Ten European states have created a new defense coalition. It was launched on June 25 and held its first historic meeting in Paris on Nov.7 to start thrashing out details of how the force will operate and welcome Finland as the tenth participant. All founding nations are EU members, including Great Britain, which is to leave the bloc in March, 2019. Led by France, the European Initiative Intervention (EII) comprises the UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Finland to cooperate in the planning, analysis of new military and humanitarian crises, and possible joint activities in response to contingencies. It is planned to have a common budget.
In a nutshell, the EII members will maintain readiness to carry out missions together independently from the United States, the EU or NATO. A streamlined decision-making process will permit a quick reaction time while the smaller number of members will give more flexibility in comparison with the North Atlantic Alliance, where the process is based on consensus among 29 nations, or the EU, which has failed to deploy the four multinational military battle groups created as far back as 2007.
French President Macron said he wanted a “real European army” because “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.” “When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s Euromissile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security,” he told Europe 1 in his first radio interview since becoming president. Emmanuel Macron believes that “Europe can ensure its own protection against Russia and even, under an unpredictable President Donald Trump.” That’s how the US is viewed in Europe now. Not a defender but rather a threat.
“The goal: that our armed forces learn get to know each other and act together,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted on the occasion of launching the EII. “Thanks to exchanges between staff and joint exercises, we will create a European strategic culture. We will be ready to anticipate crises and respond quickly and effectively,” he commented on the final goal.
According to Stratfor, “the EI2's membership reveals that France is willing to go beyond the European Union in its quest for partners (as the United Kingdom will leave the bloc in 2019) and also outside of NATO (as Finland is not a member of the Atlantic alliance).”
The EU defense integration moves ahead at frustratingly slow pace. The 2017 “Permanent Structured Cooperation” (PESCO) defense agreement brought together 25 of the 28 armed forces. The UK, Denmark and Malta have decided to opt out of the voluntary system. Focused mainly on industrial cooperation, PESCO is not a great thing in real terms. It only offers a relatively small special fund to finance operations. It does not provide the EU with real joint fighting forces but rather offers a gradual integration at slow pace. The agreement has no provision on defense expenditure hike. The EU budget does not allocate money for creation of “European Army.” Besides, there are deep divisions between EU members states with different groups formed inside the Union. What sounds good on paper, may have little relation to real life. New smaller alliances are gradually being formed inside NATO and the EU – the blocs facing the threat of partition.
This and US President Trump overturning the treaties and putting into question the invocation of Article 5 prompted the formation of the new European defense alliance that is supposed to have real teeth and operate outside the EII’s control. The French-led initiative uniting EU and non-EU countries is especially attractive for Great Britain, which seeks a potential vehicle for post-Brexit defense cooperation outside the EU framework.
An independent military bloc will weaken NATO and reduce the Europe’s dependence on the United States. From this point of view, it will benefit Europe because its interests often do not coincide with that of the US. For instance, America cares little about the immigration, which is a far-flung problem for Washington, but keeping new migrants waves away is a matter of make it or break it for EU. In their turn, Europeans have nothing to do in Iraq and Afghanistan and have sent forces there only to demonstrate the transatlantic solidarity.
As one can see, Finland has found the EII preferable to NATO. But having joined the officially inaugurated new military alliance, it won’t be a neutral state anymore. It has become a member of the military organization, which openly says that Russia, its neighbor, is a threat to counter. This is a very significant change in the country’s foreign policy. Actually, the launching of the EII has attracted little media attention and undeservedly so, but the Finland’s EII membership has not gone unnoticed in Russia. Last year, Finland along with Sweden joined the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF). It has allowed to use NATO forces use its territory during exercises, such as Trident Juncture-2018 – the largest NATO training event since the cold War.
The UK has always opposed the plans to create a European defense alliance, fearing it would be detrimental for NATO. Now it has done an about-face. It can continue to maintain special ties with US being a part of the new European defense alliance.
The formation of the EII shows how deep are the rifts dividing NATO and the EU into groups pursuing their own interests. These large organizations appear to have seen better days. They have become too large to be really united and strong. Like the empire of Alexander the Great, such large organizations have short lives. NATO and EU expansions were mistakes. It may never be said officially but the ten European nations have delivered a heavy blow against the US-led NATO. If the project does not gradually die away with all the ideas and initiatives swept under the rug being entangled in red tape, President Emmanuel Macron will go down in history as the architect of new large and powerful defense alliance to change the European security landscape.
The tensions and divisions between Europe and Russia are not forever and the EII and Russia don’t have to be adversaries, looking at each other through crosshairs. After all, they face common security threats. Sooner or later, cooperation in the field of security will be back on the agenda.
New waves of asylum seekers from Libya are a potential danger for Europe. Russia has influence in that country- it can help to prevent it. Joining together to restore Syria is another potential area of cooperation. The deployment of intermediate range weapons in Europe could be prevented with the INF Treaty not in force anymore if certain agreements were reached at Russia-Europe level even without US participation. The military activities can be discussed to ease the tensions. While the United States is preoccupied with the promotion of “America First” concept, the EII and Russia can talk. They could use the OSCE framework for it.
In August, President Macron called for strategic partnership with Russia. According to him, “I think that on matters like cybersecurity, defense, strategic relationships, we could envisage the outlines of a new relationship between Russia and the EU which is coherent with the direction Europe is headed in.” No improvement in the Russia-EU, Russia-NATO relationships is looming but it could be different regarding the ties between the EII and Russia. The options are a dialog and confrontation. Which of them will prevail? You never know. President Macron has said he prefers the first.