Macron urges Europe to build own air defense, not rely on US-Israeli system

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PARIS, France — French President Emmanuel Macron called on European nations Monday to seek more independence on airspace defense and advocated against relying too much on the US, a long-divisive issue that takes on new urgency because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Macron made his case for Europeans building their own airspace protection strategy rather than relying on a system built from American and Israeli components as he delivered the closing speech of a conference in Paris gathering defense ministers and other representatives of 20 European countries.

The talks included anti-drone combat and ballistic missile defense, French organizers said, noting that Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has shown the importance and effectiveness of such equipment. Nuclear weapons deterrence was also on the agenda.

“We need to know what the threat situation is … And then, what are we, Europeans, able to produce? And what do we then need to buy?” Macron said.

He warned against purchasing immediately “what’s on the shelves.”

Among nations who took part in the meeting were Germany, the UK and Sweden as well as Ukraine’s neighbors Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Representatives of NATO and the European Union also attended.

Macron pushed for European defense equipment manufacturers to build independent military systems and relocate production on the continent. He also called for enhanced European standards.

Russian rockets are launched against Ukraine from Russia’s Belgorod region, seen from Kharkiv, Ukraine, late Sunday, June 4, 2023. (AP/Vadim Belikov)

“Why do we still need to buy American too often? Because Americans have standardized much more than we have, and they themselves have federal agencies that provide massive subsidies to their manufacturers,” he said.

The one-day meeting took place on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show, the world’s largest event focusing on aviation and space industry that opened Monday.

France has been openly critical of German-led plans for improved European air defense capabilities. The so-called European Sky Shield project, launched at the end of last year, is made up of 17 European nations including the UK — but not France. It’s meant to be integrated within NATO air and missile defense systems.

The French government believes the project doesn’t adequately preserve European sovereignty, because it’s expected to be largely based on US and Israeli air defense systems.

The German-led plan is expected to feature the Israeli Arrow 3 system and build on existing US Patriot missile capabilities.

The long-range Arrow 3 system, designed to shoot down missiles above the Earth’s atmosphere, is powerful enough to offer protective cover for neighboring European Union states.

According to Israeli manufacturer IAI, the Arrow 3 system is able to intercept ballistic missiles fired from a distance of up to 2,400 kilometers (1,490 miles).

File: Israeli soldiers walk near an Iron Dome defense system (L), a surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, the MIM-104 Patriot (C), and an anti-ballistic missile the Arrow 3 (R) during Juniper Cobra’s joint exercise press briefing at Hatzor Air Base in central Israel, on February 25, 2016. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)

The system was first deployed in an Israeli air force base in 2017 and has been used to protect Israel against attacks from Iran and Syria.

The system is expected to cost up to 3.99 billion euros in total, according to Finance Ministry documents seen by AFP.

“With the European Sky Shield Initiative, we are bringing together European states to jointly increase protection against ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a news conference earlier Monday in Berlin with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Scholz made no reference to Paris’ objections to the initiative.

Defense has been a recurrent bone of contention between the two countries, with France complaining that Germany wasn’t doing enough in the area for years — until the war in Ukraine led Berlin to announce a major boost to military spending.

Patriot missile launchers acquired from the US are seen deployed in Warsaw, Poland, on February 6, 2023. (Michal Dyjuk/AP)

Macron said Monday that the Mamba anti-missile system developed together by France and Italy “is now deployed and operational in Ukraine, protecting key installations and lives.” The delivery of the system to Kiev was announced by Paris and Rome in February.

“It really is Europe protecting Europe,” Macron said.

The Mamba system is part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defense.

With the help of Western weapons and growing experience, Ukraine’s air defense systems have made great strides since the war started last year, saving infrastructure and lives and preventing Russia from achieving air superiority.

AFP contributed to this report.

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