukraine is fighting our fight.  

Of course, there has been a deepening of the understanding that European defence cannot exclusively be directed towards crisis management missions outside of the European territory, as it was in the past. For NATO, since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, deterrence and collective defence has been coming back at the core. So too for the EU, the calibration has become much more realistic.   

We have seen how in the EU there are also a range of new initiatives that are targeted at both helping Ukraine and developing deterrents, which was not really the case before 2022. EU instruments are particularly effective, not least the European Peace Facility, with more than €11 billion lined up to help Ukraine, and also we see now how the Act in Support of Ammunition Production is starting to kick in. That is something to build upon. 

EDM: Europe’s defence industrial base was neglected for many years. Now there is talk of moving to a ‘war economy’. Does that make sense?  

If you look at our adversary, Russia, it has entered into a war economy. It is dedicating a third of their budget this year to the military. In Europe, that’s not the case. But the conceptual idea is useful to understand that we are also at war, even if we’re not directly conducting the war. So, if we cannot handle it, or if we do not engage financially and step up, then Ukraine will fail. It is that simple.  

Everyone should know that Russia has entered into a war economy. We are also facing massive hybrid threats from Russia. So, in a sense, Europe is in a low intensity war with Russia, as Russia is targeting our society day in and day out in various ways, although not militarily. 

Twenty-one out of 32 allies will meet the target of spending 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence. You can say that’s good, and in 2014 was only a handful. But there are still several countries that will not reach the pledge that was made a decade ago.  

It’s more realistic to move up towards a target of spending 3% on defence, and I would like to see that as a NATO pledge for 2030. Look at Sweden:  before the outbreak of the Second World War, we were spending 1.6% of GDP on defence, and then it increased to 10-12% in the years 1941 to 1944. Awareness now will help us deter Russia, but we need to do it now. It cannot wait.

EDM: Now that Sweden, and Finland, are in NATO, do you think this idea of a European pillar in the alliance might finally gain traction?  

It’s a very old concept but it never took flight until now, when everyone is talking about it. I think the hesitation in NATO has been that it cannot be a European Union caucus within NATO. That’s an absolute no-no, because NATO is led by a non-EU state that is the United States, and then you have the United Kingdom now as a non-EU ally. 

But you can still have a European pillar in NATO if you go beyond the EU definition of Europe. A European pillar in NATO would need to encompass all European assets, including Norway, Britain, and even Turkey, countries ready and willing to act, perhaps as first responders if the United States is strained elsewhere, such as in the Indo-Pacific theatre. The United States no longer has the ability to conduct two regional wars in parallel, as it did during the Cold War.  

When it comes to strategic transport, command-and-control, air-to-air refueling, missile defence, long-range strike weapons and so on, the Americans provide between 70 and 90% of the enablers that the NATO defence planning process requires. This is not acceptable. It does not meet the rules that no country should have to provide more than 50%. But the Europeans are not living up to this ambition. 

European allies and Canada need to pitch in to collectively provide at least 50% of all designated capabilities in NATO’s defence planning process by 2030. Then you would have a European pillar in NATO. 

  • Anna Wieslander, Director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council

EDM: Sweden has joined NATO. How has joining NATO changed your outlook on defence in Europe? What has it meant for you, personally, as a Swedish national and expert in the field? 

My ambition has always been to secure Northern Europe collectively. I’ve strived for this, especially when Sweden and Finland didn’t have ambitions to join. I believe Sweden’s membership of the alliance facilitates the possibility of securing Northern Europe and creating what I’ve written about: a deterrence of denial across this area. I believe we have an opportunity to achieve that by being agile, forward-leaning, and signalling to Russia that we possess substantial assets, now that we’re within one alliance. This makes any hostile action on our territory highly costly and risky for them.  

So, we’re on our way to creating an efficient deterrence against Russia’s own anti-access area denial strategy. In my view, if we continue along this path in Northern Europe, it will benefit the entire alliance by strengthening European defence. We need the political determination to make this work. I think that’s the most critical aspect. Despite the warnings, there’s still a reluctance to take them seriously enough and feel the urgency. 

EDM: Do you think that EU defence integration can deepen much further? If so, in what way? 

It comes back to how much can we put within the European Union and its institutions, and how much can we do as European allies. As long as you have a reluctance among Member States, we will never move forward. Germany and the Nordics, for instance, are reluctant about deeper integration because their defence industry tends to be seen as a national instrument that is part of national security.   

I believe the EU can play a role to get things going as an enabler, particularly when you see this discrepancy between what industry wants when it comes to long-term commitments, and what states are ready to spend. Companies would like to have 10-year commitments, but governments do not like to make such long-term decisions. There the EU could step in with guarantees, much like a first-loss bank guarantee, for industrial orders. 

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with Member State initiatives, and I think this is an important distinction. It will always be important to have capitals involved. Look at the German initiative, the European Sky Shield, where they have a group of countries coming together to provide stronger missile defence. You can also do more in groups that like the Joint Expeditionary Force led by Britain, where you have a group of countries coming together to increase deterrence in Northern Europe by being active on the operational side. 

What we really need to have is interoperability. That’s so important. Our software needs to be interoperable, all our tanks should be able to use artillery of a certain kind. We can’t have countries seeking a national benefit by only serving a single market with a certain product. Work on respecting NATO standards is also critical across the EU. 

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