Being naïve is not an option: Europe’s security is in Malta’s interest

The problem with the PL’s rhetoric is that it ignores the geopolitical developments in Europe over the past two years characterised by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

The Labour Party is trying to make political gain from Roberta Metsola’s recent statements on the need for the European Union to boost defence and security spending. 

The PL is trying to label Metsola a warmonger and an enemy of peace. The descriptions fit snuggly with the Prime Minister’s rhetoric that depicts Malta as a peace-loving nation and Metsola – and as a consequence, the Nationalist Party – as the country’s enfant terrible. 

The problem with the PL’s rhetoric is that it ignores the geopolitical developments in Europe over the past two years characterised by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is a rhetoric that ignores Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions. It is a rhetoric that pays lip service – a minute’s silence in parliament and short message on X – to the death of Alexei Navalny at the hands of the Russian authorities, while ignoring Putin’s ever-tightening grip on power by eliminating internal critics. 

At best, the PL’s reasoning is a naïve interpretation of the dangers Europe is facing today and at worst, deceitful rhetoric intended to score brownie points in Malta while doing something different at EU level. 

While Robert Abela in Malta is telling us that he wants peace – a noble value indeed – and shoots at Metsola for speaking on the need of a militarily stronger EU, his minister was telling MaltaToday that Malta was considering taking part in the EU’s Red Sea naval mission, Operation Aspides. 

It is in the EU’s and Malta’s interest to ensure that international shipping lanes are not compromised and thus it makes absolute sense for Malta, within its limitations, to participate in such a mission. Details of Malta’s participation have so far been limited to a reply sent to this newspaper a couple of weeks ago that suggested an Armed Forces of Malta officer will be stationed at operational headquarters in Greece. 

An operation like Aspides, which is intended to defend, accompany and provide situational awareness to merchant ships passing through the Red Sea, is precisely why the EU needs to bolster its security and defence structures. 

On a far more serious level is the threat posed by Putin’s Russia. EU member states would be extremely naïve to ignore what Putin has done in Ukraine in the belief that he will never pose a threat to them. 

Being prepared is not a declaration of war; being prepared is ensuring you have the means and the structures to defend yourself if attacked. Being prepared also serves as a deterrent to ward off potential threats. 

The EU needs to develop strategic autonomy in several economic sectors over the coming years. But this notion must also extend to its defence capabilities, especially if Donald Trump is elected president in the US next November. 

This is why the EU needs to step up its defence spending. This does not necessarily mean creating an EU army with central command – this will probably never work. 

But structured EU defence cooperation will be necessary to develop military interoperability; joint procurement of arms and ammunition; joint military research and development; sharing of intelligence; and the ability to deploy a significant joint military force in the shortest time possible in the case of adversity. 

This enhanced security and defence capability will give form and function to the mutual defence clause introduced in the Lisbon Treaty. Through the mutual defence clause all member states are obliged to provide help to a member state under attack but unless there are structures in place to make this happen, the clause is as good as a fish out of water. 

Malta should not shun this strategy on the misguided premise that neutrality protects us from adversity. Even if a physical threat to the country is a remote possibility, we can never underestimate the risks associated with cyberwarfare. 

The government has argued that Malta’s neutrality does not stop it from taking a political position. Indeed, Malta condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, adopted all EU sanctions against Russian nationals, and has even provided Ukraine with humanitarian aid. 

But even these actions, which are not military in nature, have put Malta on Russia’s bad list along with the rest of the EU. In these circumstances, Malta should be asking itself whether it makes sense to remain aloof from enhanced defence and military cooperation at EU level. 

Even as a neutral state – although neutrality’s relevance should be debated – Malta should be able to shape the EU’s defence and security policy. As a starter, Malta should join PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation), the EU’s security policy cooperative arm. 

Being militarily prepared must never be viewed as anathema to the pursuit of peace. Norway is a shining example of this. 

The Nordic country is a member of NATO, a military alliance, and yet it has often acted as a successful peace broker and mediator on the world stage. Malta can emulate Norway’s example by taking a more active role on the world stage to act as a mediator – it successfully negotiated a UN Security Council resolution last year asking for humanitarian pauses in Gaza but it can do much more. 

However, in being a peace broker Malta must never close its eyes to any potential threats it may face. It is in Malta’s interest to be part of a strong EU that is able to defend its values and its member states. Being naïve is not an option.