Collective Collapse or Resilience? European Defense Priorities in the Pandemic Era Focus stratégique, No. 103, February 2021
To what extent has the COVID-19 pandemic affected defense priorities across Europe?
When the pandemic reached its cities, Europe was already under severe internal and external stress. By throwing the continent and the world into an unprecedented economic crisis while security challenges abound, the pandemic has exposed Europe to a risk of irreversible loss of capacity for collective action, hampering its influence and control over its regional areas of interest.
One year after, this report provides a comparative assessment of the impact of the pandemic on the foreign and defense policies and spending levels of ten different European countries. It not only aims at assessing the immediate impact of the pandemic on the defense posture of each country but more importantly at mapping in which areas the pandemic did or might prove disruptive for European defense priorities, whether directly or indirectly. Although uncertainty remains about the long-term effects of the current crisis, the different case studies highlight that, contrary to the most pessimistic scenarios, the pandemic has so far had a relatively modest impact on defense and security policies.
Monitored European countries have so far shown resilience in their individual and collective responses to the crisis. If anything, changes brought by the pandemic are less striking than the continuity observed in most cases when it comes to foreign and defense policies, from stated levels of ambition to defense spending plans. It is, however, unclear how enduring this resilience can prove in the longer-term in the face of disruptive developments such as new variants of the virus, sweeping domestic political developments in Europe, radical changes in the US commitment to European security, or an intensified strategic competition in Europe’s neighborhood and beyond it.