Every-so-often, discussions emerge regarding the need of establishing a European army. This is an idea as old as post-WWII European integration and the European Defence Community proposed in 1952 that died with the 1954 veto of the European Political Community. Beyond the Common Security and Defence Policy and the Common Foreign and Defence Policy, military integration is a popular notion in France as well as among its traditional European allies, including Spain, Italy and Greece, who are unfortunately afflicted by austerity. The Baltic states and eastern Europe are traditionally much more vocal in support of a European army as a means of final protection against the projection of Russian foreign policy and the historical threat of Invasion. I am under the impression that Germany, however, has been much more reticent, if I am not mistaken, always taking a back stance vis-a-vis the discussion, fearful of the memory of its militaristic history. The UK on the other hand has been one of the leading obstacles to the formation of a EU army.
- It is the only way to have a defence force that can actually defend the EU,
- It takes advantage economies of scale
- It takes advantage of military returns to scale
- It would create a single military purchasor, a monopsonist akin to the US DoD that would be able to channel the necessary funds towards the type of cutting edge R&D that has given us GPS, drones, exoskeletons, computers, missiles, the internet, etc.
Of course, I am not naive. Any step to this effect would create an enormous potential for evil and destruction. While politically it may be an advantage, I tend to be suspicious of any policy that may appeal to rightwing extremists even if only as a means to redirecting their attention. Militarism has a very bad history in Europe and we should be very wary of it.
Nevertheless, this week may be the beginning of a new phase, with what appears to be a coordinated PR move from Brussels and Germany towards further European Integration. This post quickly reviews all the events and some related reports, asks 2 questions:
- Is this renewed interest in European military integration meaningful or a front?
- What triggered this announcement? – A Russian invasion of the Ukraine or the interference of US neo-cons?
It then reviews the latest proposal for EU defence integration and upcoming events and concludes that this is indeed likely to bring about some progress in this policy front.
Junker urges Joint Army – Germany Supports
According to reports, Jean Claude Junker, president of the European Commission (EC) has struck a bold note against Russia by saying that a European army would effectively chirstalise the present peace and forever disband the shadow of past wars while making Europe and its integrity more credible in the eyes of Russia. The interesting thing of course is the reply from Germany, where the defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, “called it the main goal for the bloc”, commenting to Deutschlandfunk radio station that a “European army is the future” and that she expects it to be a reality for her grand children.
Russian Fears or USA Destabilisation?
It’s quite interesting to consider the entire dynamics of this discussion. It happens in the background of not only the Ukrainian crisis, but a very complicated and uncoordinated approach to dealing with it from NATO, which is divided between the Americans with the means and the agency to act and the Franco-German axis with a local interest in stability. The first are seeking containment of Russia and potentially regime change in Moscow, while the latter are hoping for appeasement and a diplomatic solution.
So when Junker brings up this issue, it is not just because he feels Russia is knocking at the door. It may also be that he, and notably Germany as well as France, are concerned with increasing pressure from some American sectors (ie NeoCons) to escalate the conflict in Europe’s Eastern border. So when he says that the creation of a European army would not interfere with NATO, it is not just another statement about the stability of the alliance, which no one wants to bring to an end, but rather, perhaps, a hint at the fact that an alliance between the EU and the USA would have a different balance of power than the present one.
So which one is triggering the announcement? Truth be told, it is impossible to say with certainty what is behind the impetus, but it is difficult to argue that what is a fairly scenario of operations in the Ukraine is now triggering this announcement. If nothing has changed on that front, if Russia has not changed its stance, then there’s nothing to suggest Russia is the reason. However, where there was a new event was in yet another speech by the NeoCon NATO commander General Philip Breedlove, for which little love seems to exist in Germany. Given the stake that Germany has in this specific conflict his continued interference may have just been long and annoying enough to change the German view and convince it of the merits of independence. That and its new-found hegemony in other policy areas. So I’m actually inclined to believe that his statement actually was what triggered the announcement.
Prelude to Substantial Reform or Red-Herring?
The truth is that it is really difficult to answer this question. Appealing as the narrative in the previous paragraph may be, it is just as plausible that the Germans and Junker are doing this to get the USA to back off on the rhetoric. Really the only way to know is to wait and see. However, I don’t actually believe that. Actually, the whole thing seems to be quite long in the making.
There seems to be a calendar for future developments, as Javier Solana, a former Secretary General of NATO was scheduled to present today the “More Union in European Defence” report , published just 3 weeks ago, to the European Council. Moreover, a summit has apparently been planned for June to discuss the issue of defence integration further. Here are the main recommendations of the report:
- Strategic upgrade:
- Drawing on the High Representative’s work on a new European foreign policy strategy, define common interests that take account of the fluidity of threats and opportunities in the EU’s rapidly changing neighbourhood, in a multipolar world.
- Use the military as a catalyst for an integral approach to the performance of the treaty tasks geared at conflict prevention, crisis management and peace-building.
- Focus on a contribution to territorial defence complementary to NATO and a political and military ability to autonomously conduct intervention operations beyond the EU’s borders.
- Reform of institutions, procedures and financing:
- Use the treaty basis for permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) to move European defence integration forward with a group of likeminded states.
- Improve high-level decision-making by
- i) introducing a biennial regularity in the defence debate by the European Council;
- ii) establishing a ministerial forum for consultation and decision making, leading to the formation of a dedicated Council of Defence Ministers; and
- iii) upgrading the EP Subcommittee on Security and Defence to a fully fledged Committee.
- Establish permanent EU military headquarters in Brussels.
- Substantially increase levels of common funding for EU operations and elaborate alternative funding options for EDU member states (joint financing, trust funds).
- Capabilities and industrial harmonisation:
- Introduce a ‘European Semester’ for member states’ defence budgets and capability development plans to enhance mutual transparency and accountability.
- Call for an industry/government/institutions summit to try and regalvanise the EU’s industrial and technological agenda
Conclusion – It’s up to those who want to do it
One of the best parts of this proposal is the focus on “Permanent Structured Cooperation“, which is a specific form of “Enhanced Cooperation” predicted in the Lisbon Treaty which allows some countries to “go at it” on their own, overcoming any veto from Britain and allowing France and Germany to drive the agenda forwards unencumbered. Which is nice, that way the people at the Telegraph and at the Express (who even use the same strident quotes of an imminent invasion of Gibraltar by Spain) can chill out and calm themselves down. This is not the United States of Europe scenario… 😉
Having reviewed all of the above information, I’m going to stick my neck out. I actually think that this might go somewhere. There might be some interesting synergies and “tit-for-tat” that might be possible with the whole situation in southern European and the Euro-Zone crisis. Fiscal federalism has historically been triggered by defence/military motivations and there’s nothing like the perception of a common enemy to build unity. I’m looking forward to the meeting in June. I wonder what will come off it. In my view, the main hindrance is not UK opposition, but rather Merkel’s conservative slow reform bias. But then again, Solana’s plan is not revolutionary, so it might just be enough to get past her…
These are interesting times. All in all this is quite ambitious stuff and it may be all for naught. But as Nick Witney of the European Council of Foreign Relations argues, “if not now, when?”