How the COVID-19 crisis has affected security and defence-related aspects of the EU

27-01-2021

This paper looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has directly and indirectly affected European security and defence. It documents how missions and operations of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) were directly impacted. It finds that COVID-19 has accentuated already recognised capacity shortfalls of the CSDP, such as strategic airlift, secure communications and command and control. Defence spending through EU instruments, and to a lesser extent at national level, has come under pressure although it may still escape post-2008 style cuts. The pandemic revealed the vulnerabilities of Member States’ infrastructure and supply chains, and the limited competences of the EU in supporting Member States’ management of public health emergencies. COVID-19 tends to act as a threat multiplier and source of instability, particularly in low-income countries already affected by socio-economic imbalances and governance problems. The pandemic is likely to accelerate existing trends, including the declining share of the US and the EU in the world economy compared to Asia, intensifying concerns about China’s growing assertiveness, growing attention to IT security and cyber capabilities, and the interconnection between conventional and unconventional security risks. This analysis also looks at which lessons the EU should learn in order to better manage and prepare for such crises. At a strategic level, the EU needs to invest in lesson learning exercises with the European Parliament playing a key role in making the learning publicly accessible. It should also be proactive in shaping international discourses about international governance and the role of the EU post COVID-19. Furthermore, the paper elaborates 19 short and longer-term recommendations, for instance, on how CSDP missions can become more resilient in public health emergencies and which capability shortfalls need addressing most; how defence spending can be made more efficient and better targeted; or how the EU can help to better coordinate military support to civilian authorities. Finally, it advocates investment in health intelligence and better managing the biosecurity risks arising from growing access to dual-use technologies. The EU should forge a preventive approach to future pandemics and associated risks and embrace a comprehensive approach to security and resilience. Yet, one should not lose sight of the distinctive function of the CSDP and what it can currently deliver.

This paper looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has directly and indirectly affected European security and defence. It documents how missions and operations of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) were directly impacted. It finds that COVID-19 has accentuated already recognised capacity shortfalls of the CSDP, such as strategic airlift, secure communications and command and control. Defence spending through EU instruments, and to a lesser extent at national level, has come under pressure although it may still escape post-2008 style cuts. The pandemic revealed the vulnerabilities of Member States’ infrastructure and supply chains, and the limited competences of the EU in supporting Member States’ management of public health emergencies. COVID-19 tends to act as a threat multiplier and source of instability, particularly in low-income countries already affected by socio-economic imbalances and governance problems. The pandemic is likely to accelerate existing trends, including the declining share of the US and the EU in the world economy compared to Asia, intensifying concerns about China’s growing assertiveness, growing attention to IT security and cyber capabilities, and the interconnection between conventional and unconventional security risks. This analysis also looks at which lessons the EU should learn in order to better manage and prepare for such crises. At a strategic level, the EU needs to invest in lesson learning exercises with the European Parliament playing a key role in making the learning publicly accessible. It should also be proactive in shaping international discourses about international governance and the role of the EU post COVID-19. Furthermore, the paper elaborates 19 short and longer-term recommendations, for instance, on how CSDP missions can become more resilient in public health emergencies and which capability shortfalls need addressing most; how defence spending can be made more efficient and better targeted; or how the EU can help to better coordinate military support to civilian authorities. Finally, it advocates investment in health intelligence and better managing the biosecurity risks arising from growing access to dual-use technologies. The EU should forge a preventive approach to future pandemics and associated risks and embrace a comprehensive approach to security and resilience. Yet, one should not lose sight of the distinctive function of the CSDP and what it can currently deliver.

External author

Christoph O. Meyer, Sophia Besch, Prof. Martin Bricknell, Dr Ben Jones Christoph O. MEYER, Martin BRICKNELL, Ramon PACHECO PARDO, Ben JONES.