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Tuomas Koskenniemi: Artificial intelligence and climate change also defence topics in the EU

EU2019FIMinistry of Defence
Publication date 26.8.2019 16.56

Good headway has been made in EU defence cooperation. New initiatives have been launched, and old structures have been modernised. While in the past EU defence matters were handled by initiated experts only, in recent years they have become topics of discussion at meetings of top leaders.

But it is still perhaps difficult to figure out what the EU defence ministers intend to discuss when they meet in Helsinki on 28 and 29 August. Why do we need an informal meeting of EU defence ministers, as out of the 28 EU member states 22 are also members of NATO? Is the EU no longer a peace project?

New themes

In their meeting in Helsinki, the EU defence ministers will discuss artificial intelligence in the defence sector, ways to improve maritime security and, for the first time, climate change and its impacts on defence. Jointly with the EU foreign ministers, the defence ministers will also discuss EU measures to counter hybrid threats.

It would be futile even for the larger member states to try resolving these issues alone. In all aspects they are also part of a bigger picture than just defence. This is the EU’s defence dimension in a nutshell.

Defence becomes more European

To enhance their national armed forces, EU member states cooperate on defence matters in many forums. The EU has tools at its disposal that other organisations lack. It is not a collective defence organisation; instead, it is a security community where member states are closely connected through complex links in different areas of society. Issues that used to be purely national are now increasingly European by nature, even in the defence sector.

It is impossible to draw a line between ‘national’ defence and ‘international’ defence cooperation. The same applies on the scale of Europe. Since the Ukrainian crisis, the EU has been focusing on protecting Europe and on improving the security of EU citizens. During Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, one of the topics of discussion is mutual assistance in hybrid threat situations. The protection of Europe starts beyond Europe though. So the EU must continue to develop its external action so it can help support stability in its neighbouring regions.

Forward-looking cooperation

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini will probably chair her last meeting of EU defence ministers in Helsinki. At the same time, as a former minister of defence, incoming President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen is very familiar with EU defence cooperation. The outgoing leaders have steered the EU, which previously focused more narrowly on crisis management, towards defence cooperation. It is now time for the next steps to be taken. The discussions to be held in Helsinki on artificial intelligence and climate change form a good foundation for forward-looking EU defence.

We should not expect EU defence cooperation to do more than it is meant to do; neither should we downplay its role unduly. By engaging in European discussions, by proposing new topics together with like-minded countries and by joining in on new initiatives already when they are taking shape, we can play a part in the course that defence cooperation takes. The Informal Meeting of EU Defence Ministers will contribute to making EU defence cooperation broader and is a step towards a closer defence union.

Tuomas Koskenniemi, Special Adviser, Ministry of Defence