American & Russian pressures build momentum towards a European army

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.

For my part I have spoken about why I am in favour of this before:

  • 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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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:
    1. Use the treaty basis for permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) to move European defence integration forward with a group of likeminded states.
    2. 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.
    3. Establish permanent EU military headquarters in Brussels.
    4. 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:
    1. Introduce a ‘European Semester’ for member states’ defence budgets and capability development plans to enhance mutual transparency and accountability.
    2. 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?”

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6 Responses to American & Russian pressures build momentum towards a European army

  1. David says:

    Very interesting analysis! Though I don’t necessarily agree that an EU army is the best outcome, the political process moving towards that end is very interesting to watch, and the players behind it. Despite being an American, I closely watched the EUCO on defence and security, which was very quickly upstaged by migration and Grexit concerns.

    Juncker and his subordinates have continued to repeatedly call for an EU army. Think tanks have repeatedly called for a “european defence union,” even the defence minister of Germany, as you mentioned. Javier Solana, former NATO secretary general, has admitted to going on a “road show” campaigning for an integrated military force for Europe, presenting his plan in several capitals. (He was interviewed by Euractiv.de a few days before the EUCO).

    This international politics stuff is fascinating. Nevertheless, EUCO on “defence and security” seemed to barely even happen, despite the impetus surrounding it. What are your thoughts on this? Why didn’t Juncker push harder for an EU army? Will Javier Solana get more closely involved, perhaps even returning to politics? Is the Commission buying its time to form an EU army, until conditions are more ripe to make such a move? It was just confusing to me to see such a big push from some in the Commission, European Parliament, and some think tanks, only for it to evaporate at the “big meeting.” What are your thoughts?

    • fmpdea says:

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your interest and for you thoughtful comment. It is always interesting to get the American perspective.

      I should begin by making it clear that I have at best a very theoretical and at worst a very amateurish view of this issue. Nevertheless, let me see if I can provide you with an answer to your questions:

      Why didn’t Juncker push harder for an EU army?
      It seems to me that the question is in two parts: “Does Juncker care about this issue?” and if so “Why did he not push harder?” Regarding the first question, I do think that Juncker cares about this. He is a European federalist with strong credentials and a citizen of Luxembourg, which people forget had a front row seat (with Belgium) whenever Germany and France went at it during the first half of the 20th century. So this strikes me as an issue he believes in. Regarding the second part of your question, I think of this sort of thing in terms of scarce political capital, which can be applied to different tasks. The politics of further defence integration are going to take a lot of hand-holding, threats and pork (as you guys say). Because it is not an immediate problem, and there are other very immediate problems, no one wants to pick a fight about it. This is one of those issues that everyone at the top agrees makes sense, but which will inevitably be spun as a loss of sovereignty (which is ironic because it is only a de jure loss of sovereignty, that is compensated by the added security brought about by a de facto gain in sovereignty). I would ultimately blame the Greek crisis for the lack of momentum for this at the moment.

      Will Javier Solana get more closely involved, perhaps even returning to politics? – Yes, Javier Solana will continue to be very involved with this, because it is an important issue, one that he believes in and one which he can speak with authority about. But no, I don’t think he’ll come back to politics. That would mean re-entering Spanish national politics which with the independentist movements in Catalonia and the economic stagnation plaguing the country would be a step back for a man like him. He’s more of a back-room deal breaker/operator. Returning to active political life would be like taking an Italian 3-piece suit and jumping into the pigsty.

      Is the Commission buying its time to form an EU army, until conditions are more ripe to make such a move?
      Yes. But you have to ask yourself what such “ripe” conditions are and whether they will ever present themselves. For charismatic and creative leadership, the present conditions could possibly be quite “ripe”. Greece has a migration problem that is intrinsically defence-linked. It also has a fiscal problem that is ultimately growth/spending linked. By the way, the situation is similar albeit on a smaller relative scale in Italy. Germany needs a good reason to give money to Greece, but also to Italy, and to an extent to Portugal and Spain. This matters. You build a joint defence and you are serious about it, you have to post soldiers near your most fragile borders. Greece would definitely be top of the list for some army bases, and the Bosphorus would definitly get a fleet. So would Italy. Portugal and Spain both have vast areas of the countries that are sparsely populated and could be used for R&D and weapons testing (like new mexico and Arizona) .The spending that they would bring would definitely help the economy, while also helping them patrol the seas and stopping the onslaught of Syrian, Libyan and Moroccan refugees/migrants, drug smuggling from Latin America. At the same time the Baltic countries are dead frightened of Russia and crying for the EU to get its own army, for fear that the USA might decide not to intervene should Russia test article 5 of NATO (http://www.nato.int/terrorism/five.htm). So you have to ask yourself: what else is standing in the way?

      I think there’s a lack of perceived necessity by those that matter, namely the Germans, who don’t seem to take the “Russian expansionist” line very seriously.
      At the moment, the defence of Europe is guaranteed purely by the guarantees offered by the USA. Perhaps the best incentive to speed up European Defence Integration would be to remove that guarantee. This sounds a bit crazy, I know. NATO is at the very heart of the post WWII geopolitical structure of the world. But it gives defence to Europe without much cost. It is dangerous to speculate about counter factuals because one always finds an “if” that would have allowed the desired “then” to take place, but I always wondered what would ave happened whether if the Korean War hadn’t happened and if Stalin had lived another 4 years the French would have voted down the European Defence and Political Communities. I don’t think Russia will test article 5, but a couple of more wars like Iraq and Afghanistan and I’m not sure the US guarantee will be worth the paper it is written on. Then perhaps the immediacy of European defence needs may become obvious. Ultimately, in no other field than defence is it more true that “Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises” or as Churchill said of the USA, “they will do the right thing, after exhausting every other possibility”.

      I hope this answers your questions. Sorry for the long reply.

      All the best,
      Filipe

      • David says:

        Greetings Filipe,

        Thanks very much for taking the time to provide very detailed analysis. No need to apologize for length, it was very interesting!

        I agree with your analysis that Juncker’s push for a European army was upstaged by Grexit, and pushing and cajoling for a long term project like an EU army would deplete “political capital” which would detract from the Greek crisis. It seems this Greek crisis continues to fester and has even extended past the IMF deadline. Nevertheless, do you suppose Juncker might push for an EU army at the October and December EU summits? Or perhaps wait for the revision of the European Security Strategy in June 2016?

        Javier Solana is a very interesting character that has played a big role in past EU defence integration. His five-year hiatus from EU politics, only to return to go on a “road show” for EU defence, is not entirely surprising. But the timing is certainly interesting. However, your analysis makes sense. Just to make sure I understand correctly, are you saying that Solana will not return to EU politics specifically, because doing so would require returning to Spanish national politics before returning to EU politics? I see what you mean, in that returning to Spanish politics would involve a “step-down” into a messier situation so to speak.

        You have very valid points about how there probably is not a more “ripe” time for these changes. Greece has been asked to make spending cuts in the area of defence to compensate for the money they owe the EU/IMF. This would be quite the opportunity (good or bad), to push for a more integrated European military, which would allow Greece to make the necessary defence spending cuts. The threats in the Mediterranean region, as well as Russia in the east, certainly require some kind of coordinated planning and response, military or not.

        As a matter of fact, I saw an article that stated that the defence budgets of many member states have been cut so dramatically that they are unable to do military exercises alone…they need the logistics and support that other neighboring armies provide. Indeed, a European army would in fact save money, but of course this would involve a cost-benefit analysis before proceeding. Indeed, if the entire Eastern hemisphere had its own army, it would save money, but would have very serious risks to be reckoned with. Which in your article, you do in fact address the democratic risks of a pan-European army.

        Indeed, these concerns about accountability are certainly not limited to an EU army, but to the U.S. army as well. As it stands, the U.S. president can deploy troops at will to any place in the world and have them perform a “military operation” for up to 60 days (if I remember correctly). This is why the U.S. has never had a Congressional declaration of war for many years. We merely have “military operations.” And it is quite clear that if American troops are at war for 60 days, they are so deep into it they cannot just pack up and go home. As a result, Congress approves the mission, because we are already at war if we have been fighting for 60 days. This is a situation that I (and many in Congress) would gladly revise, making it more accountable to Congress.

        The security architecture of the Western world needs some type of revision. You probably have a much better handle on what that architecture should look like than I do, since you have researched it much more. Nevertheless, I agree with your fears that the NATO article 5 guarantees by the U.S. to Europe will gradually deteriorate. Whoever the US President is at the time of a major crisis, he/she will have to face the American public if he/she starts a war to defend one of the smaller, less well known (in America) NATO states. Unfortunately, I could see public whims quickly dropping the desire to be in the NATO alliance altogether. In my personal opinion, we have made a promise to our allies to defend them. We should be ready and willing to keep that promise, or do our allies a favor and be straightforward in who we will defend and who we will not, by pulling out of the treaty/revising it. Part of me can’t blame European nations for low defence spending, since the leaders there are accountable to their electorate, who will wonder why money is spent on defence when they are already safe. But of course, the status quo on defence spending is unsustainable, at least as it relates to NATO.

        As for the American-pillar + European pillar, model of NATO, it is certainly an interesting solution. How do you think NATO should be revised? Should it be done away with? Or do you see an EU army as something that would render NATO unnecessary in its present form?

        Many thanks for your thoughts. My apologies for the long post.

        Regards,

        David

      • fmpdea says:

        Hi David,

        Thank you for the interesting reply. No need to apologise about the length.

        I think that Juncker wants to put defence integration on the table. He’s the first Commission President that can claim a democratically legitimate mandate (contrarily to other Presidents, he actually won an election). That’s the type of legitimacy that gives you the authority to pursue a proper agenda of EU integration. And no other policy tops defence integration. But for now he is stuck in the mud because of Greece, regardless of his policy agenda (although clearly if he’s got bigger plans, that’d explain his frustration with Greece). Returning to the issue of political capital, whether he brings up defence integration in the Fall or Winter, will depend on how much he can buy and how many enemies he may have made along the way, dealing with Greece.

        Regarding your second question about Solana, yes I think he’ll return to EU politics. However, I think he’ll get picked for a EU position not through Spanish politics, and only if the issues I discussed above are dealt with in a way that does allow for there to be a semblance of foreseeable success in any such endeavour. If I was Juncker I’d want him on board, and I believe that they have a long standing professional relationship, if not a personal friendship. But it’s contingent on how other things play out. And they are not looking good…

        As for the desirability of a EU-USA NATO or whether the alliance will fall. This is one of those hugely open ended questions. The USA has the human and physical infrastructure necessary to be the world’s police. But its interpretations, fears and interests often diverge from those of Europe. Iraq is but one example. Conflicts that are distant for the USA are easily too close for comfort for the EU. The Arab spring didn’t bring an unmanageable mass of refugees to knock on the doors of the USA. Short of a crisis, the USA would always be the senior partner in any such relationship, at least in the ST, but a EU seat would be much more than the sum of its parts and would probably balance the scales. But then we return to the issue of what could trigger European defence integration. If indeed it would require the dissolution of NATO, then the point is mute. If however, a simple pull back would be enough (say to redirect efforts to Asia if China and Japan start making trouble, or to the Middle East to sort out ISIS), then a 2-pole partnership might indeed emerge.

        Regarding the architecture, I’m not sure. As with any type of organisation you’d want it to have the ability to take decisive action, with a clear and well trained chain of command and an established esprit de corps, but still be constrained by checks and balances. I’d probably fashion it after a similar but slightly more limited version of the US, but not by much. India probably offers the best template for how to manage the multiplicity of languages and cultures in a EU military, while China’s example is probably a good template on how to rearm and update yourself quickly.
        .
        If you had the opportunity to read other posts on this website, you will probably not be surprised to hear I am a European federalist and very much in favour of a European Military. For me however, the existence of a military infrastructure is appealing not on emotional grounds or out of some fetish for uniforms but because of the economies it offers for disaster relief, R&D and fiscal savings. Meanwhile and although I’m not a specialist, I’m under the impression that making military conscription compulsory after any conflict lasts over a given period of time would surely serve as a check on expansionism, militarism and other empty headed approaches to the moral vacuum and human desolation that is warfare, by making it a salient issue on everyone’s mind.

        It’s also quite interesting to consider what Europe’s new defence strategies will be. Clearly East and South are the exposed borders. There’d be a reflex to “deal” with North Africa and plenty of voices in Greece, France and Italy would boast about the need to turn the sea into a mare nostrum…

        What do you think?

        Best,
        Filipe

  2. David says:

    Filipe,

    My sincerest apologies for not replying sooner. I have been meaning to reply to you these past few weeks. I find these topics very interesting. I also had the chance to peruse one of your other blog posts on Greece, which was very interesting. These are topics I would like to learn more about, so I will be giving your posts a closer look. Indeed, you are very right that Greece has been detracting political capital from defence integration. Juncker has gotten strangely quiet about a lot of things since the EUCO, especially the “EU army.” Indeed, Grexit has thoroughly stolen the show from the defence integration efforts. Indeed, Hollande, Merkel, and Schauble have taken the limelight. Hollande’s proposal for a eurozone government, adds an interesting twist to the plot of this story that is European integration. I have heard he is doing all of this to gain political favor back at home. But I wonder if he can gain German support? It seems this would be very hard to do.

    In addition to Juncker, other notable defence integrationists, such as Guy Verhofstadt and Javier Solana, seem to have had their efforts fizzle out immediately after the disappointing EUCO. Solana is supposed to be on tour presenting his plan for European defence, and has a handful more capitals to visit in the second half of 2015, if I understand correctly. Nevertheless, his entire Task Force report was geared towards June EUCO. So maybe they are all waiting for all the Eurozone excitement to die down, before proceeding. I wonder what his response will be to the EUCO conclusions? Perhaps he is taking it in stride, waiting for another opportunity.

    If all of this changes, it will be interesting to see what legal options are available in the Treaty of Lisbon for Juncker taking on Solana. What do you think? A new “defence commissioner?” President of a forthcoming Eurogroup of defence? I know Juncker already has a defence advisor or sorts (Michel Barnier). Perhaps the most legally available option would be an ad hoc role of some kind?

    Of course all of this hinges on the still pending migration and economic issues to tone down. Which looks very unlikely at the moment, as you mentioned. The US media, on the mainstream left and the mainstream right, has gotten up on its high horse about how the Eurozone cannot have “monetary union without fiscal union.” I largely agree with their economic sentiments, but the tone of this could certainly be improved. You mentioned before that you are a European federalist. Do you think the EU will move towards federalism based on the French initiative? Will it become a Franco-German initative? Or do you think it will flop? I know Schäuble is federalist, which I find interesting considering his position at EUCO. What is your take on all of these initiatives?

    I found it interesting, your blog post, about how Germany would in fact lose money if Grexit took place. Which does make sense, since they would have much less hope on collecting on the debt. I plan to look at your other blog posts. Your post on the Roman empire looks very fascinating.

    As far as the NATO structure, the interests of the EU and US certainly diverge at times. Furthermore, the US has two large bodies of water protecting us from enemies on either side. In contrast, as you mentioned, North Africa can cause quite the problems for Europe’s security, since militants can covertly migrate in. Nevertheless, in recent history, the US has been more aggressive in its foreign policy, while the EU has naturally been much less so, due to the fact (as you noted) the direct geographic connection to the affected areas. Ideally, this balance helpful, because it would theoretically prevent the US from becoming too aggressive. (Whether or not this has been effective remains another question).

    It will certainly be interesting to see how everything plays out for European integration in the coming months and years (both politically and economically).

    Sorry again for the delayed reply. What are your thoughts?

    Sincerely,

    David

    • fmpdea says:

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your reply and for the kind compliments and interest for the other blog posts. No need to apologise for taking a long time. Clearly, there’s no rush in discussing these topics. They’ll probably outlive us in their glacial pace towards wherever they may be going. I understand you are busy with life. 🙂

      That being said, I just wanted to say that it will take me some time until I can post a reply to your comment and questions as I am managing quite a large work-load. So please bear with me.

      Until then, apologies for the inconvenience.
      Filipe

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