There were 1,859 press releases posted in the last 24 hours and 393,716 in the last 365 days.

The Saint-Malo Accord and the Future of European Security and Deterrence

Vladimir Putin may be hoping for a negotiated settlement on Ukraine, with the support of a weakened and defensively apathetic Europe. A revived Saint-Malo Accord may make this more difficult, a prospect the United Kingdom’s new foreign minister will certainly be trying to bolster.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year was a watershed moment in Europe’s security. Even though Russia’s military operations in Ukraine have failed to achieve their goal, Moscow will remain a threat to Europe so long as Putin, or someone else with his expansionist worldview, is in power in Russia. At the same time challenges in Europe’s south are increasing, with Iran’s rapidly expanding nuclear program standing out as a threat. All this is taking place as the United States increases its focus on China, meaning Europe will have to do more for its own defence.

These words are from last week’s report published by the Centre for European Reform, an independent think-tank that aspires to make the European Union work better. Unsurprisingly, this is not a subject which gets much attention in “Brexit Britain” but, mercifully, London remains an international city and recently was the venue for a CEF conference to review the 25-year-old Saint-Malo Accord between France and the United Kingdom.

Saint Malo is a ferry port on the north coast of Brittany close to Jersey in the Channel Islands. A historic walled city, this was where former UK prime minister Tony Blair and France’s president Jacques Chirac held a crucial summit meeting and signed an accord designed to pave the way for Europe to build its own defence capacity. The document committed the continent’s foremost military powers “to advance the creation of a European security and defence policy, including a European military force capable of autonomous action.”

A year later, at the meeting of the European Council in Helsinki, a target was set to establish a European force of 600,000 capable of being mobilised within six weeks. The initiative was spurred by profound irritation in Paris and London at the impotence of the European Union to prevent or contain the 1998 war in Kosovo. The impact of the St Malo declaration was to reconcile France’s long-held desire for Europe to be able to act autonomously with Britain’s faith in NATO as the bedrock of European defence. The intention was also to spur other European governments, particularly the reluctant Germans, to boost their military capabilities.

Alas, it has not quite worked to plan, as the words quoted from the CEF report in the opening paragraph indicate, and it is not hard to see why things began to fall apart. The American-led war in Iraq created major divisions within the 27 member countries of the European Union, making serious talks on defence cooperation difficult. In Britain, the right wing of the Conservative party, ruling in an uneasy coalition with the Liberal Democrats, was becoming increasingly Eurosceptic. Then, in May 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron won an outright victory for his party and decided to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. It was a gamble. Most referenda normally require at least 60 percent of voters to support the proposal, but Cameron, who believed the UK should remain within the EU, was sufficiently confident the country would vote to stay within the Union, and that a simple majority of 50 percent was required to carry the day.

He was proven wrong, misjudging the effectiveness of the Brexit campaign run by Boris Johnson (who was to be Cameron’s successor), who managed to convince a wafer-thin majority of voters that ending “rule by Brussels” would bring immense financial benefits, including billions of pounds for the National Health Service (a brazen lie), and head off mass immigration from Turkey which, he claimed, was about to join the EU (another falsehood). Brexit is done and dusted, of course, and Britons are gradually absorbing its downside in terms of a weak economy hit by falling exports to Europe without yet seeing any upside. Still, the major political parties show no appetite to re-join the EU, and Brussels treats the UK much as an American multinational treats a long-retired chief executive.

That said, the outlook for the Saint Malo Declaration is, fortunately, looking more positive. British prime minister Rishi Sunak and French president Emmanuel Macron revived the fading entente cordial last March, agreeing that defence was the cornerstone of the bilateral relationship. The ennoblement of David Cameron (to enable his new appointment as Britain’s foreign secretary) will help: Lord Cameron is a strategic thinker who likes big ideas. He will be keen to renew his contacts with European leaders, and to find ways to rebuild the UK’s relationship with the EU.

But, of course, the defining moment for stimulating defence spending arrived with Putin’s decision to launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February this year. A study by France’s Jacques Delors Institute shows that many countries have responded with substantial increases in defence expenditure. Under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission has funded the procurement of weapons from companies within member states, providing money to compensate those who donate the arms to help the Ukraine war effort. Germany has become a major contributor to that effort and is lifting defence spending to 2 percent of GDP, but other EU members are still wide of the mark.

Meanwhile, fears are growing that Russia is gaining the upper hand in what amounts to a potentially long stalemate in the war with Ukraine. The Rachman Review podcast episode “Is the balance tilting towards Russia in Ukraine?” by Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute in London suggests that the Kremlin sniffs a potential weakening of support for the Ukrainian cause, which may give it the upper hand despite Russia’s heavy death toll which is estimated to be 150,000. The Ukrainian counter offensive has fallen short of expectations. Watling doesn’t think a negotiated settlement is a realistic prospect. He believes that Russia would accept a cease fire and agree to a negotiated settlement, wait for the Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the battlefront, and then resume the attack.

On the horizon looms a political event which could pose the biggest incentive of all to the European security fix: the 2024 presidential election in the United States. The polls still have the Republican pick, Donald Trump, as favourite to make a return to the White House. If elected, he is expected to pardon himself of any criminal convictions which may be imposed by the courts. He may then cut America’s support for NATO and open a new social media channel with his friend Vladimir Putin and his current hero, the new right-wing Argentinian president, Javier Milei.

As I conclude, a four-day pause has been called in the terrible war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. Fifty Israeli women and children who were taken hostage by Hamas are to be released in exchange for 150 Palestinians. Blessed are the peacemakers from the Gulf state of Qatar; they reached out across Europe and the Atlantic to work night and day to bring this about, but a huge task still lies ahead for world statesmen to find a just and fair settlement that gives the Palestinians a homeland and allows Israel to live in peace.

Colin Chapman FAIIA is a writer, broadcaster, public speaker, who specialises in geopolitics, international economics, and global media issues. He is a former president of AIIA NSW and was appointed a fellow of the AIIA in 2017. Colin is editor at large with Australian Outlook.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.