For decades, there has been a discussion of a unified European army. Now Europe may be close to moving from talk to action.
The British have always been the most vocal critics of the idea to create independent European defense forces. The UK and the US long viewed the establishment of such a structure as anathema. Great Britain has resisted any calls for pan-European military cooperation, encouraging European militaries to funnel any additional resources to NATO.
UK’s decision to leave the EU changes the entire dynamics of European security and defense. The EU is losing a country endowed with vast military experience that strengthened the Atlanticist wing in the bloc. There is vacuum to be filled at the time NATO has ceased to be some kind of religion.
Britain’s exit from the European Union appears to result in the dusting off of old plans to create a pan-European defense force – a «European Army», which would operate independently of the United States and NATO.
The EU should distance itself from NATO and establish a newly conceived «Defense Schengen», said retired general Didier Tauzin, a runner in the French presidential race.
According to Tauzin, «Importantly, such a defense system should be in line with European interests, not necessarily American ones. It is clear that Washington and European countries do not share the same interests in the world». He pointed out that it is necessary to include Russia and other countries into the system.
On August 10, Italian Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministers, Roberta Pinotti and Paolo Gentiloni, called for launching a new project – «a kind of a Defense Union», or a «Defense Schengen» – in an interview with French Le Monde.
The Italian ministers said that the outcome of the British referendum on withdrawing from the EU and the recent terror attacks in Europe should prompt the EU member states to take effective security measures, including creation of a «European Multinational Force». According to them, the force will include a single command and budget.
Brexit took place on June 23 to make June 28 a very notable day in the history of the EU. Just five days after the British EU membership vote, the European Council in Brussels adopted the brand-new Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign And Security Policy.
The new strategy calls for «strategic autonomy» for the EU. It says it is highly desirable for Europeans to build foreign policy, security, and defense capabilities instead of relying solely on the United States for protection and global services. The document reads, «…defence co-operation must become the norm. The EU will systematically encourage defence co-operation and strive to create a solid European defence industry, which is critical for Europe’s autonomy of decision and action». In practice, the EU currently runs six military missions, plus 11 civilian operations, mostly in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa. But the troops serving in these missions are not under the banner of an EU army, but national forces. Britain’s Royal Navy commands the EU operation against Somali pirates; French troops are training infantry soldiers in Mali. EU defence policy remains in the hands of European governments, not the EU executive. But officials have grown frustrated with piecemeal structures and the struggle to prepare and deploy multinational operations. The strategy suggests a first step to this can be achieved through «streamlining our institutional structure» in common security and defense policy – a nod to calls for a joint EU military and civilian planning headquarters. In fact, the meaning is obvious – the EU must develop the capability to carry out its own military operations without Americans – something NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke out against at the recent NATO summit held in Warsaw. Allocating military resources to an independent European structure will greatly weaken NATO. But the idea of European military independent from the US is gaining traction. It makes spring to mind the statement made in March by the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who openly said that Europe needs its own military.
The recent leaked German Defence Ministry’s White Paper conforms to the trend.
It says, a pan-European army, and one by implication under German control, is essential to safeguard Europe’s security and capacity to act. The document calls for a joint civil-military EU operational headquarters, a formal council of defence ministers, and a shift to the coordinated manufacture and sharing of military equipment and materiel. Germany has already gone some way along this path in recent years. In 2015, the Dutch 11th Airmobile Brigade was integrated into a new German division of rapid reaction forces, and in March of this year, the Dutch 43rd Mechanized Brigade came under German command joining the German 1st Armoured Division. Agreements have also been made that pave the way for the full integration of both countries’ naval units. «The EU cannot rely on the transatlantic partnership with the US to deal with external threats», as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has recently put it.
If the idea goes through, arrangements could allow Norway, a NATO member outside the EU, to contribute, while Sweden and Finland, EU members outside NATO, might find an EU alliance preferable to one that crosses the Atlantic.
In the recent past, EU member states have become embroiled in conflicts, like Afghanistan and Iraq, they had no need to enter. The only rationale for overseas deployment was solidarity with the United States. The recent history militates in favor of giving precedence to European, rather than transatlantic, security interests. It’s natural for Europe to be capable of mounting protection and peace-keeping missions in its own region. The migrants’ crisis proves the EU needs a joint border force much more than forces deployed at Russia’s border according to US-led NATO plans. A border force enhances European security while the deployment of battalions in the Eastern Europe and the Baltics undermines it. Better relations with Russia would be an additional bonus for a EU security alliance independent from US-dominated NATO; tensions and inherent mistrust would be reduced and the pressure to cooperate might be greater. After all, Russia and the EU joined together in the peacekeeping operations in Chad and the Central African Republic.
Together they fought pirates near the Somalian coast. They have experience of joint combat operations. These events are barely remembered nowadays and undeservedly so. Perhaps such a change would be opposed by the East and Central Europeans. They would have to trust the defence capability of the EU more than they do now. But France, Germany and some other leading states foot most of the security bill to make their arguments prevail in the long run.
Cooperation between Russia and Europe in the field of security is a must and the most natural thing to do. After all, Russia and the EU belong to the same continent and face common problems, while the US is focused on its «pivot» to Asia and «global commitments».
The time when the Europeans need their own military potential might come sooner than one could imagine. Even if Donald Trump does not win the US presidency, the sentiment is there. Many common Americans question the need to pay for «free riders». They strongly believe that the Europeans should do much more to enhance their own security. The US government has stated that the «pivot» to Asia tops its foreign policy priorities list. Under the circumstances, the transformation of NATO’s European arm into an EU defence structure would be a logical solution. Europe needs a single fighting force – not an assortment of national armies operating under the auspices of NATO to serve the interests of the United States. Moreover, NATO has demonstrated its ineffectiveness. The alliance is not involved in the most important conflict regarding the future of Europe – the war in Syria, and demonstrates that it is not ready to respond to new threats and challenges, such as the fight against terrorism. Europe is facing multiple threats in its strategic neighborhood coming from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, through the Middle East, the Caucasus and up to the new frontlines in Eastern Europe. The US has other threats to fend off. The interests do not coincide. Creating its own military is the only way for Europe to obtain military and political independence.
Sooner or later, Europe will have its own military, nothing can turn the tide. The trend to independence from the US in the field of security is gaining momentum. Brexit has provided a powerful impulse to the process.