Until the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the European Union – due to the experience gained during the Second World War – always made it a priority to promote and maintain peace on its territory, and to avoid or substantially reduce the chances of war conflicts on its territory. This decades-old practice has been superseded by the Russian-Ukrainian war, and Europe has embarked on unprecedented arms exports to Ukraine, directly plunging itself into forced support for the war.

Over the past half decade, European arms exports have significantly increased, by nearly 50 percent, while a 5 percent decrease have been measured on the world markets. Ukraine, which imported negligible amounts of weapons until Russia’s invasion, became the third largest destination for global arms exports in 2022, with Western countries being the main source of supplies.

The defence industry and arms trade have become major global industries. In 2021, USD 2100 billion (HUF 709,800 billion at today’s exchange rates) were spent on arms and military technology worldwide. The basic activity of the defence industry is to manufacture and sell weapons, ammunition, and mechanized military technology. Public and private companies research and develop, design, manufacture, and service materials for military purposes, as well as military equipment and facilities. The arms industry also provides substantial logistical and operational support.

Many of Europe’s major and industrialised countries have arms industries with sufficient capacity not only to support their own military forces but also to import, and developments in recent years clearly show a tendency towards increasing emphasis on armed support for other states actively involved in a war conflict in the framework of supplies from the Member States of the European Union.

In the past half decade (2018-2022), European arms imports increased by 47 percent compared to the previous five years, while global arms imports fell by 5 percent over that time.   Arms trade has fallen significantly on all continents except Europe over the past five years. For example, in Africa, which is considered the primary market, it has fallen by 40 percent, while in the Middle East imports have decreased by 9 percent. Ukraine, which has been at war since February last year and imported negligible amounts of weapons until Russia’s invasion, became the third-largest destination for global arms exports in 2022, behind Qatar and India.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) provided other interesting facts in its annual report published on 13 March: Western countries were the main source of supplies. France for example, the world’s third largest supplier, has increased its share of global arms exports from 7 percent to 11 percent in five years. Ukrainian imports — including Western donations — skyrocketed more than sixty-fold in 2022.

While the wider world does not seek the solution of most conflicts in arms, if possible, Europe, which was previously the starting point of world wars, is arming again.

A break with the previous practice of the European Union

Four days after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, on 28 February 2022, Resolution 2022/339 adopted by the Council of the European Union allowed arms shipments to Ukraine to be financed by EU Member States under the European Peace Facility. Thus, putting aside the EU’s previous and successful practice, and contrary to the original EU objective, EU arms exports could no longer take place in joint missions aimed at guaranteeing the security of third countries, but in support of one of the parties actively fighting in war. On two occasions last year, five hundred million euros were added to support Ukraine, including the purchase of lethal weapons and a military training mission.

The 2022 Council decision marks a break with the approach of the previous period, as it was earlier – a decade and a half ago – that the European Union strengthened the main framework and strict Community criteria for Member States’ arms exports. Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008 incorporate, at the level of secondary legislation, an important Community decision on the definition of common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment, having regard to the Treaty on European Union, and in particular Article 15 thereof. According to the adopted and written attitude, Member States intend to build on the common criteria (i.e., defined by Heads of State and Government) adopted at the previous meetings of the European Council in Luxembourg in 1991 and Lisbon in 1992 and on the European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports adopted by the Council in 1998.

According to the position, Member States recognise that States that export military technology and equipment have a special responsibility. They intend to prevent the export of military technology and equipment that could be used for internal repression or international aggression, or that could contribute to regional instability.  They intend to establish a high common level of regulation which is considered by all Member States to be a minimum requirement for monitoring and limiting the transfer of military technology and equipment, and to strengthen the exchange of relevant information in order to increase transparency. The document expresses the intention of Member States to promote rapprochement in the field of exports of military technology and equipment within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

All this is recorded in the Common Position 2008/944/CFSP as a result of an agreement, as a Community framework. It does not alter the fact that decisions on the issuance of export licences for military equipment clearly fall within national competence, whereas the evaluation criteria on which national authorities base their own decisions are Community criteria. The European External Action Service (EEAS), as the EU’s diplomatic corps founded in 2010 and built around the EU High Representative, cooperates with Member States to ensure greater transparency and convergence in the implementation of Common Position. National governments must ensure that weapons are traded and used responsibly and accountably, and prevent their arms trade from reaching terrorists, criminals, and other unauthorised users. In this respect, accountability for Member States’ decisions is only possible if the activities of public authorities are professionally transparent.

Based on the aforementioned Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union, the President of the European Council – at his level and in his capacity, and without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU – ensures the external representation of the EU on matters relating to the common foreign and security policy. The High Representative manages and develops the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), and chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, the Council configuration of EU foreign ministers.

UN on Arms Export Liability – The European Peace Facility

The UN General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty in April 2013, which entered into force at the end of 2014 and aims to strengthen transparency and ownership in arms trade. The UN document, like Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, establishes a number of risk assessment criteria for assessing arms exports. The EU supports the effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty on the basis of Council Decisions 2013/768/CFSP (3) and 2017/915/CFSP (4), and its decision-based programs help a number of third countries, if they so request, to strengthen their arms transfer control regimes in line with the requirements of the Arms Trade Treaty.

The Council entrusted the Federal Office for Economic and Export Control (in German: Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle – BAFA) with implementing decisions 2009/1012/CFSP, 2012/711/CFSP, 2015/2309/CFSP and 2018/101/CFSP at technical level. The essence of this is that BAFA, which has been involved in a number of EU cooperation projects since 2005 and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in information activities related to export controls on dual-use (civilian and military) products, shares its core skills with other states as well.

The war in Ukraine has broken an important taboo, namely that the EU decided for the first time in its history, led by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, to provide a third country with a lethal weapon or equipment. In doing so, the integration community has also taken on many security risks in the medium and long term in order to ensure the export of significant military technology and equipment to the Ukrainian state at war.

The aforementioned Council Decision (CFSP) 2022/339 of 28 February 2022 launched the so-called assistance measure under the European Peace Facility to support the armed forces of Ukraine. The EU initially committed to mobilising €500 million through the European Peace Facility to finance the supply of this equipment to  the Ukrainian army,  both lethal and non-lethal, and additional instalments of €500 million were added on 23 March, 13 April, 13  May and 19 July 2022, and on 17 October and 23 January 2023, for a total amount of €3.6 billion (at today’s exchange rate, this corresponds to about HUF 1350 billion in military support).

The adopted decisions – support measures – finance the military equipment and supply of the Ukrainian armed forces provided by EU Member States, including personal protective equipment, first-aid kits and fuel, as well as certain military equipment designed to carry lethal equipment for defence purposes. In addition, on 17 October 2022, by Council Decision (CFSP) 2022/1968, the EU decided to establish a two-year military assistance mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine), which provides training for the Ukrainian armed forces and the coordination and synchronisation of Member States’ own training support to Ukraine.

The collective support provided to Ukraine by EU Member States thus includes basic and collective military training, as well as military training of personnel in the fields of medicine and logistics, chemical, biological and radiological defence, engineering support, cybersecurity and cyber defence, as well as joint arms training. It is no exaggeration to say that the European Union (and NATO) has become a de facto participant in the direct military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a development unprecedented in the history of the integration community. The European Union and the United Nations were founded with the intention of ensuring that no situation similar to the conflagration caused by the Second World War or another war should happen again on European territory. The European Union’s Common Position of 2008 emphasises from the outset that arms-exporting countries have a special responsibility, and that Member States intend to prevent any activity that could contribute to regional instability. Yet there is a situation where Europe, with its arms shipments, has once again moved closer to a possible war and, unfortunately, farther from its previous practice of controlling arms export, which had been consistently established and then suddenly abandoned. Not for the first time in recent years, the European Union has broken the wand over the ideals of its founding fathers and the principles of its founding, eerily evoking the saying that history repeats itself. And the European Union, established for common advocacy and peace in Europe, consistently increases the chances of being pushed to the brink of war by once again putting the interests of its own community behind global interests, thereby creating further uncertainty for the people of Europe, which has been ravaged by crises in recent times.

• Századvég Reality Check

In the research of the Századvég Foundation, a new product will be introduced called Századvég Reality Check, in addition to the range of strategic or tactical analyses known so far. In the course of its multifaceted work, Századvég, as a dominant think tank in Hungary, has always strived to combine analysis, research and direct information transfer, the interpretation of facts and data, through its professional activities, which attract the attention and interest of a wide public audience.

Reality Check (actually confronting reality) is nothing more than a second opinion given about the state of a current (e.g., social, economic) situation. So, when we say that something is a reality-check for a specific target group, the goal here is actually to make them aware of the truth about a particular situation. Reality Check is similar to fact-check, but less formal.

In the field of public awareness, it can be considered an important aspect of development that a citizen, a voter who is open to the issues of politics and the economy, can distinguish between reality and fiction when forming his or her own thoughts and opinions. Errors in thinking, as well as inadequate information (incomplete or poor knowledge of facts, data, trends), can influence civic and voter behaviour and thus lead to unsound decisions in many areas of life. The “reality test” of Századvég highlights the importance of interpreting or possibly “correcting”, i.e., checking, facts, data, and trends that play a significant role in public and social reality, which can be learned mainly from news.