By Andrei Akulov
Europe faces a deteriorating security environment. The issue of creating a European joint military has recently come to the fore.
Germany and France will relaunch closer European military cooperation this month and could start a common defence fund.
The fund, which could start on a small scale in 2017, could be backed by the European Investment Bank to finance projects. Other proposals could include enlarging cooperation between forces. Germany and the Netherlands have combined tank and naval forces and want to develop a common surface-to-air defence. French and British forces agreed in 2010 to work together. The list can go on.
It gives rise to the question – is there a secret plan to create an EU army?
The need for creating European military and operational structures is an issue included into the EU Global Strategy report prepared by EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, for the June 28 summit.
The plans foresee the development of new European military and operational structures, including joint headquarters. They are supported by Germany and other countries as the first step towards an EU army.
Remarkably, the idea to create a «Euro Army» has long been brewing in minds of EU leaders.
The concept has been strongly advocated by Javier Solana, who has held the positions of former NATO Secretary General, the European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary General of the Council of the European Union and Secretary-General of the Western European Union.
«The EU needs to strengthen its strategic and institutional capabilities, as well as cooperation over resources. Ultimately, this should amount to a European Defense Union (EDU), which would support NATO in providing territorial defense. Moreover, an ambitious EU foreign policy aimed at reducing instability and state fragility at its borders would take on security responsibilities through the use of military force and rapid response», Solana writes in a Wall Street Journal article.
NATO is not enough, Europe needs an army, says EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
According to him, NATO was not enough because not all members of the transatlantic defence alliance are in the EU. Juncker said, a common EU army would send important signals to the world.
Germany is pushing for progress towards a European army by advocating joint headquarters and shared military assets. A secret German defence white paper calling for the acceleration of the formation of a joint European Union Army has been leaked, revealing German ambitions to side-line NATO by creating a pan-EU force. The paper had seen its release date pushed back until after the British referendum on EU membership, apparently over fears that it would play into the hands of those advocating a leave vote. But a copy has been handed to the Financial Times, revealing the scale of Germany’s ambition for a pan-EU Army – led by Germany.
Last year, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen threw her weight behind the idea of a European Union army, floated by Jean-Claude Juncker. «I am convinced that a European army or a European defense union can be created as a logical consequence of European integration», Ms von der Leyen said during the Brussels Forum, a foreign-policy conference in Brussels.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that on December 27, during an interview published in the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Germany Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that «we will have to spend a lot more funds for joint European defense initiatives…[as] ultimately our aim must be a joint European army».
President of the European Council Donald Tusk noted that Europeans should consider «a new and more ambitious defense and security policy», and «not only as part of NATO».
Czech President Miloš Zeman has backed the initiative for the creation of a joint European army.
The UK strongly opposes the idea. Great Britain will never be part of an EU army, the government has insisted. Following a report that Brussels is moving to promote greater military cooperation between EU member states, a government spokesman said: «The Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear that the UK will never be a part of an EU army. We retain a veto on all defence matters in the EU, and we will oppose any measures which would undermine member states’ military forces».
«Britain will never be part of an EU army. We have a veto on all EU defence matters and we would oppose any move to create one», says British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon as the June 23 referendum on EU membership gets closer.
«EU army plans kept secret from voters», was the front-page story in the Times.
Just two days before the Times publication, a retired British army commander, Major General Tim Ross, had claimed in the Daily Express that the EU was «moving inexorably towards full political union and all that comes with it», including «unified armed forces».
Former defense secretary Liam Fox warned that «Europe’s defence intentions are a dangerous fantasy» that risked cutting the UK off from the US, «our closest and most powerful ally».
There is some contradiction here. The UK government stands for EU membership before the Brexit referendum, but rejects a concept to further strengthen the bloc’s integration. Liam Fox’s statement explains the reasons behind this stance.
The UK is a staunch US ally inside the European Union. The idea of an EU army independent from the overseas partner gives Washington the jitters as it would lose its grip on Europe when it comes to key security issues. The EU would pour its money into its own armed forces while NATO is desperately trying to convince its European members to spend not less than 2 percent of their GDP on the Alliance’s needs. A Euro Army could remove the raison d’être for US forces in Europe. The whole concept of NATO dictates that Europe’s defenses should be incomplete, because part of the point is to keep the US involved in Europe. But is it not time for the EU, with 28 members, to be able to mount protection and peace-keeping missions in and around its own region? It may become especially acute if Donald Trump, known for his proclivity to disparage the role of NATO, wins the US presidential election.
In the recent past, EU countries, and especially the UK, have become embroiled in conflicts they had no need to enter. There was no good rationale, other than solidarity with the United States, to join interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. These two lessons of the past are enough to militate in favor of giving precedence to European, rather than transatlantic, security interests.
Europe becoming responsible for its own security would become more independent and flexible on the Russian sanctions and other issues, even when it contradicts the interests of the United States. The differences dividing the EU and Russia are not forever, unlike the common security threats they face together. Cooperation 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 the Asia «pivot» and its «global commitments».
Time will show, whether a Euro Army will become a reality or remain an unrealistic pipe dream. But nothing can change the fact – the trend to independence from the United States in the field of security is gaining momentum on the European continent.
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About the author
Andrei Akulov is a retired colonel and Moscow-based expert on international security issues