European Defence Industry, Dual-Use Technologies, and Geopolitics

June 2024

Mustafa Ali Sezal

Lecturer (University of Groningen)

On 4 December 1998, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the French President Jacques Chirac met in Saint Malo and declared that the European Union must enhance its ability to act independently on the global stage, supported by credible military forces, while maintaining commitments to NATO (Joint Declaration on European Defence, 1998). The declaration is considered to be a milestone for the European defence cooperation, if not its practical beginning. This happened during the midst of the Kosovo War which was one of the greatest illustrations of the European ineptitude in responding to a security crisis.

It was almost a déjà vu. Seven years prior to this war, then Foreign Minister of Luxembourg and the President of the EU Council Jacques Poos had infamously declared “[t]his is the hour of Europe, not the hour of Americans” when Yugoslavia started to break up violently (Riding, 1991). History proved that it was still the hour of the Americans at that point and was still theirs in 1999.

Dysfunctional cooperation or rather lack of significant cooperation in defence matters in Europe has been discussed for a long time. It is, of course, not surprising that 27 different nation-states are unable to form a strong unified front in terms of defence policy. According to the Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union, common defence is possible if the European Council unanimously decides for it (European Union, 2012). This would mean that all the heads of government or the heads of state of 27 member states should reach consensus.

Considering the different ‘national security’ concerns of each state (and for examples neutrality policies of Austria and Ireland), this is virtually impossible. That being said, we cannot really ignore the steps taken since the Saint Malo declaration from rapid reaction forces to Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), from establishment of the European Defence Agency (EDA) to European Defence Fund (EDF). Further initiatives are also being proposed with regards to joint defence procurement and investment. These are all part of EU’s quest for strategic autonomy.

Here we are halfway through 2024, war is raging on in Ukraine, and potentially unstable areas lie in the immediate and extended neighbourhoods of the EU. These, without any doubt, remind the Union its previous failures and the pressing need to cooperate in the defence area. It has been 33 years since “the hour of Europe” and the circumstances once again beg the question: Where does European cooperation stand today?

European Defence Industry: Current Landscape

The European defence industry is characterized by a diverse range of companies, from large multinational corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This sector is heavily reliant on public funds, particularly for research and development (R&D), which is essential for maintaining and advancing military capabilities. As mentioned before, in the face of new and potential threats the EU has recognized the importance of a robust defence industry and has taken several initiatives to foster collaboration and innovation across member states.

One such initiative EDF, which was established in 2017, aims to support joint R&D projects and strengthen the European defence technological and industrial base. The EDF is part of a broader strategy to create a more integrated and efficient European defence market. This integration is crucial for enhancing the EU’s strategic autonomy and reducing dependency on external actors for critical defence technologies. Another initiative is the PESCO. It is aimed at deepening defence collaboration among member states. PESCO projects focus on improving military capabilities, interoperability, and readiness to respond to emerging security challenges. Coordinated Annual Review of Defence (CARD) and the Capability Development Plan (CDP) are the two other components of EU’s defence cooperation framework that is connected through the EDA.

Joint procurement and development of defence technologies are crucial for achieving economies of scale and reducing duplication of efforts. By pooling resources and expertise, EU member states can develop cutting-edge military technologies that would be economically unfeasible for individual countries. This collaborative approach also strengthens the European defence industry’s position in the global market, enhancing its competitiveness and resilience.

Dual-Use Technology: Bridging Civilian and Military Sectors

Technology transfer within the defence sector plays a critical role in maintaining the technological edge of European armed forces. The transfer of innovations from the defence sector to the civilian sector has been a significant driver of technological advancements. For instance, technologies developed for military purposes, such as the Internet and GPS, have found widespread civilian applications, demonstrating the dual-use potential of defence R&D. However, due to changing research and technological environment the direction of transfer has changed to civilian to defence. Even more common theme is dual-use technology (Sezal and Giumelli, 2022).

Dual-use technology, which has both civilian and military applications, is also a critical aspect of the European defence sector. The development and deployment of dual-use technologies enable the military to leverage advancements in the civilian sector and vice versa. This interplay not only drives innovation but also ensures that investments in technology have broader economic benefits. For instance, advancements in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI) have applications in both national security and commercial sectors, enhancing overall societal resilience.

Moreover, dual-use technologies play a vital role in addressing non-traditional security threats. Climate change, pandemics, and cyber threats require sophisticated technological solutions that can be developed through the combined efforts of the civilian and military sectors. The EU’s focus on fostering dual-use innovations is aligned with its broader security strategy, which encompasses both traditional and non-traditional threats.

However, the development and export of dual-use technologies come with regulatory challenges. Ensuring that these technologies do not fall into the wrong hands while promoting innovation and economic growth is a delicate balance. The EU has established stringent export control regimes to monitor the transfer of dual-use items, ensuring that they are used responsibly and in accordance with international security norms.

Russia’s military strategy, characterized by hybrid warfare tactics, cyber-attacks, and disinformation campaigns, poses a multifaceted threat that requires a comprehensive and coordinated response

The Russian Threat: A Catalyst for Change

The resurgence of Russia as a military threat has acted as a catalyst for accelerating defence cooperation in Europe. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its ongoing military activities in Eastern Europe have underscored the need for a robust and coordinated defence posture among EU member states. These developments have highlighted the vulnerabilities in Europe’s defence architecture and the urgent need to address them.

Russia’s military strategy, characterized by hybrid warfare tactics, cyber-attacks, and disinformation campaigns, poses a multifaceted threat that requires a comprehensive and coordinated response. The EU’s efforts to enhance cyber defence capabilities, improve situational awareness, and develop rapid response mechanisms are steps in the right direction. However, these efforts need to be complemented by a strategic approach to counter hybrid threats and build resilience against disinformation.

In this vein, export control regime is constituted as a critical component of the European Union’s strategy to prevent the proliferation of military technologies and ensure that dual-use items do not fall into the wrong hands. The EU’s export control regime includes stringent regulations and oversight mechanisms to monitor and control the transfer of sensitive technologies and materials. These controls are particularly crucial when dealing with countries that pose significant security risks, such as Russia and other nations that may be targeted with specific bans or licence requirements (Sezal, 2023).

Countries on these lists are subject to heightened scrutiny due to their potential to use imported technologies for military aggression or to support activities that undermine international peace and security. The EU’s export control framework aims to balance the need for technological innovation and economic growth with the imperative to safeguard security. By imposing restrictions on exports to countries like Russia, the EU seeks to prevent the enhancement of military capabilities that could threaten regional and global stability.

Strategic Autonomy and Transatlantic Relations

While enhancing European defence capabilities and cooperation, it is essential to maintain strong transatlantic relations. The NATO alliance remains a cornerstone of Europe’s security architecture, providing a critical link to the United States and other non-EU allies. For some, as mentioned in the Saint Malo Declaration, strengthening European defence should be seen as complementary to NATO rather than as a replacement. However, France has since become the proponent of a more autonomous stance as in 2018 Macron famously called for “real, true European army” (BBC, 2018).

In this vein, the concept of strategic autonomy has gained traction in recent years, reflecting the EU’s ambition to take greater responsibility for its security. Strategic autonomy does not imply isolation or disengagement from traditional allies but rather the ability to act independently when necessary. Achieving strategic autonomy requires a comprehensive approach, encompassing political, economic, and military dimensions. It involves not only enhancing military capabilities but also addressing dependencies on critical technologies and supply chains. While the European support for Ukraine allows for a more integrated defence industry, the results can only be seen in the future.


The European defence industry and defence cooperation are at a critical juncture, facing both challenges and opportunities. The threat from Russia has underscored the need for a robust and coordinated defence posture among EU member states. Enhancing defence cooperation, fostering technological innovation, and achieving strategic autonomy are critical components of Europe’s response to these challenges.
The integration of dual-use technologies is particularly significant, bridging the gap between civilian and military sectors and driving innovation across the board. The Dutch model of collaboration among government, industry, and academia exemplifies how dual-use technology can enhance both national security and economic growth.

The EU’s efforts to create a more integrated and efficient defence market, supported by initiatives like the EDF and PESCO, are steps in the right direction. However, these efforts must be complemented by a strategic approach to counter emerging threats and build resilience against hybrid warfare tactics. Strategic Compass of 2022 is another step but requires more concrete planning.

In conclusion, the European defence industry and defence cooperation are vital for ensuring the security and stability of the region. By pooling resources, fostering innovation, and enhancing strategic autonomy, the EU can effectively address the threats posed by actors like Russia and contribute to a more secure and prosperous Europe. The interplay between civilian and military technologies through dual-use innovations will be crucial in building a resilient and forward-looking defence strategy while ensuring that the technologies will not be shared with blacklisted countries.


BBC. (2018, November 6). France’s Macron pushes for ‘true European army.’
European Union. (2012). Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union.

Joint Declaration on European Defence. (1998, December 3-4). Joint Declaration issued at the British-French Summit, Saint-Malo.

Riding, Alan. (1991, June 29). Conflict in Yugoslavia; Europeans Send High-Level Team. New York Times.

Sezal, Mustafa Ali. (2023). Security-defence nexus in flux: (De)securitisation of technology in the Netherlands, Defence Studies, 23(4), 665–686.

Sezal, Mustafa Ali and Francesco Giumelli. (2022). Technology transfer and defence sector dynamics: the case of the Netherlands, European Security, 31(4), 558–575.

Mustafa Ali Sezal is a lecturer at the International Relations and International Organization Department at the University of Groningen. Dr Sezal received his PhD from the University of Groningen, Master’s degree in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University, Department of International Politics in Wales. His current research focuses on the European defence industry, European security and defence policy, and critical security studies. He previously worked on Turkey’s foreign policy, Turkey-EU relations and middle eastern security structures.

Share this on social media