PARIS (AP) — Defense ministers and other representatives of 20 European countries will hold a conference in Paris on Monday on how to better defend Europe’s airspace, a long-divisive issue that takes on new urgency because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The talks will include 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 will also be on the agenda.
The French Defense Ministry said among the nations taking part in the meeting are Germany, the U.K. and Sweden as well as Ukraine’s neighbors Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Representatives of NATO and the European Union were also due to attend.
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.
“There is therefore a need for Europeans to think collectively and strategically about the threats coming from the skies,” a French official said on condition of anonymity in accordance with the government’s customary practices.
The one-day meeting is taking place on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show, the world’s largest event focusing on aviation and space industry that is opening Monday. French President Emmanuel Macron will make the closing speech of the conference in the evening.
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 U.K. — 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 U.S. and Israeli industry.
The German-led plan “has limitations,” the French official said, adding that Monday’s conference would propose a “more global approach.” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius will attend the meeting.
“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 on Monday in Berlin with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The German-led plan is expected to feature the Israeli Arrow 3 system and build on existing U.S. Patriot missile capabilities.
Scholz made no reference to Paris’ objections to the initiative.
The French Mamba system is already part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defense.
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.