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Europe at a Strategic Disadvantage: A Fragmented Defense Industry

The European defense industry is fragmented, with national industries struggling to collaborate for continental defense. Three main structural factors underlie the problem: defense issues managed at the national level, the EU lacking a common defense vision, and the US discouraging the development of the European defense industry. The fragmentation has resulted in a shortage of products and supply, and led many European nations to rely on foreign off-the-shelf solutions, such as already-developed US products. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted deficiencies in the European defense system, including the depletion of stock and over-reliance on imports for critical raw materials and semiconductors. It has also drawn from already-limited national stockpiles which are difficult to replenish given the current pace of production. The war has forced the EU to assess its vulnerabilities in the defense sector and the limitations it faces in defending itself against potential future conflicts. There are several elements that the EU can work on to meet the growing global threats from powers such as Russia and China, including determining much more specific areas of focus for defense cooperation, putting European strategic priorities above national political interests, recognizing the need for a more robust European defense industry, and undertaking more joint policy efforts to offset individual weaknesses. The overarching idea enabling the EU to focus on broader issues in the past has been that NATO is responsible for territorial security, while countries handle their regions of interest. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced the EU to take the reins of its territorial security rather than relying solely on NATO. The European defense industry should leverage its strength as a group and undertake more joint policy efforts to offset individual weaknesses, especially as global threats increase.

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