There’s a lot of talk in the current climate about that great Continental mirage, a European Army. It’ll never happen, not unless there’s a radical change in the European situation. Even a Russian invasion of Ukraine is unlikely to shake up the complacency of Europeans on defence issues.
However, with a bit of imagination Europe could help itself make a leap towards better self defence. One of the problems facing European defence is that the countries that are serious about defence (normally as a result of proximity to the Russian border) lack the financial resources to buy the high-cost tanks, fighters, drones and command and control systems and training needed to operate them. Poland and the Baltic States take their defence seriously, and with that the defence of Europe, but lack the cash of the less enthused.
So here’s a thought: what if the EU invested in the fighters and other equipment needed, buying them directly, and leased them to the frontline states? It would allow the frontline states to spend their limited resources on training and maintaining their service numbers. It would also allow the EU to ensure compatibility, and invest in military technology as the vast majority of the equipment would be bought and manufactured in Europe. I suspect it might be one defence issue where European consensus might be possible: European governments have traditionally been quite enthusiastic about selling weapons.
Of course, there’d have to be safeguards to prevent countries using it as an excuse to cut their own defence budgets. But that’s the beauty of it: put in a minimum NATO style minimum defence spend and it’ll only be the enthusiastic countries that will be able to access it anyway.
And Ireland? Would we benefit from it? Not without increasing our defence spending. But it might allow us to spend more on paying our soldiers, sailors and airmen to actually stay in the Defence Forces. As for drawing down funds for capital defence big spends, one or two submarines wouldn’t go amiss for keeping an eye on our vital undersea cables, nor an A400M Airbus military transport for getting our citizens out of hotspots like Afghanistan. We could even share fighter pilot training costs with Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, and acquire that other novelty: sovereign Irish airspace.