European defense is not merely about Russia


The Houthi rebels in Yemen announced that they may no longer limit themselves merely to attacking ships in the Red Sea – they might also carry out missile strikes in the Mediterranean. This escalation presents an additional threat for Europe, yet reactions are, for now, minimal in European capitals.

The war in Ukraine dominates both media and politics. It seems a European phenomenon to be only able to deal with one crisis at a time, widely ignoring other challenges. Europe is fixed in a linear “monocrisis” system which unfortunately does not adequately reflect reality.

More than just borders

A critical element of strategic defense and deterrence is securing trade and supply lines. Sovereignty is not just about borders. Foreign and security policies are tools to protect the prosperity and security of the people of each country.

There are other threats which might necessitate European countries intervening militarily, or at least projecting the perception of a possible reaction as deterrence. If Europe cannot prevent rogue states or terrorist organizations from operating with impunity, it hurts the continent’s interests.

Navigation in the Red Sea is crucial for Europe and the global economy. It is the bloodline of Europe-Asia trade. Without access to it, circumnavigating Africa takes an additional two weeks and has serious cost implications as well as environmental consequences. With that transit route already under pressure, recent Houthi threats against broader navigation routes with missile and drone attacks up the ante for Europe.

Deterrence matters

In December, the U.S. and Britain launched Operation Prosperity Guardian. They engage not only in neutralizing incoming Houthi threats to ships in the Red Sea, but also in deterring the militants by striking Houthi self-defense targets in Yemen.

The European Union – the most threatened due to its proximity to hostilities and exposed supply lines – only initiated Operation Aspides in the Red Sea with a few frigates in February. This mission aims to protect vessels from EU member states against attacks. Josep Borrell, the Union’s commissioner in charge of international affairs, stressed that the operation is purely defensive and will not strike on Houthi targets in Yemen.

Unfortunately, this means that the Houthis face no risk of retaliation should they attack member states’ vessels. This absence of deterrence provides the militants with impunity, as opposed to Prosperity Guardian.


In the long term, the threat from the south is potentially greater than that from the east.


The Greek commander of Aspides, Rear Admiral Vasileios Gryparis, expects bottlenecks in the protection, due to the insufficient size of the operation, according to media reports. After one German frigate has already departed, only three EU vessels remain in the crucial waters.

Meanwhile, Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s minister of foreign affairs, who has put herself in an awkward situation by declaring the doctrine of “feminist foreign policy” on one hand, but advocating assertive military support against Russia on the other, has proposed sending a frigate to the Strait of Taiwan, opposing China. This appears to be more of an ego trip of the foreign minister than a real threat to China. But much closer to home in the Red Sea, her attention and a stronger naval presence could actually prove effective.

European countries are extremely vulnerable on the continent’s southern flank. It is not only the regime in Iran and its proxies – the HouthisHamas and Hezbollah – threatening stability. Risks can also come from other territories were failed states become hosts to terrorist groups and foreign powers.

Inevitably, this reality will force Europe’s hand and the continent will have to step up defense of its security and interests in these areas. In the long term, the threat from the south is potentially greater than that from the east.



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