Government and Institutions

DEBATE: Should the EU have an army?

When Britain leaves the European Union, it will herald the departure of one of the bloc’s major defence spenders, and its keenest opponent of military integration. Almost 25% of current EU military expenditure comes from the UK. Britain has long maintained its preference for NATO, blocking any moves towards an integrated defence force. But could the tide be turning?

As recent pronouncements from the likes of Donald Tusk, Guy Verhovstadt and several national leaders have established, defence integration is indisputably on the European policy agenda. Last week, German President Angela Merkel used a speech in Strasbourg to back Emmanuel Macron’s earlier calls for the creation of a European defence force.

“We should work on the vision of one day creating a real European army… In full awareness of the developments of the last few years,” she said, in an apparent reference to President Trump and his avowed “America First” stance. Others, like Hungarian premiere Viktor Orban, have backed a border army to police the Union’s external borders, citing security concerns amidst the migrant crisis.

On our debate blog this week, members of the IEA team assess the pros and cons of an EU army. Is military integration a sensible response to changing geopolitical realities, or a symptom of federalist overreach? Does NATO offer good value for money by maintaining the peace, or is the organisation simply an ineffective relic of a bygone era?

Adam Bartha, EPICENTER Director, says YES

Donald Trump might be right in criticising EU countries when it comes to the threshold of 2% of GDP spending guideline on military expenditures, which almost none of the European countries meet.

Yet the US and most continental European countries have historically taken a different attitude towards defence spending. On the whole, Europe has favoured defence, while the US has typically favoured offence — supposedly to defend. Europe, entirely dependent on American protection during the Cold War and thereafter, had to tag along in numerous American militarist adventures; Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria to name but a few. But there was far less appetite for these interventions amongst European policy makers than their American counterparts, not the mention the general population. So is it not time to reflect these realities by creating a European army able to determine its own actions, instead of following the US lead all the time

Free-market liberals and libertarians often oppose any spending increases for the military. In the US, they do it with good reason; The immense military budget of the American administration is mostly spent on policing the globe. However, in Europe the situation is different. Those who want lasting peace and fewer foreign interventions should support increased military spending on an EU level and policy ideas to create a more united European force.

At the moment the limited budgets of European countries are often spent in a wasteful, incoherent manner; many small countries having parallel structures, bureaucracies and equipment. As with any government department, defence departments spend far more on the internal structures than external actions. Even the external actions are not necessarily in the best interest of European countries; the aforementioned military interventions were conducted after political pressure from the US. Cut wasteful spending by eliminating parallel structures and useless military endeavours and suddenly the EU’s combined military spending will account for much more.

The foundations for a more efficient defence mechanism are already in place: The Common Security and Defence Policy has existed since 1999 and was strengthened with the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel were not the first EU leaders to support European military ambitions; predecessors Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl proposed the same in the 1990s.

If Europe is forced to face geopolitical challenges with less reliance on the US, it will no longer have to play the role of ‘baby brother’ in bombing the Middle East and North Africa. This will not only save money for European taxpayers, but also allow governments to focus on the most pressing challenges: expanding Russian influence in the Eastern Europe and violence from non-state actors. Even under a new EU leadership, some would be pushing for a more interventionist foreign policy, but Germany and its more pacifistic population would be most likely able to counter them.

America should remain the EU’s key NATO ally after the UK. Any new EU military forces should cooperate closely with our nearest allies when it comes to training, intelligence and Research and Development for military purposes. But from an economic and foreign policy perspective, uniting European forces is the way forward.

NO, says the IEA’s Digital Manager Darren Grimes

Throughout the referendum, the prospect of an EU army was dismissed as the alarmist ramblings of swivel-eyed Eurosceptics. How wrong the naysayers were, as it turns out.

An EU army would spell the end of independent foreign policy for member states and would likely mean the establishment of a rotating Security Council, a European Intervention Force and an increase in cooperation in military matters. Given the current state of our EU negotiations, the UK may well become entangled in this new branch of federalist meddling.

The notion that Europe requires an army to protect itself from America (as Macron and Merkel implied) is ludicrous and offensive to the continent’s oldest and most important ally. It also undermines NATO, the organisation which has genuinely kept the peace in Europe since 1945.

Critics of NATO bemoan annual spending commitments (2% of GDP on defence). Yet focusing only on these costs ignores the vital benefits of research sharing and cooperation, and the counterfactual savings resulting from years of (relative) stability in Europe. The advent of NATO has been accompanied by decades of real-term reductions in defence spending for the UK and other members. Unsurprisingly, war is far worse for the balance sheet than peace.

As well as undermining NATO, we should also question whether an EU army would turn out any differently from the United Nations’ ineffective and costly peacekeepers.

Just look at the way the UN currently manages its security forces. The organisation can only deploy military personnel if granted permission by a Security Council resolution. The Council stipulates how many military personnel are required, while UN Headquarters liaise with the Member States to identify and deploy personnel. It can take a long time, often more than six months from the resolution itself, to get boots and equipment on the ground.

So torturous is this process that former Secretary-General Kofi Annan once described the UN security forces as “the only fire brigade in the world that has to wait for the fire to break out before it can acquire a fire engine.”

To further compound the problem, there are wide-ranging differences of opinion over the role of UN peacekeepers, which recently came to a head in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as rebels advanced on the eastern town of Goma.

The EU, beset with an even slower decision-making process than the UN thanks to centralisation and layers of bureaucracy, will likely suffer from the same problems (and then some).

In fact, we are already seeing signs of divergence. Even European leaders who support the principle of defence integration seem unable to agree on its aims. It’s unclear whether the force would be a symbol of ever-closer union, a small militia to police the continent’s periphery or, as Mr Macron suggested, a mighty force that could fend off global powers like China and Russia. Lacking consensus on its future direction, any EU defence force looks more likely to cement division and waste taxpayers’ money than provide a bulwark against future conflict.

Instead of entertaining grandiose federalist aims, European leaders should instead reach into their collective pockets and honour long-neglected NATO commitments.

5 thoughts on “DEBATE: Should the EU have an army?”

  1. Posted 20/11/2018 at 11:28 | Permalink

    As Brexit Day approaches, there will be a further squeeze on public finances and the government will find it increasingly difficult to make good its promise to spend 2% of GDP on defence – never mind partaking in some form of a European defence force.

    It is not about how much a country spends on defence that matters, but how it goes about spending this money and whether it is getting value for money for its investment or not.

    In no area of defence is this true as in the procurement of military equipment for the Armed Forces, which has been plagued by persistent delays and cost over-runs for as long anyone can remember. In the UK, this is especially applicable to the Trident nuclear submarines programme, which was given the go-ahead by Parliament in July 2016 to proceed to the manufacture and build phase.

    The problems associated with letting uncontested, single-source development contracts like Trident are not only limited to the usual delays and cost over-runs – they extend to the contractual support arrangements put in place to acquire and re-provision additional Support Assets to sustain the platform in-service, for the full period of its service life.

    If past record is anything to go by, this aspect of defence procurement will only deliver further spiralling costs – and a headache for HM Treasury.

    What the Treasury should be budgeting for is the whole-life sustainment cost for this weapons platform – given the fact that the cost of acquiring and re-provisioning Support Assets associated with military equipment over the whole life cycle can be in the order of four to five times the prime equipment costs – which, for Trident has now been estimated at £180bn, and rising. It is hard not to see why there exists an extremely high risk that spending on conventional, non-nuclear equipment programmes (including cyber security) will be crowded out by the excessive cost of the nuclear deterrent in the years ahead.

    Even the then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence admitted to the Public Accounts Committee in October 2015 that, it is the likelihood of financial risks on Trident materialising sometime soon after contract award, which keeps him awake at night.

    Anyone who has worked in the defence engineering industry will know that financial risks start-out as innocuous looking technical risks on the Defence Contractor’s premises, where selected ones are deliberately concealed by the Contractor during the design and development phase, then skilfully transferred to MoD Abbey Wood, Bristol where they suddenly morph into ‘show stopping’ risks and come to the fore immediately after the main investment decision has been taken (as they have done so spectacularly on the Type 45 destroyers with total power blackouts, costing a further £280 million to fix), ultimately ending up as an additional cost burden on the Front Line Commands, who have recently been given day-to-day responsibility for managing the defence equipment budget – resulting in sleepless nights for many other people too!

    This happens because a key behavioural characteristic of Defence Contractors is that they will always choose to conceal technical risks identified early in the programme, by engaging with procurement officials and getting them to focus on declared risks which ordinarily fall in the trivia category, whilst skilfully diverting their attention away from those really huge ‘show stopping’ risks which they will only reveal later on, when things go wrong, to realise their objective of ‘growing’ the Contract by getting Abbey Wood Team Leader to raise Contract Amendments and/or let Post Design Services Contracts.

    They achieve this by contriving situations which entice procurement officials into partaking in detailed design decisions relating to the evolving Technical Solution, and then using this involvement to coerce procurement officials into raising Contract Amendments later on. Indeed, it the very existence of Contract Amendments and PDS Contracts that causes Contractors to conceal ‘show stopping’ risks in the first place!

    These concealed risks then come to the fore immediately after (never before) the main investment decision has been taken, surprising everyone (except the Contractor) and imposing a budget-busting burden on MoD.

    And because there exists no “Code on Ethical Behaviour in Business” which would offer protection to good people on the Contractor’s payroll (generally in the direct labour category) who are driven by strong professional, ethical and moral values and who would otherwise blow the whistle on this conspiracy of concealment, they are forced to remain silent.

    The only people who are not in the know about this blatant scam are those in the pay of the State!

    So, the chances of financial risks coming to the fore on Trident after the main investment decision has been taken are about as certain as night follows day.

    The Trident nuclear submarines were meant to serve as a deterrent to those who would wish to do harm to the UK, but they have ended up posing a threat to the financial security of this country.

  2. Posted 20/11/2018 at 16:12 | Permalink

    I don’t believe the EU is planning an army. I take comfort in the words of Nick Clegg, from a broadcast interview in 2014. They went something like this. “The idea that the EU wants an army is a dangerous fantasy”.

  3. Posted 26/11/2018 at 02:37 | Permalink

    I am disappointed that neither Adam Bartha nor Warren Grimes are prepared to question the widely-held assumptions that lie behind the calamitous military policies that the governments of the UK, the EU, and NATO pursue. For this I recommend that readers consult James Woudhuysen’s “EU militarism is nothing new.”

  4. Posted 29/11/2018 at 23:22 | Permalink

    Calling the Syrian conflict an “American militarist adventure” is seriously ignorant of history. Obama didn’t even want to enforce his own “red lines” until France started bombing the place. And calling the US the EU’s key NATO ally “after the UK” is a real whopper. Who is this clown?

  5. Posted 06/04/2020 at 15:38 | Permalink

    Fellow Europeans,
    Personally Europe needs to build closer ties with Russia, to remove once and for all, past cold war thinking. In doing so, then NATO needs to be accepted By the European Union and Russia to be the neutral alternative for all military harmonization and transparency that the continent as a whole needs to have, that can bring lasting peace. By accepting all non-NATO members like Russia into the alliance, will improve NATO for the better, also the new 48 member alliance would have 11,5 million (regular & reserve) military personnel, not including paramilitary personnel in the figures, that can be reduced to acceptable levels. Also new opportunities will present themselves in resolving the most sensitive of all issues – nuclear weapons, I feel that a modern version of the START talks could take place, the main difference this time will be for the United Kingdom and France, and hosting members Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey to come to the table as well, and for all nine countries to sign a treaty of intent to reduce the current nuclear arsenal to a more acceptable level that also covers future basing in Europe.

    United States – Warheads (deployable 1,600 currently – reduce to 800)
    (total 6,450 currently – reduce to 3,225)
    Russia – Warheads (deployable 1,600 currently – reduce to 800)
    (total 6,490 currently – reduce to 3,225)
    France – Warheads (deployable 280 currently – will not deploy operationally)
    (total 300 currently – will be dismantled and to destroy stockpile)
    United Kingdom – Warheads (deployable 120 currently – will not deploy operationally)
    (total 215 currently – will be dismantled and to destroy stockpile)
    Host Members – will sign to make their countries nuclear free compliant in the future.
    Its long overdue for Europe to be at peace with its self, and work closer with the United Nations in showing the way for other continents to make the world a better place.

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