This IISS Strategic Dossier analyses these trends and considers new ways to assess the military capabilities that European nations will need to address future threats to their security.

The role of the armed forces of European countries has changed since the Cold War. They have increasingly taken part in international operations to address the world’s crises. But at the same time, military budgets have been cut. The need to do more with less has put governments under pressure to identify the capabilities that they require for modern missions and to carry out reforms. This IISS Strategic Dossier analyses these trends and considers new ways to assess the military capabilities that European nations will need to address future threats to their security.

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  • Chapter One: Defining and assessing capability targets

    European armed forces are increasingly involved in multinational deployments beyond their countries’ borders. This may seem paradoxical at a time when direct threats to European security are arguably at their lowest point since the end of the Second World War. Yet there is growing demand for governments to dispatch their militaries on expeditionary missions, all of which involve risks, and some of which require combat. Since the Cold War ended...
  • Chapter Two: Modern missions and implications for capabilities

    Since the end of the Cold War, the purpose of European nations’ armed forces has changed considerably. The defence reforms launched in virtually every European country were designed at least in part to increase force-projection capabilities – the capacity of the military to be deployed on operations abroad. The pressure to do this sprang in most cases from demands to make military contributions to international crisis-management and stabilisation operations. Contemporary...
  • Chapter Three: National defence reforms and levels of ambition

    All the countries covered in this Dossier have embarked on programmes to restructure their armed forces to meet today’s threats. This chapter provides an outline of the goals and key elements of each nation’s defence reforms. The armed forces of all European countries remain in a state of transition. In almost all cases, key elements of planned reforms have yet to be implemented. This is unsurprising in light of the fact...
  • Chapter Four: Defence spending trends

    Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, defence spending in Europe, with the notable exception of some former Soviet satellite states, has steadily declined. Although the pace of decline has moderated in recent years, the overall trend remains firmly in place. In 1985, the then 13 European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allocated 3.42% of their combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defence – data for all...
  • Chapter Five: Industry and technology

    In their efforts to get better value for money from defence budgets, and to boost capabilities for expeditionary roles, European governments have devoted considerable attention to their equipment-procurement plans, their industrial-supplier bases, and the technologies they need to meet modern requirements. However, the special – and highly political – nature of defence acquisition has made it impossible for them simply to break with the programmes and industrial structures of the...
  • Chapter Six: Rapid-reaction forces and military exercises

    In setting their levels of ambition and in framing defence reforms, most countries in Europe have sought to increase their force-projection capabilities. With most deployments likely to be on NATO and EU missions, there is special emphasis on achieving interoperability and standardisation within both frameworks, and on increasing the availability of high-readiness forces – all areas in which European countries have been lagging. The capacity of European countries to contribute...
  • Chapter Seven: Constitutional and legal constraints

    Although the deployment of troops abroad is almost always in support of a multinational operation, it is approved at the national level. Each country has its own legal and constitutional framework for making deployment decisions. Therefore, when assessing European capabilities, it is important to understand the legal structures that each country has built to govern the use of force. Decisions to create, maintain and end international missions are mostly taken by...
  • Conclusions and recommendations

    The evidence presented in this Strategic Dossier shows clearly that European countries are making advances in shaping their armed forces for the multinational operations in which they are increasingly being asked to take part. Governments have been deploying more troops overseas, as well as committing military assets to new multinational forces available for rapid deployment. Moreover, each country has given thought to the level and nature of activity that it...
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Strategic Dossiers

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A press release for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

A press statement for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

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