European army: Not a bad idea after all?

Last week, on a French radio station, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke about the need to create a « real European army » to handle the Russian threat and to emancipate Europe from its dependence on the US.

« When I see President Trump announce a few weeks ago that he will pull out of a major disarmament treaty, which was signed after the euromissile crisis in the middle of the 1980s which struck Europe. Who is the principal victim? Europe and its security. » French President Emmanuel Macron

The US President Donald Trump considered the proposal « insulting » while the Russian President Vladimir Putin thought it was a « positive » development. A few days after this interview, the Russian Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov warned Europe was the biggest loser from the decision from the United States to exit the INF treaty, confirming the last statement of the French President.  “It was evident in 1987 and continues to be: the big winner was Europe, because Europe was the place where American medium and shorter-range missiles were deployed – and Europe was consequently the target of similar Soviet missiles.”

EU army: a new idea?

Macron’s desire to build a European army is a reflection that the Continent has woken up to the reality that it needs to stand on its own two feet, instead of relying on the U.S. on security.

It has long been a French idea, one that Charles de Gaulle tried to organize unsuccessfully in the 1950s (project for a European Defence Community). For the most part, European nations have been content to participate in NATO for collective defense, with an American guarantee under an American nuclear umbrella. Even France returned to the NATO command structure in 2009, 43 years after Mr. de Gaulle pulled it out in 1966 and sent NATO packing off to Belgium.

Yet in 2015, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker opened the debate by stating that the EU needed an army to handle Russia.

Then, last year, Macron has pushed policies to share troops between European states to promote a convergence of European “strategic cultures.” More broadly, European efforts like the launch of PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) and the European Defence Fund have helped to pool resources.

German Chancellor Merkel joins Macron in calling for a European Army ‘one day’

A few days after the World War I commemorations, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said at the European Parliament on November 13th that Europe’s future should include “a real European army.”

“We should work on a vision to create a real European army one day. Such an army would show the world that there will never again be war between European nations.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Stressing that such an army would not be “against NATO” but complement it, the chancellor also proposed a European Security Council with rotating seats for member states that would make speedy foreign policy decisions without the need for unanimity.

“We have to reconsider our ways of deciding and to renounce the principle of unanimity where the European treaties allow and wherever this is necessary. I proposed a European security council, in which important decisions can be prepared faster.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel

An European army to meet US expectations?

According to Politico analysis, that’s exactly what US President Trump has said he wants. “The U.S. president should be celebrating that idea, as Presidents before him, too, have repeated that America is spending too much to protect rich European allies” the journalist wrote. Finally, France doesn’t see efforts to increase European security independence as being in competition with NATO. The end goal is to create a more mature and balanced partnership in the long run.

An EU army will not weaken NATO

The US feared that this European army could weaken NATO, and would prefer that European nations bolster their military capabilities within the NATO alliance.

“We support the European efforts to increase defense spending at NATO and also their military capabilities as a means to achieve a more equitable burden-sharing in the transatlantic security relationship. (…) Whatever should be done should not take away from NATO’s efforts. We would not want the weakening of NATO State” US Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert

Likewise, at the recent NATO industry forum, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted on the importance of EU/US relations above all.

“More European efforts on defence is great but it should never undermine the strength of the transatlantic bond” Jens Stoltenberg

The path towards an EU army could be a win-win situation. Europe faces now numerous logistical obstacles to greater military and defence integration, including too many different weapons systems. On Monday, at the Berlin Forum, the NATO Secretary General stressed that: “we must address the fragmentation of our defence industry, especially in Europe. We can and we must achieve greater efficiency by working more closely together. For example, there are 17 different types of main battle tanks. In the United States there is only one. In Europe 13 different types of Air-to-Air Missile. United States has three. And European nations 29 different types of naval frigate. United States has four. » A better coordinated and stronger Europe is in the interest of NATO.


But the “elephant in the room” behind all the debates, tweets and statements is: will Europe continue to buy American products? Are we going towards a “Europe first”? The last purchase of F35 in Belgium shows that America has still a market in Europe….for how long?



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