From Venus to Mars - The European Union’s steps towards the militarisation of space

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A TNI briefing paper in cooperation with Campagne tegen Wapenhandel - the Dutch Campaign against Arms Trade.

by Frank Slijper, November 2008.

For decades defence policy issues played an insignificant role within the European Union, the focus being almost completely on economic cooperation. But that has changed over the past decade, as political cooperation became increasingly important, including the development of the Union’s so-called second pillar of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), including a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Since the start of the new century we have witnessed Javier Solana’s – the EU High Representative for CFSP - “A Secure Europe in a Better World”, the blueprint for Europe’s security strategy, which is currently being updated. At the same time the CSDP became an important part of the texts of the original Constitutional Treaty, which was then replaced by the very similar Lisbon Treaty. Though both treaties were rejected in referenda held in France and the Netherlands in 2005, and in Ireland in 2008, the political importance within the EU context of an integrated external and internal security policy continues to grow, though probably not as fast as would otherwise have been the case.

This security and defence profile has evolved from a focus on mostly ‘soft’ tasks- policing and peace keeping - towards the creation of Battle Groups for more robust military interventions. It is characteristic of the changing security agenda in Europe, where a stronger military role is entering the European domain step by step under the veil of ‘security’, rather than using the still controversial ‘military’ label. The EU aims, by 2018, to be able to deploy 60,000 troops with air and naval support within 60 days, who could remain operational for a year, although officials admit the bar may have been set too high. Also the European Defence Agency (EDA) was established in 2004, though its real influence remains limited so far.

As we’ve seen in the previous two TNI papers on EU security and militarisation5, a warm relationship exists between industry and European Commission. The behind–closed-doors, business-dominated policy making processes only confirm what many people in Europe think about the expanding EU. Despite widespread discontent with the way Brussels operates, Eurocrats and industry take a ‘business as usual’ approach. Worse, these crucial developments go unnoticed for most people.

The same is true for military-related developments in the area of the new European space policy that have so far received hardly any public attention, while developments over the past decade have been considerable. Again, mostly under the veil of ‘security’ and intelligence sharing, the emergence of a military role for the formerly purely civilian European Space Agency (ESA) follows a path towards military use, similar to what we’ve seen with the development of repressive policy tools. While still in its infancy, EU financed communication and spy satellites are slowly becoming reality, and in the long term the inclusion of space-based missile defence and other more offensive uses of space are real options for an increasing ambitious EU military space policy.

French president Sarkozy has called the space agenda one of the top priorities during the EU presidency over the second half of 2008, as part of a broader aim to progressively frame common EU defence policy. “I very much hope that the French presidency of the European Union (…) will be the first step in a veritable relaunch of European defence for the coming years”, Sarkozy said just before taking over the presidency.

In November 2008 government ministers are scheduled to meet in the Netherlands to set multi-year programme objectives and budgets for the European Space Agency, which fulfils a key role in slowly incorporating space into Europe’s rising military ambitions.

This paper analyses the state of affairs in military space developments from a critical European perspective. Like the previous publications in this series, it aims to increase awareness of the creeping militarisation of the EU, and raise discussion among European citizens on its undesirability.

Download full paper (pdf file. 2.4MB): From Venus to Mars

Frank Slijper works at the Dutch Campaign against Arms Trade (Campagne tegenWapenhandel) and has been a researcher and campaigner on arms trade issues forover fifteen years.

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