Defence: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EU Defence night, in the margins of the NATO Summit

Washington, United States
EEAS Press Team

Check against delivery! 

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, 

I have to confess it is the first time that I am speaking on a terrace, in front of this beautiful landscape and with the planes landing at the airport [in the background]. 

Mark Twain once said: “History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes”. And it is true. 

When I look back 75 years ago, when NATO was founded, I see that history rhymes a lot.  

75 years ago, which was the big event in 1949? The big event was the Blockade of Berlin. For almost a year, the American DC3 planes were landing over the heads of people, and 2 million people were kept alive.  

Berlin was the frontline between democracy and authoritarian regimes.  

Today, this frontline is Ukraine. In Ukraine, the future of the security of Europe will be decided. 

75 years ago, we responded following the advice of Winston Churchill, when he said: “There is nothing that the Russians admire as much as strength, and there is nothing that they respect less [than] weakness, especially military weakness.” So, appeasement does not work with them. 

75 years ago, our response was unity. The United States and the free and democratic States of Europe committed to collective defence, and we created NATO. 

But when the Cold War ended, we believed that freedom, peace and democracy were not only the only possible future, but they were taken for granted. They did not need to be defended.  And today, President [of the United States, Joe] Biden has said that freedom and peace cannot be taken for granted. They come with a price. 

Then we look at Putin butchering [people in] Chechenya in 1999, intervening in Syria. We reacted mildly when he invaded Georgia in 2008 and half-hearted when we saw him annexing Crimea in 2014.  

We did not want to see what was obvious. That Putin wants Russia to dominate its neighbourhood again. Putin has not given up on Russia’s imperialist ambitions. 

And that is the problem: Russia is still behaving as an empire, and Putin wants to rebuild the empire - be it the Tsar empire or the Soviet empire.  

Then finally, in February 2022, when they started bombing Kyiv, we woke up to this unhappy reality, and we found ourselves poorly prepared. That is another fact. 

We woke up and then we realised that we were not prepared to face this challenge. Yes, the history rhymes. 

75 years ago, the Soviet Union emerged as a threat to freedom and democracy in Europe, and we responded with unity and strength.  

And today, the only thing that we can do is to follow the same path.  

And I am happy to say, here in Washington, that [us] Europeans, we have started rebuilding our defence capabilities, increasing our defence budgets and rising our defence industry, rebuilding a stronger capacity.  

Just an example, just one figure: In the last three years, the total [defence] expenditure in Europe has increased by [more than] 30%. This year, we will be reaching almost – on average, all together – 2% [of the EU GDP], 1.9%. It is not enough, but it is much better, and it is growing. 

For us, it is a matter of strategic responsibility. We know, we are fully aware, we are convinced that we have to improve the capacity of our armies, of our defence, in order to be able to defend ourselves.  

Not as an alternative to NATO - there is no alternative to NATO for the territorial defence of Europe - but to make NATO stronger and to share the burden.  

In the last five years [of my mandate], a lot has been done. Some things that looked unthinkable have become a reality. For example, providing military equipment to a country at war - something that we never did [before]. 

And seen from here, from Washington, this may sound unremarkable, this may sound logical. But for us, for the European Union, which is not a military alliance - although we want to build a Common Security and Defence Policy - this was revolutionary.  

I will always remember, two weeks before the start of the war, I was in Donbass. I was meeting with the Prime Minister of Ukraine [Denys Shmyhal], and he told me: “We know that when the Russians will attack us – because they will attack us – you will not send your young people to fight in Kyiv. But are you going to help us resist? Are you going to provide us with the arms that we need in order to defend our country?” 

And at that time, I could not give him a concrete answer – I was not sure. But happily, that is what we have done. 

Yes, seen from Washington it looks normal. Seen from the European Union, it is a revolution – a mental revolution for the European Union. 

Now, we are increasing our industrial capacities, incentivising our industries, pooling resources together, developing jointly our [defence] capacities in order to face this challenge. 

We know this requires more efficiency, more interoperability for our 27 different armies, and more predictability for the defence industry that needs to know what is going to be the future demand in order to justify the investments of today. 

We know that the defence industry will play an important role in the future.  

Because we understand that if we allow Putin’s Russia to turn Ukraine into a second Belarus, and to put a ‘puppet government’ in Kyiv, we will pay a much higher price later.  

That Ukraine prevails is existential. [It] is a requirement for our security.  

We know that Russia has moved to a ‘war-economy’, using what is called ‘[military] Keynesianism’ to feed the war machine, boosting the economy through military expenditure. As a result, today, the World Bank has upgraded Russia as a ‘high income country’. 

But it has not come with an increase of the well-being of the Russian people - [on] the contrary, they have embarked on an industrial production [operation].  

We know that, today, in this kind of war, industrial production [and] technological capacity are key in order to deliver missiles, artillery ammunition [and] anti-aircraft systems. 

That is why I insist on this idea. We are boosting our defence industry: by buying together, by increasing production capacity [and] by stimulating cooperation between European arms producers.  

I can cite some examples: in one year, we have multiplied by two our capacity to produce ammunition. By the end of this year, it will be three times bigger.

We need to spend more and to spend more European.  

If we want European states to increase their defence budgets – and I think that it is exactly what the United States is asking the Europeans [for] - it also means that we have to produce more in Europe.  

Our defence initiatives are designed for that: to ramp up our production capacity, to make our industries bigger and more efficient.  

But this does not exclude US companies that are based in the European Union and meet security conditions. 

We have a lot to learn from the United States. And we have a lot to learn from Ukraine too.  

In Ukraine, warfare is being revolutionised by technology. In February I visited one of your factories where you are producing more than [200] drones.  

I saw how “necessity powers innovation”. Drones and electronic warfare ‘Made in Ukraine’ could become world leaders.  

We will open an [EU] Innovation Office in Kyiv. We will make cooperation between Ukrainian start-ups and European Union defence companies easier. We want the ideas to flow both ways.   

We will organise a continued outreach to you.  

Remember, some months ago, you were in Brussels at this EU-Ukraine Industrial Forum, to facilitate exchanges and matchmaking between European Union and Ukrainian companies. 

Yes, dear friends, history rhymes. And those with more industrial capacity and better technology ultimately will prevail.  

I know that some of you may look at the European elections some weeks ago, and look at the travels of one of our Prime Ministers, and ask yourselves: “Is Europe really committed to Ukraine’s defence in the long run? Is that a real commitment, not just empty words or pure rhetoric?”  

Allow me [to answer] that, in spite of whatever you could have heard in these last hours. The answer is yes. Not only because it is the right thing to do – it is the right thing to do. But also, because it is in our own interest. Because in defending Ukraine, we are defending the European security. It is the only way to achieve peace.  

I know that someone says that he is looking for peace. Well, all of us want peace and, in particular, the Ukrainians. They want peace more than anyone else.  

But what kind of peace? What kind of peace? 

I know how to finish the war. If we stop supporting Ukraine, the war will be over very quickly. Ukraine cannot defend itself without our support.  

The war will stop, yes. But how? Which will [be] the final result of the process? What kind of end? What will be the fate of the Ukrainian people if Putin goes to Kyiv, [and] puts there a ‘puppet government’? 

Which will be the result of this story if Ukraine has to surrender? Putin will not stop in Kyiv.   

Those who blame the “global powers” for this war should be courageous enough to name and blame the one who started this war. [He has] a name. It is not “global powers”, he is called Putin. 

We certainly regret that people are dying, but the Ukrainian soldiers are fighting and dying because they are defending their country, that has been aggressed.  

Looking for peace does not make us forget that there is an aggressor and an aggressed. We cannot put both of them on the same level.  

We know who is the aggressor. He is the same one that launches missiles against civilian targets every day – yesterday again, on the largest children’s hospital in Kyiv. 

Yes, we want peace, how not? But only a peace that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and provides security guarantees. Only that would be a real peace.  

Peace is something more than the absence of war. Everything else - a ceasefire - will only allow Russia to rearm and attack again. 

The truth is that only when Russia will accept to stay within its borders, it will stop being a threat to its neighbours, and for the whole Europe.  

And for that, we need unity and strength. It is the only recipe to deter an aggressor.  

It was true 75 years ago, [and] it is true now.  

I am happy to have heard, a moment ago, President Biden say that Russia cannot prevail. 

For that, we have to increase our industrial capacity, putting more money on the table, more technological development. We did that during the Euro crisis. We did that during the pandemic. We will do it again to rebuild our defence.  

But allow me to remind you that the awakening of Europe - as much needed as it is - should not imply that the United States should rest easy.  

Allow me to say to you that the 6 months spent by the Congress to discuss US military support to Ukraine - “Yes, we do. No, we do not. We finally do,” - it has come with a bill in terms of human life lost. [It] has come with a bill in terms of weakening the capacity of Ukraine to defend itself.  

We have to overcome this kind of discussions, all of us on both sides of the Atlantic.  

We have to join our forces in order to fight against the challenge that Russia represents, today as it was 75 years ago.  

And only unity today, as it was 75 years ago, could save Europeans first, and democracy and freedom around the world.  

Thank you. 

Link to the video (from 00:49):  

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