Eluding “Vassalization”

Following a possible change of government in London, the SPD and Labour Party plan enhanced German-British military cooperation, including the sending of an aircraft carrier strike group to the Pacific.

LONDON/BERLIN (Own report) – The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the British Labour Party are launching an initiative to enhance German-British military and armament cooperation including the joint deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the Pacific. Last week, the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) have presented a report outlining relevant recommendations. Not only should the two countries’ armed forces and arms industries significantly increase their cooperation, the foreign and defense ministers in Berlin and London should also intensively coordinate their policies. Foreign policy experts in Berlin are promoting such steps to elude the military and arms industry’s dependence on the USA, which had significantly increased since the beginning of the Ukraine war. John Healey, Shadow Defense Secretary of the Labour Party, which has good chances of winning next year’s elections, announced a UK-German military agreement within the first six months of a Labour Government. Nils Schmid, Spokesperson on Foreign Policyfor the SPD Parliamentary Group agrees with the proposals.

Incorporating British Military Power

Berlin has been seeking to enhance bilateral military cooperation with Great Britain for about ten years. Because the United Kingdom – the strongest military power in Europe – would, most likely, not allow itself be reintegrated into EU military structures, Berlin concluded that bilateral cooperation would become inevitable. Berlin was also keen to counterbalance the November 2, 2010 Lancaster House Treaties, British-French military pacts, first put into practice in the 2011 war on Libya, but which was also aimed at Germany’s predominance in the EU.[1] In 2014, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her British counterpart Michael Fallon repeatedly discussed enhancing military cooperation.[2] These efforts received a new impetus immediately after the June 23, 2016 Brexit referendum. They were now aimed at reincorporating the British military and armament potentials – whose withdrawal from the EU had been decided – at least through a German-British agreement. The plan was obstructed by the fact that, since Prime Minster Boris Johnson took office on July 24, 2019, London was unwilling to politically commit itself through binding agreements.[3]

“Strategic Sovereignty”

Actually, there is another motive for the enhancement of German-British military cooperation. The Ukraine war has also exposed that military and defense-industrial dependence of Germany and the EU on the USA has exponentially increased. Well-connected think tanks are already speaking in terms of “Europe’s vassalization.” (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[4]) Experts are beginning to raise the question of how to elude the growing transatlantic dependence. Alongside the demand – particularly pushed by France – to seriously promote one’s own military and arms industry and to cooperate more closely with one another on the European continent within the EU framework, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is demanding that closer cooperation with London be renewed. “The loss of the EU’s most capable military has “geopolitically weakened” the EU “more than it cares to admit,” according to the ECFR. Now, with the bitterness of Brexit slowly beginning to fade, one can again talk to one another. The EU needs to offer more attractive “docking mechanisms” to the UK to access EU institutions and programs, the think tank proposes. That could help to achieve more “strategic sovereignty.”[5]

Weak Cooperation

Last week, the SPD and the British Labour Party made a public thrust toward closer military and armament cooperation between Great Britain and Germany – rather than with the EU. In London, cooperation with Berlin is considered easier to convey, than closer ties to the EU, considered cumbersome and ineffective. With a purely bilateral cooperation, Berlin, for its part, can position itself as an influential link. German-British military and armament cooperation is considered meager. As reported by John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Defense Minister, currently only 26 German soldiers are integrated into the British armed forces and British training programs and just six British soldiers in the Bundeswehr. Contrary to German-French military cooperation – there is only a single unit serving in the militaries of the two countries, the bridge-laying engineer battalion in Minden an der Weser.[6] The relations are even weak in armament matters. A “prime example” is the “production of the Boxer wheeled tank,” one of the German military vehicles being “built in England for the British Army.” Not much else can be seen.

Aircraft Carrier Strike Group in the Pacific

The SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London – one of Great Britain’s most influential think tanks – have made concrete recommendations for enhancing cooperation. According to their proposals, the “strategic dialogue” that the foreign ministers of the two countries had agreed on two years ago, could be consolidated and transformed into regular meetings in a 2 + 2 format, i.e., joint meetings of the foreign and defense ministers.[7] The military cooperation could be based on a bilateral Treaty, like the 2010 British-French Lancaster House Treaties. As far as regional priorities are concerned, the paper presented by the Ebert Foundation and RUSI recommends, on the one hand, orientation on Northern Europe, where they can cooperate with Norway in Intensive Maritime Surveillance (IMS). And on the other, Great Britain and Germany should send a carrier strike group into the Indian and Pacific Oceans – possibly inviting other EU nations to participate with their ships. Cooperation in their respective work on the sixth-generation fighter jets is also to be considered. The British-Italian-Japanese Tempest is advancing significantly faster than the German-French-Spanish FCAS.[8]

NATO Precedence over EU

The Ebert and RUSI’s proposals have a good chance of being implemented in the foreseeable future. For around one and a half years, opinion polls have shown the Labour Party with a sizable lead ahead of the conservatives and has them currently in the best position to form the next government. Shadow Defense Minister Healey announced that if Labour is victorious at the polls, a Labour government would conclude an agreement with Germany on military collaboration on a par with the agreements with France within the first six months.[9] On the occasion of the presentation of the Ebert and RUSI recommendations, Nils Schmid, Parliamentary Foreign Policy Spokesperson for the SPD group, declared that also in his opinion, the time is ripe for a British-German agreement on military, as well as armaments cooperation. Of course, it remains unclear, how this would impact the military and armament cooperation Germany has concluded with France – seen as the backbone of the EU’s militarization. Healey emphasized that, as far as London is concerned, in the British-German cooperation, orientation toward NATO must have clear priority over adaptation to the EU.


[1] See also Die neue Entente Cordiale.

[2] See also Das europäische Militärdreieck.

[3] See also The Future of Warfare.

[4], [5] Jeremy Shapiro, Jana Puglierin: The art of vassalisation: How Russia’s war on Ukraine has transformed transatlantic relations. European Council on Foreign Relations: Policy Brief. April 2023. See also Die Vasallisierung Europas.

[6] Johannes Leithäuser: Wenn der Brexit nicht wäre. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.05.2023.

[7] Ed Arnold: UK-German Defence & Security Cooperation. A 2030 Roadmap for Enhanced Cooperation. Royal United Services Institute, Friedrich Ebert Foundation. London, May 2023.

[8] See also Streit um das Luftkampfsystem.

[9] Johannes Leithäuser: Wenn der Brexit nicht wäre. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.05.2023.