This has been one of the major points of contention between Paris and Berlin since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. In October 2022, Germany announced the launch of a European missile shield project, or European Sky Shield (ESSI), something which now brings together seventeen countries, fifteen of them members of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). It’s the revival of an old NATO ambition. Four months after Berlin’s announcement, this initiative is challenging France’s vision of Europe’s independence strategic and upsetting the interests of certain manufacturers.
The ESSI project is only at the “letter of intent” stage, which leads Paris to say that it is still far from becoming a reality. But among the signatory countries are many states broadly located on the eastern flank of Europe, anxious to move quickly and worried about a possible spillover of the Ukrainian conflict into their territory. This is the case for Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, Romania and Finland. On February 15, two other countries joined the project – Sweden and Denmark, the latter being usually very cautious on Alliance missile defense issues.
Poland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and France have for the moment remained on the sidelines of the ESSI project. This is either because they already have missile defense capabilities – Madrid and Warsaw have NATO bases – or, like Italy and France, because they’ve been developing their own system together for several years: the Mamba. For France, the German initiative therefore entails major industrial and technological competition.
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Germany’s missile defense shield aims to achieve economies of scale by jointly purchasing existing and complementary ground-to-air defense systems: the German Iris-T system, manufactured by Diehl BGT Defence, with a range of around 30 kilometers, the Patriot system, manufactured by the American Raytheon, providing protection up to 200 kilometers, and the Arrow 3, designed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), designed to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles and provide a 2,400-kilometre radius bubble around itself. In Paris, the initiative is perceived as a major breach in the idea of ”European sovereignty,” dearly defended by Emmanuel Macron.
However, the ESSI is a good response to shortcomings long identified by US-dominated NATO central bodies, for which missile defense is a major focus. These three systems are supposed to create a “multi-layered” bubble to protect against strikes from missiles, as well as from certain drones or helicopters.
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