With German Support, A European Army Looks More Likely

A German soldier salutes the flag in Bonn, January 29, 2013
A German soldier salutes the flag in Bonn, January 29, 2013 (Bundeswehr/Alexander Linden)

It looks like a European army might really happen.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, endorsed the call of French president Emmanuel Macron for an EU fighting force.

She praised the 25 member states — Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom are not participating — that committed last year to enhance interoperability, pool their defense procurement and improve military logistics under the so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

But a proper army, she said, would make war in Europe impossible and “complement” the NATO alliance. Read more “With German Support, A European Army Looks More Likely”

Nine EU Countries Establish Joint Military Intervention Force

Commandos from four NATO countries fast-rope from a V-22 Osprey during an exercise at Montijo Air Base, Portugal, October 27, 2015
Commandos from four NATO countries fast-rope from a V-22 Osprey during an exercise at Montijo Air Base, Portugal, October 27, 2015 (USAF/Chris Sullivan)

Nine European countries have agreed to establish a joint military intervention force. The proposal came from French president Emmanuel Macron.

The European Intervention Initiative is separate from the EU and NATO, allowing the United Kingdom, which is leaving the European Union, to take part.

Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain will also provide troops.

Italy, under a new populist government, has backtracked on its initial support but not ruled out joining later. Read more “Nine EU Countries Establish Joint Military Intervention Force”

France Eyes Non-EU Military Force, Trump Governs by Bluffing

Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13, 2017 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Reuters reports that France is looking to create a European military crisis force outside the EU, so the United Kingdom can participate.

The idea aims to bring together European countries with a military capacity and political desire to collaborate on planning, carry out joint analyses of emerging crises and to react to them quickly.

Almost all EU countries have committed to deepening military integration inside the union as well under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

All of this, of course, is happening against the backdrop of America’s withdrawal from Europe under Donald Trump. Read more “France Eyes Non-EU Military Force, Trump Governs by Bluffing”

EU Defense Union Worries Americans, Social Democrats Rally the Troops

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison of the United States going into a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels, February 14 (NATO)

Americans continue to worry that closer defense cooperation in Europe might compromise NATO.

Echoing Madeleine Albright’s “three Ds” — no duplication, no decoupling, no discrimination against non-EU NATO states — Kay Bailey Hutchison, the United States ambassador to NATO, warned on Wednesday that European efforts shouldn’t be “protectionist, duplicative of NATO work or distracting from their alliance responsibilities.”

“In Texas we say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” the former senator added.

But transatlantic solidarity goes two ways. On the same day Hutchison cautioned European allies against weakening NATO, Defense Secretary James Mattis hectored them for failing to meet their defense spending targets.

Their boss, Donald Trump, has in the past declared NATO “obsolete”. Little wonder Europe is making its own plans.

Many of which complement NATO, from improving mobility by creating a “military Schengen” to developing a European infantry fighting vehicle.

Also read Tobias Buck in the Financial Times, who reports that Germany still has a long way to go before it can lead a European army. Read more “EU Defense Union Worries Americans, Social Democrats Rally the Troops”

EU Countries Deepen Defense Cooperation Outside NATO

German Leopard tanks on exercise in Bergen, January 23, 2015
German Leopard tanks on exercise in Bergen, January 23, 2015 (Bundeswehr)

European countries have agreed to deepen defense cooperation outside NATO.

The so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation involves 23 of the EU’s 28 member states.

Ireland and Portugal are expected to join later. Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom will probably stay out.

All EU countries in Central and Eastern Europe have signed up, despite their wariness of weakening defense ties with the United States. Read more “EU Countries Deepen Defense Cooperation Outside NATO”

European Military Cooperation Need Not Weaken NATO

Italian and Portuguese army units take part in a NATO exercise in Santa Margarida, Portugal, October 21, 2015
Italian and Portuguese army units take part in a NATO exercise in Santa Margarida, Portugal, October 21, 2015 (Sebastien Frechette)

Tomáš Valášek, the director of Carnegie Europe, argues that European allies cannot assume Donald Trump’s aversion to NATO is an anomaly and the next president will put things right. The United States have been cooling on NATO for years, he writes:

A number of factors — a crisis in Europe that grips Americans’ imagination, an articulate pro-European leader in Washington, a crisis in the United States that the European allies help resolve — could revive America’s flagging interest in the alliance it created nearly seventy years ago. But for now, the passage of time and memories work against NATO.

Valášek is nevertheless uneasy about Europeans exploring a “backup” to the Atlantic alliance, arguing that continental security cooperation cannot come close to what Europe and North America have now.

Without plans, commands and sophisticated weapons in meaningful numbers, the Europeans may not on their own impress Russia, he warns — “and may therefore be unable to deter it from misbehaving.” Read more “European Military Cooperation Need Not Weaken NATO”

Slowly But Surely, Europe Gets Serious About Its Own Defense

Portuguese submarine
The Portuguese submarine Tridente participates in naval exercises with ships from NATO allies, November 5, 2015 (NATO)

The European Commission proposed a huge increase in defense research spending on Wednesday, the same day Belgium and the Netherlands agreed to jointly replace their aging frigates and minesweepers.

Both moves underscore that Europe is getting more serious about its own defense and come only weeks after the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, reiterated his support for an EU army. Read more “Slowly But Surely, Europe Gets Serious About Its Own Defense”

Post Brexit, France May Get the European Army It Always Wanted

British prime minister David Cameron welcomes President François Hollande of France at Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, January 31, 2014
British prime minister David Cameron welcomes President François Hollande of France at Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, January 31, 2014 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

I argued here last year that a European army wasn’t going to happen. Only the French were interested, I wrote. The Germans were ambivalent. The British were against it. “Defense is a national — not an EU — responsibility,” they said at the time, when Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, floated the idea of a defense union.

Now Juncker is back with his proposal and the difference, of course, is that the British are leaving.

The Luxemburger reiterated his support for an EU army in a speech to the European Parliament last week, sending Britain’s Euroskeptic press into a frenzy. “Nigel Farage was right!” roared the Sunday Express. “Got out just in time,” opined The Sun.

It’s easy to dismiss Juncker’s idea as just the latest tone-deaf European federalist scheme that will go nowhere — and this would have been true if the United Kingdom wasn’t on the way out.

Now we have to take this seriously. (Thanks, Brexiteers.) Read more “Post Brexit, France May Get the European Army It Always Wanted”

Juncker’s European Army Is Not Going to Happen

British prime minister David Cameron welcomes President François Hollande of France at Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, January 31, 2014
British prime minister David Cameron welcomes President François Hollande of France at Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, January 31, 2014 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

The European Union is unlikely to establish the army commission president Jean-Claude Juncker calls for — especially now tensions with Russia are so high.

Juncker, the former premier of Luxembourg who has presided over the bloc’s executive arm since November, lamented in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt on Sunday that Europe has lost respect in the world.

“In foreign policy too, we don’t seem to be taken entirely seriously,” he said.

Put together, the countries in the European Union are the world’s largest economy. Yet divergent interests and the existence of NATO as a joint defense force have often undermined the bloc’s influence on the world stage.

A single European army, Juncker said, “would send a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending European values.”

Which is exactly why establishing such an army now — if at all — would be problematic.

Russian insecurity

The Atlantic Sentinel‘s James R. Pritchett argued in 2009 that “a militarized EU would pose a markedly similar presence to NATO to be almost identical, if not more threatening, to Russia’s position and sense of security.”

It is Russia’s insecurity complex that compelled it to invade Ukraine last year and annex the Crimea when Europe was on the verge of signing an association agreement with the former Soviet state. It has criticized NATO expansion since the end of the Cold War and rightly sees the spread of liberal democratic and economic values under the auspices of EU enlargement as a challenge to its regime stability. If even a fellow Slavic people like the Ukrainians can be “Westernized,” why should Russians continue to live under authoritarian governments like Vladimir Putin’s?

A European army would send a “clear message” to Russia all right. But is Juncker really prepared for the consequences?

Disinterest

What is more, Europe’s main military powers are far from eager to join forces.

France, which has Europe’s largest army in terms of manpower, might be interested in a single European defense. But only if it was in charge.

The United Kingdom, the European country that spends the most on its military, has no interest in a European army whatsoever.

“Our position is crystal clear,” said a government spokesperson after Juncker made his proposal: “that defense is a national — not an EU — responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army.”

Germany’s defense minister, Ursula Von der Leyen, was ambiguous at best. Europe’s largest economy might be prepared to put its soldiers under the control of another nation “under certain circumstances” but “not in the short term,” she said.

The reason countries hesitate is that a European army would naturally compete with NATO, whatever Juncker’s claims to the contrary. Few European governments are interested in weakening that transatlantic bond.

Sovereignty

Further integration of armed forces would also raise tricky questions about national sovereignty.

To quote Pritchett once more, what would such a force be “but an autonomous gendarmerie, keeping everyone towing the same European line even if they didn’t want to?”

One dreads the possibility that Brussels could order action to prevent “cessation from the union” by military force.

That may be far-fetched. Then again, if a European army were not centrally commanded from Brussels, what would be the point of it?

The reality is that so long as NATO exists and EU member states remain just that; states, there is no reason for a separate and single European fighting force.

Austerity Could Improve European Defense

Complaints of Europe “free riding” on American power are hardly new. The limits of the continent’s military capacity was most recently tested in Libya but Americans have complained for years that they’re investing far more in defense than Europe is in NATO. The era of austerity, they might fear, will only make Europe’s dependence on America worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a farewell address as American defense secretary to Europe earlier this month, Robert Gates criticized NATO partners for their military ineptitude, warning that there is a “dwindling appetite and patience in the US Congress” for continuing to make up for Europe’s lack of defense spending.

Politicians and public alike, Gates added, are increasingly resistant to spending “precious funds on behalf of nations [that] are apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”

The continent’s dependence on American military support was laid bare in the ongoing Libya campaign when Britain and France could not destroy the country’s air defenses on their own while minor partners quickly ran out of bombs, forcing Norway to end its participation in the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

The mightiest military alliance in history is only eleven weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference.

Gates was correct to point out that Europe’s defense budgets have suffered countless cutbacks since the end of the Cold War whereas the United States, after 9/11, more than doubled military spending, in part to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the start of last decade however, American defense spending was down $100 billion compared to 1989. In 2010, defense accounted for nearly 20 percent of federal spending or 4.7 percent of gross domestic product. This approximates 1980s levels of defense spending compared to the size of the overall economy. In may be argued then that the current American defense posture is far from normal and was necessitated, in part, by two major land wars, both of which should draw to a close during the first half of this decade.

European defense spending, by contrast, is at an historic low. Today Albania, France, Greece and the United Kingdom are the only members in NATO besides the United States to spend more than 2 percent of GDP on defense. The explicit American security guarantee that is embedded in NATO is part of the reason for the other allies to spend far less; the lack of a credible threat within Europe being another. Why have an army if there’s no one to invade you?

Despite low military spending levels, nearly all NATO allies are engaged in Afghanistan with upward of 35,000 non-American troops. Europeans do more training than fighting and different national mandates complicate their ability to deploy force but in Afghanistan, for the first time in the alliance’s history, NATO invoked Article 5 which compelled its members to come to America’s aid after the 2001 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.

Europeans, in particular Britain and France, took the lead in the Libyan intervention, pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that authorized military action and launching airstrikes before the United States could commence their offensive. Since disabling the country’s air defenses, American armed forces have scaled down their involvement to such a minimum extent that according to the White House, they aren’t even engaged in “hostilities” in North Africa anymore.

Britain and France may have been able to impose a no-fly zone alone, if barely, but so far, attempts to coordinate defense policy between them have only been modestly successful. Differences in military capabilities and ethos become all the more pronounced — and problematic — if most pacifist countries like Germany were to be included. It wouldn’t even endorse the Security Council resolution that prompted the campaign in Libya.

The problem with Europe’s defense capacity is not that it’s too small — while spending half of what America does on defense, European countries have 2 compared to 1.5 million service members on active duty — but that it is uncoordinated. NATO can go to war as one thanks to uniform ranks, codes and procedures but Europe is still hesitant to effectively pull its resources as it would ask of nations, especially smaller ones, that they surrender their independent defense capacity.

Austerity may finally convince European countries to specialize. Britain, for instance, doesn’t have an aircraft carrier in service today but France does. Germany and the Netherlands have maintained a joint army corps since 1995. As the latter prepares to eliminate all of its tank units, German armor should come to play a bigger role. Dutch and German navies developed the De Zeven Provinciën or Sachsen class frigate together while France and Italy collaborate in the similar Horizon project. Eurocopter already provides helicopters for different European armed forces. Saab offers the JAS 39 Gripen as an alternative to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

In the end, there is no reason to assume that Europe will fully shoulder its own defense responsibility as long as NATO exists. American defense contractors will probably continue to dominate the industry for several more decades, underlining Europe’s reliance on American hardware and technology. But budget cuts needn’t degrade the continent’s armed forces necessarily. Rather they could be an opportunity to boost Europe’s common defense potential.