European Security and Defence from 2023 to 2024

Looking back to the year 2023, which marked by geopolitical shifts and technological advancements, the European security and defence landscape continued to undergo profound changes. These transformations have not only influenced the strategic priorities of European countries but also had a direct impact on the military and therefore also on its personnel. Looking forward to 2024, we must anticipate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, considering the implications for both the military and its motivated and dedicated personnel in active service as well from our reserve forces. Additionally, the European Parliament elections in 2024 can and will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of security and defence policies across the European continent and its neighborhood.

Retrospective on 2023

The least, one can say is that the year 2023 was marked by a fundamental shift of geopolitical realities. European nations struggled with defining their roles in the face of rising tensions between major powers. The continued Russian invasion in Ukraine and the recent Israel-Hamas conflict underscored the need for a unified European response, prompting a reevaluation of security postures. Even if there was already a shift towards a European defence union with collaborative initiatives, such as among others the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), it gained momentum in 2023. EU member states recognized the importance of pooling resources and expertise to enhance defence capabilities collectively in an effective and practical way. This collaborative approach impacted military strategies and necessitated greater interoperability among European armed forces. It should also not be forgotten that the EU is in the process of fully implementing the Strategic Compass, a first kind of EU White Book for defence. An important element of the Compass is the creation of the Rapid Deployment Capacity (EU RDC) of 5000 troops for crisis management missions outside the EU, which should be ready in 2025. In October this year, the EU RDC held its first ever live exercise (MILEX-23) in Spain, in which 2800 military personnel from different EU Member States participated. Such exercises contribute into making the European armed forces more interoperable and interchangeable.

To continue, 2023 was also the year in which technological advancements continued to redefine military capabilities. Artificial intelligence, cyber capabilities, and space-based technologies became an integral part of modern defence structures and strategies. Defence forces must adapt to these changes, and its personnel will need the proper equipment and undergo education and training to effectively utilize and defend against these emerging technologies.

Last but not least, the military found itself engaged not only in traditional security roles but also in responding to humanitarian crises and participating in peacekeeping efforts. The versatility of military personnel became increasingly important as they addressed a wide range of challenges beyond conventional warfare. More than ever in 2023 the impact of climate change on security gained prominence, as extreme weather events and resource scarcity posed new challenges. These new struggles and tasks also brought with them several casualties among military personnel in 2023. However, as well NATO as the European Union incorporated climate considerations into their defence strategies, acknowledging the need for a comprehensive approach to security.

Anticipating on 2024

In 2024, the European Union will also have to continue to strive for strategic autonomy. This requires a renewed focus on self-reliance in critical defence capabilities. As far as military personnel are concerned, we can hope and expect that more will be invested in training and equipment in order to increase preparedness for a more independent and flexible European defence posture. If not, our armed forces will continue to fight with insufficient capabilities in all areas. A thorough, coordinated approach to recruitment and retention of military personnel by 2024 is paramount for the functioning of the military apparatus.

As already mentioned, the digital transformation of military operations requires continuous training and education of military personnel with the deployment and use of the necessary equipment. Cybersecurity training, proficiency in handling advanced technologies, and adaptation to data-centric warfare will become paramount to the modern armed forces. The military forces will face the challenge of adapting to hybrid threats that combine conventional and unconventional elements. Personnel will need to be familiar with a spectrum of capabilities, including cyber defense, information warfare, and rapid response to unconventional threats. This requires investment in defence budgets, but also in equipment and human capital!

Finally, let’s take a look at the 2024 European Parliament elections and the subsequent installation of the European Commission. More than ever, both will have a significant impact on the direction of our common EU security and defence policy and the development of a European defence union. The election results will influence the allocation of funding, cooperation initiatives and the overall approach to security. Military personnel can witness or fall victim to shifts in priorities based on the policies outlined by the elected representatives. In any case, it must be made clear that the first steps, as the adoption of the Strategic Compass,that have been taken in recent years must now be made more concrete, or as the HRVP Josep Borrell has already said before: what we need is implementation, implementation and implementation!

To conclude

As we approach the 2024 threshold, the European security and defence landscape looks set with both challenges and opportunities for military personnel. The dynamic geopolitical environment, technological advances and the results of the European Parliament elections will collectively determine the future of European security. It is, of course, critical that military leaders and personnel continue to adapt and constantly update their skills to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving security landscape, to make European defence fit for purpose.

But it should also go without saying that not only one has to pay a price for this, but one also have to guarantee a correct working and living environment for those working in the security sector. As civilians and workers in uniform, military personnel are entitled to have a respectful and optimal remuneration and social-human protection. Finally, our political rulers and, by extension, the society as such must understand that the joint efforts of the armed forces, in cooperation with policymakers, will determine the effectiveness of European security and defence in the coming year and beyond.

Emmanuel Jacob, President

*Article picture by OSCE-ODIHR

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