The EU military-industrial complex: Sources, Actors, Outcomes


Nov 18, 2013 (3 years and 6 months ago)


Conference “The EU as a driving force for armaments

Organised by GUE/NGL, Brussels, 9/11/2011


The EU military
industrial complex: Sources, Actors, Outcomes

Iraklis Oikonomou


friends and comrades,

I am delighted to attend this conference, not only because it addresses the right
topic, but also because it is
organized by the right people. So, p
lease allow me to
thank the European United Left / Green Nordic Left group for inviting me and
for organizing this important event.

Why is this conference an important event? Because, to my knowl
edge, it
constitutes one

of the very few and rare attempts by the Left to examine the
involvement of the European Union in the field of armaments. There is a reason


hesitation, if not inability, of the Left to grasp
this involvement: the
image of the EU as a civilian p
ower, an image shared not only by mainstream
political forces, but also by a large segment of the European Left. It is about time
to kiss good bye
this image; the EU, through both its member states and its
own institutional toolbox, has been enmeshed in

an irreversible process of
strengthening its military arm and the production of armaments. The primary
mechanism for the promotion of armaments as a policy field at the EU level is the
EU military
industrial complex.

The term “military
industrial complex

is an

extremely contested term, and one

would be a fool to use it and apply it uncritically and mechanistically. In the case
of the EU, critics have pointed to, among others, the term’s politicized nature;
privately, I have had scholars telling me that t
hey see red flags waving around,
each time they hear or read this term. For many, the idea of a complex implies the
existence of a dark conspiracy, while others highlight the difference between
benefiting from

and initiating

a policy. A more
nuanced cr
iticism points to the
largely national base of prime contractors, and to the fact that the EU is not a
state, but rather a grouping of national military complexes.

Despite these objections,
I wish to argue that
the use of the term “military
industrial com

is in fact justified

in the case of the EU.

The idea of a
complex is not hinting at any conspiracy, but is rather the conclusion of detailed
and well
documented empirical analysis. For a convincing sample of such an
analysis, one may turn to
the work of researchers, such as Frank Slijper or Ben

The idea of an EU complex does not exclude the parallel function of
national complexes, nor does it presume a single, fully transnationalised and
Europeanised arms industry; in fact, my percepti
on of the EU MIC is certainly
one of a contradictory and highly “complex” complex.


Conference “The EU as a driving force for armaments

Organised by GUE/NGL, Brussels, 9/11/2011


But how can the EU MIC be defined?
Here is my own definition:
The EU military
industrial complex

is a

relatively cohesive
, yet


bloc of socio
economic, politi
institutional, military and ideological forces operating at the EU leve
l, aiming at

the promotion of
the interests of internationalised European military
industrial capital and the strengthening of the
Union's power projection capacity through armaments policy integration.

In the case of the EU MIC, one finds the th
ree essential element
s of any MIC
sources, actors, and


In terms of sources, there are two key distinct but
interrelated processes: the internationalization of the European arms industry, and
the establishment of
European Security and Defence Policy.

The first on
primarily economic in nature, culminated in the late 1990s with the formation of
truly multinational European arms manufacturers, such as EADS. Its roots are to
be found in the privatization wave of the 1980s, and in the subsequent national
and internat
ional concentration and centralization of capital. The need for
industrial consolidation was primarily driven by falling military budgets after the
Cold War, competition from outside the EU, and the rising costs of R&D for
armaments. Eventually, ever large
r companies with ever larger market shares
began forming a dense web of international linkages and interconnections through
mergers, acquisitions and other for
ms of industrial collaboration. This was the
process that produced a powerful socio
economic subj
ect whose interests required
a management of its affairs at the EU level.

Yet, this

required a veil of legi
timacy for its actions; a veil that was
soon to be

found in the European Security

and Defence

Policy, initiated in the
1990s through the Anglo
French c
at St. Malo.
developments, such as the completion of multiple military missions and the
drafting of the European Security Strategy,
covered the actions of the industry and
ts allies with an aura of emergency and technocratic necessity. The emphasis of
ESDP on power projection opened up endless opportunities for legitimizing the
production of more and better weapons, as well as the homogenization of national
requirements and
markets. Add to this the quest for European autonomy vis
the US, plus the notion of the unity of external and internal security, and you get
very broad range of arguments in favour of the armaments agenda, which helped
legitimize some politically a
mbiguous measures and decisions.

Let’s move from sources to actors.
As you may have already
, I regard the
European, internationalised military
industrial capital as the primary agency in the
Why? Because the military
industrial capital lie
s closest to the
production of armaments;
and, given i
s position within the social production of
the means of vi
olence, it is a
subject whose economic power is systematically
translated into political power. Indeed, economic consolidation fuelled a
of political consolidation of the European arms industry, which led to the setting
up of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) in
2004. The decision of the three sectoral lobbying groups (European Defence
Industries Group


EDIG, European Association of Aerospace Manufacturers

AECMA, and Association of European Space Industry

EUROSPACE) to merge
Conference “The EU as a driving force for armaments

Organised by GUE/NGL, Brussels, 9/11/2011


into one integrated scheme would have never been realized without the prior
of international and inter
sectoral mergers
and acquisitions.

The depth and d
ensity of the involvement of the industry

in co

armaments policy
and in setting its agenda
cannot be seen as simply an act of


Istvan Mészáros

has noted that ‘the expression “military
industrial complex”…clearly indicates that what we are concerned with is
something much more firmly grounded and tenacious than some direct
political/military determinations (and manipulations) which could be in pr
reversed at that level’.
What we are dealing with here is a much more in
structural involvement, regularized, normalized and prioritized by a set of EU
institutions. The European Commission and
DG Enterprise
and Industry
out as the

institutional nucleus
of the complex; they form its state
command centre in the absence of an EU state, producing the ‘general interest’ as
a long
term vision.
Such an interest needs to receive an intergovernmental
confirmation via the
il of the European Union
, as well as via the European
Defence Agency,

an int
ergovernmental agency

formally in charge of EU
rmaments affairs. Its

role in
capabilities development
is incr
easingly coupled by
its role in
funding research and technology projects,
enhancing armaments
cooperation and delineating strategies for maintaining a strong European Defence
Technological and Industrial Base

an euphemism for military
corporate profitability.

The European Pa

with its unquestionable, bi
partisan support for the EU MIC’s cause

provides a flair of popular support,
strengthened by key individuals in the Security and Defence Subcommittee.
However, there can be no military
industrial complex without the mil
Through their participation in ESDP
related military commit
tees, such as EUMC
the military has been deciding upon requirements and addressing capability gaps
to be filled by
the manufacturers.

Finally, t
he EU Institute for Security Studies has

producing state
art analyses of ESDP and its estimated requirements,
as well as forecasts for industrial profitability.

A final set of actors comprises elements of a “civil society”, such as private think
(Security & Defence Agenda)
and info
rmal political groupings

Kangaroo Group)
To a great extent, “civil society” consists of initiatives funded
by the industry itself. On another note, organised labour has been a faithful
supporter of the armaments agenda, via the positions taken by the

Metalworkers’ Federation. The mobilization of labour aristocracy highlights the
magnitude of the complex and the hegemony enjoyed by arms manufacturers, in
class terms. Needless to say that next to the “civil society” stands the state, in the
m of the national military
industrial complexes of arms
producing states. These
operate parallel to the EU MIC; the latter complements the former, rather than
substituting them.

In terms of outcomes, the EU MIC can first and foremost boast of introducing
new lines of funding, such as the Commission
inspired European Security
Research Program and its precursor, the Preparatory Action for Security Research.
The European Defence Agen
cy is also a source of funding for military R&D,
Conference “The EU as a driving force for armaments

Organised by GUE/NGL, Brussels, 9/11/2011


while the European Commission has been feeding the development of major
space programs with military applications, such as Galileo and GMES.
In fact,
there is a trend of transferring civil funding into milit
ary funding, as shown by the
case of Galileo and the collapse of the public
private partnership. In t
he absence
of a pan
European procurement agency

apart from the European Space Agency
and its procurement of satellites

most of the funding concerns res
earch and
technology, rather than procurement of equipment.

However, the outcome cannot be grasped purely in quantitative, funding terms.
There is a qualitative dimension of outcomes that facilitate military
interests, even if they do not always have a direct financial impact. One such
outcome is
the ref
orm of the European market landscape for armaments through
the Commission’s Defence Package. Another qualitative aspect is
participation of the industry in EU policy
making through novel channels; take
the case of ASD Committees in the context o
f the EDA, or the numerous
“experts’ reports” (STAR21, Group of Personalities, LeaderSHIP 2015) drafted
under the close supervision of industrialists and the aegis of the Commission.

Note also the impact EU projects have on industrial consolidation. By act
promoting collaborative projects, EU also promotes further mergers and
acquisitions, contributing to stronger and larger arms manufacturers.

That said, one should be cautious to not over
emphasize the effectiveness and
linearity of the complex. The
lack of an EU state and of a single, transnational
industrial subject means that national divergences are persisting. The lack
of financial resources in times of crisis is also all
encompassing. The EU military
industrial complex is real, involvin
g institutions of different intergovernmental and
supranational forms; yet, it is extremely contradictory as well, especially when
compared to the function of national MICs, such as the US one.

On the one hand,
European capitalism is systematically reprodu
cing militarization; on the other
hand, financial constraints and multiple national state/capital preferences limit the
impact and effectiveness of the complex.

Essentially, we are faced with a
divergence between the global scope of capital and the limited

scope of the
; it is, as Ellen Wood frames it, a problem of the ‘non
between capitalism’s economic and political
forms’. While economic
developments necessitate supranational, state
like institutional arrangements, th
state remains indispensable

for the reproduction of the national military
industrial complexes, and the political preconditions of capitalist hegemony.

Any decent political analysis must come with a proposal,
so they say. Here is one:
here is an

urgent need for the establishment

of a Brussels
based research hub
dressing issues relating to the

security and milita
ry dimensions of the EU. So, I

the idea of establishing
a center for the study of EU security and
armaments policy and

of proce
sses of militarization

in Europe
Such a center
would collect vital data and documentation, encourage critical research, stimulate
public debates and inform alternative policy proposals both inside and outside the
European Parliament; in other words, it wo
uld strengthen resistance to

The story of the EU MIC highlights the importance of ideas. Ideas
Conference “The EU as a driving force for armaments

Organised by GUE/NGL, Brussels, 9/11/2011


matter, and the arms industry and its allies has understood this very well; take the
numerous experts’ organizations, conferences, publications a
nd research programs
funded by arms manufacturers. Counter
hegemonic forces need to follow this
‘example’. D
o not ask me who would be willing to support
and fund
such an
initiative, how and why; as the French philosopher Jean
Paul Sartre once said,
“when p
eople ask

you for directions, you simply tell
where the street is; you
do not take t
he strangers outside the home they are going to”

To end, let me add one more quotation, by MEP Sabine Lösing
: ‘What we need is
not more military, what we need is a change, an end to the European Union’s
neoliberal orientation”. The external orientation of the EU towards power
projection and militarization, and the internal orientation towards neoliberalism
and s
ocial exploitation are two interconnected processes, and the battle against the
one needs to incorporate the battle against the other.