Op/Ed: If we want peace, we must prepare for war

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 19, 2024 23:59

Op/Ed: If we want peace, we must prepare for war

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  • As Europe faces its biggest security challenge since the Second World War, it must build its defence readiness, writes Charles Michel.

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By Charles Michel
President of the European Council.

It was 3:30 in the morning on 24 February 2022, when I was woken by the sound of my phone ringing. Countless intelligence briefings warning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine can never prepare you for the moment.

Hearing Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s grave voice over the phone say “Bombs are falling on us, it’s a full invasion,” I knew at that moment the entire post-World War II security arrangement had changed forever. The EU also has to change fast with it.

Within hours, EU leaders met in Brussels for an extraordinary summit to establish its response to the invasion. There was no need for words among us. The action was what was required. It’s a moment in history each of us EU leaders will remember forever. The decisions taken at the European Council meeting signalled the birth of a geopolitical EU.

The Kremlin’s miscalculation of an easy 3-day war against Ukraine, underestimating the EU’s collective unity, and Ukraine’s determination to defend its territory, shows the delusion at the heart of its leadership. The Kremlin does not care about its people’s welfare, the country’s prosperity, or peace in the region.

In contrast, Ukraine and its people have resisted, retaking seized territory, pushing the Russian navy from the Black Sea, and inflicting heavy losses on Russian forces.

Two years on from the start of the war, it is now clear that Russia will not stop in Ukraine, just as it did not stop in Crimea ten years ago. Russia continues its destabilising tactics — in Moldova, Georgia, the South Caucasus, the Western Balkans and even further afield on the African continent.

Russia is a serious military threat to our European continent and global security. If we do not get the EU’s response right and do not give Ukraine enough support to stop Russia, we are next.

We must therefore be defence-ready and shift to a ‘war economy’ mode. It’s time to take responsibility for our security. We can no longer count on others or be at the mercy of election cycles in the US or elsewhere.

We must strengthen our military ability both for Ukraine and Europe, to defend the democratic world. A stronger EU will also contribute to a stronger NATO alliance and enhance our collective defence.

While we can be proud of how far we have come, there is still much we can and must do.

In a phone call two days after the war started, Zelensky pleaded for Europe to send arms. Together with High Representative Josep Borrell, we worked with EU leaders to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine. This was a first in the history of our Union. That very weekend the first arms were arriving in Ukraine.

Europe’s commitment to Ukraine and its people has been unwavering at every European Council since then.

We have also stepped up on the military manufacturing front. Europe’s defence industry has ‘ramped up’ its production capacity by 50% since the start of the war, and we will double ammunition fabrication to over 2 million shells yearly, by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, across our continent, Kremlin propaganda in Europe attempts to convince our citizens that the war in Ukraine does not concern us, is draining our budgets, and dividing us. These are blatant lies. We must do more to assist Ukraine and strengthen our defence. We need to speak not only the language of diplomacy but also the language of power.

Russia will spend a reported 6% of GDP on defence this year, while the EU still spends on average less than the NATO goal of 2% of GDP.

For decades, Europe has not invested enough in our security and defence.

Today we face the biggest security challenge since the Second World War, we must therefore build our defence readiness. This will take a radical and irreversible shift in our thinking, towards a strategic security mindset.

We must prioritise Ukraine and spend more smarter in a less fragmented manner.

Supporting Ukraine

While we beef up our defence capacity, we must ensure Ukraine gets what it needs on the battlefield. Ukrainian soldiers urgently need bullets, missiles and air defence systems to control the skies.

We must use the European budget to buy military equipment for Ukraine and let’s make use of the windfall profits from Russia’s immobilised assets to purchase arms for Ukraine.

Buy more together 

We should aim to double what we buy from the European industry by 2030. This will give more predictability to our companies. Multi-year contracts will also incentivise them to expand their production capacity.

This will strengthen our defence sector, and enhance defence readiness, creating jobs and growth across the EU.

Make access to financing easier

Investments in security are expensive but without them, we cannot increase our defence production. We must facilitate ways for industry, to access public and private financing more easily.

Issuing European defence bonds to raise money to buy materials or invest in our industry, could be a powerful means to strengthen our technological innovation and industrial base.

We must consider expanding the European Investment Bank’s mandate and adapting the lending policy to allow us to do more to support our European defence industry, i.e. by changing the definition of dual-use goods.

EU leaders are convening again in Brussels two years after that pivotal European Council meeting. At this crucial moment in global history, we must be defence-ready, matching the urgency of the threat.

This fight requires strong leadership — to rally our people, businesses, and governments toward a new spirit of security and defence across our continent.

If we want peace, we must prepare for war.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 19, 2024 23:59