Book Review: Cooperation on European defence procurement

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Michela Ceccorulli, Cooperation on European defence procurement: OCCAR and the security regime (Saarbrücken, Germany: Scholars’ Press, 2014). 560 pp., €50,26 (paperback), ISBN: 9783639706604.

Military procurement is a critical component of defence policy. Nevertheless, when states devise strategies to promote their own security, the first and most fundamental choice concerns capabilities; namely, the type and number of weapons that ought to be acquired. It is therefore striking that, despite the importance of this issue, procurement has attracted so little attention by political scientists. In fact, while (defence) economists and (military) sociologists have developed a substantial body of literature on this issue, just a few IR and public policy scholars have investigated the topic. In this unfavorable scenario, Michela Ceccorulli’s volume is a very welcome contribution to political science.

In her lengthy investigation of the European experience of cooperation in the field of armaments, Ceccorulli develops a single case-study analysis to answer a variety of questions. However, her main questions can be summarized as follows: First, what are the obstacles to cooperation in defence procurement? And, second, how could the OCCAR overcome them? The answer to these questions, according to the author, is that cooperation in defence procurement is better explained as a coordination game, rather than as mere cooperation. A consequence is that the main problem is competition for gains distribution. Accordingly, OCCAR’s achievements are due to its intergovernmental and flexible structure that allows member states to pursue different but compatible interests.

The argument unfolds in four chapters. Chapter one lays the theoretical foundations of the analysis by providing the reader with an overview of the literature on international regimes. The first part of the chapter revolves around the long-standing debate between the realist, neo-institutionalist and sociological paradigms. Here Ceccorulli presents a well-balanced overview of the literature since Krasner’s (1983) seminal contribution. The main threads of research are discussed and analyzed, from the weight of power within institutions, to the difference between cooperation/coordination games, closing with a description of the distinctive features of security regimes. Admittedly, the main attempt of this chapter is not to validate or amend existing theories, so it is not meant to further our knowledge on the subject. That said, these theoretical considerations prove fundamental in giving the empirical part of the text a broader scope, and in highlighting the peculiarity of cooperation in the defence procurement sector – namely, the gains and challenges that this kind of regime may bring about.

Chapter two moves closer to the issue at stake, with a broad discussion of the defence procurement process. Here the author does a remarkable job of tackling the peculiarities of the military market. First, a concise overview is offered of the double-faced nature of the issue, torn as it is between market competition and security concerns, or, to put it bluntly, between free-trade and protectionism. Second, available acquisition strategies are taken into consideration. This requires explaining the policy behind weapons procurement, and the life-cycle of a weapon system. It should be noted that the issue is almost intractable (not least because, as Ceccorulli recognizes, different states follow different practices), and it is handled by the author somehow sketchily. But it is sufficient to serve the main purpose of the chapter, which is to describe the obstacles that make international cooperation so difficult. That said, the third section of the chapter describes previous examples of cooperation (both within the EU and with the US) with a two-fold purpose: First, to show how the problem was closer to a coordination rather than a cooperation game, and second, to illustrate how these attempts led to duplications and inefficiencies. Finally, the chapter discusses economic and political pressures relating to forging an international regime.

Chapters three and four make up the empirical section of the volume. In particular, chapter three is written with the two-fold purpose of: a) outlining “the principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures characterizing the regime on defence procurement,” (p. 207); b) describing the basic features of Europe’s four major arms producers, namely, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Apparently, both tasks serve an ancillary goal, as they are intended to pave the ground for a deeper examination of OCCAR. In other words, it seems like the author just wished to provide the reader with contextual information for the real case study of the book. The chapter consequently provides a reasoned list of the main European initiatives in the field (from WEAG and WEAO to the 2000 Letter of Intent, up to the setup of EDA), followed by a closer look at the national level. For the big four, Ceccorulli blends description and considerations concerning foreign policy, military strategy and the military industrial complex. At first glance, the effort seems partially successful. On the one hand, it delivers what it promises, clearly showing the constraints and concerns of the four founders of OCCAR. On the other hand, in its attempt to cover all bases, it ends up drawing an overly concise picture of the situation.
Conversely, chapter four presents an in-depth investigation of the rise, functioning and results of OCCAR. In this 90 page chapter, the regime is dissected along three main perspectives. First, the main strategic considerations leading states to forge the institution. Second, the goals, institutional architecture and working procedures. Third, the weapon-systems actually managed by the regime. This careful and insightful analysis fills a gap in the literature, as no other work (at least to my knowledge) has gathered such a variety of information (via both primary and secondary sources) before. Moreover, it allows Ceccorulli to highlight OCCAR’s achievements and pitfalls and, most importantly, to validate her argument about the institution as a security-inspired solution to a coordination game.

To conclude, this book represents an important contribution for those interested in defence policy as well as European affairs. By anchoring the main argument to a well-established theoretical debate, Ceccorulli successfully avoids the risk of getting too technical and losing sight of the political relevance of the issue. Secondly, in a period of turbulence for the European Union, her analysis comes as a fresh reminder of the (still under-exploited) potential of European integration, even in traditionally resilient areas, such as defence procurement.

Andrea Locatelli, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan

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