The global fight against COVID-19 has devastating economic consequences which might soon be felt in the defense sector. First estimates by OECD and national institutions conclude that the initial economic impact of the measures to fight the virus will by far exceed that of the 2008 financial crisis. The severe socio-economic consequences may tempt European governments to prioritize immediate economic relief over long-term strategic security and defense considerations. The good news is: there is no automatism – it remains fundamentally a political decision.
If European governments do decide to slash defense spending as a result of the current crisis, it would be the second major hit within a decade. Defense budgets have only just begun to recover towards pre-2008 crisis levels, though capabilities have not. Nationally, as well as on an EU and NATO level, significant gaps still exist. European armies have lost roughly one-third of their capabilities over the last two decades. At the same time, the threat environment has intensified with an openly hostile Russia and a rising China.