DEBATE: Should the EU have an army?
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.