Europe’s militaries will be reduced to ceremonial irrelevance if they do not invest more in futuristic technology, the EU’s foreign policy chief has said.
Josep Borrell said EU armies were falling behind countries such as the US and civilian tech giants such as Google in funding cutting-edge research.
He said terrorists were among those making use of new technology invented elsewhere, such as commercial drones.
Other developments such as artificial intelligence could change the nature of warfare completely, Mr Borrell told a European Defence Agency conference on Tuesday.
“The choice for us is simple: either we invest a lot in defence innovation, or we will become defence-irrelevant,” he said.
“Yes, we will continue having armies and organising parades but from the point of view of the practical implication on the game of power politics we will become irrelevant.”
The militaries of the EU countries spent a combined €2.5 billion ($2.82bn) on research and technology last year – barely 1 per cent of their total defence outlay, Mr Borrell said.
In the US, he said, the Pentagon spends seven times as much and almost double as much as a share of its overall budget.
Meanwhile, Google spent almost 10 times more on research and development than the EU’s 27 defence ministries combined, he said.
Although Google does not focus on military innovation, the boundaries between civilian and defence matters are becoming increasingly blurred, Mr Borrell said, meaning technology developed commercially could fall into the hands of Europe’s rivals and enemies.
“It seems obvious that we can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and look at what’s happening and what the others are doing,” Mr Borrell said.
But he acknowledged that increasing military investment could be politically divisive.
The EU is preparing an updated security blueprint, which Mr Borrell hopes to present in the spring.
The bloc’s foreign policy chief is an advocate of a more centralised EU defence policy.
After the summer chaos in Afghanistan exposed Europe’s reliance on US military might, he proposed a rapid response force that could carry out operations such as the evacuation of Kabul.
But there are divisions over how far to go in seeking European autonomy, with some EU countries reluctant to loosen ties with Washington.
Nato is similarly updating its strategic concept and the two blocs will work on a joint declaration of strategy, Tuesday’s conference was told.
Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, said the EU should be able to “act alone, if so needed”.
“We Europeans must take our destiny in our own hands, co-operating with our partners when needed and acting autonomously when necessary,” he said.