1350.- Time to close ranks? It’s time for a common EU army

Time to close ranks


German soldiers took part in the ATALANTA operation against Somali pirates in 2008.

When it comes to defence, each member state has so far been content to pump money into its own army. But challenges posed by the conflict in Afghanistan may force a rethink of this policy.

This year could prove to be pivotal for the future of European defence. The countries fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan will find out whether their new counter-insurgency strategy works on the ground. NATO and the European Union will know whether the conflict on Cyprus will be resolved or frozen, which is important because membership of the two alliances, NATO and the EU, has significant overlap and Cyprus is the single-biggest impediment to closer co-operation between the two.

The US and the UK will undertake strategic defence reviews to define the main threats facing them and how to respond. NATO, following the return of France to its military structures, will likewise get a new strategic concept that is supposed to infuse it with renewed relevance. And the EU will learn whether the new foreign policy and security institutions and mechanisms that it has fashioned for itself under the Lisbon treaty make action more coherent and efficient.

Problems revealed by war on Taliban

Since the end of the Cold War two decades ago, various strategic defence reviews undertaken by individual allies have held out the promise of “radical change”. But the impact of such ambitions has often been negligible, not just in the member states but at the supranational level, too. The EU’s battlegroups, for which planning began in 2004, were supposed to make the EU faster and more flexible in reacting to crises. To this day, not a single battlegroup has ever been deployed.

What is different this time around, however, can be summarised in two words: Afghanistan and budgets. Afghanistan has driven home the point that neither NATO nor the EU nor their member states have the means to fight the kind of war that the Taliban are waging. They will have to adapt if they are going to win.

Closer co-operation required

Soaring budget deficits have ramped up the pressure to increase the efficiency of defence spending. The combined defence budgets of the EU’s 27 member states currently amount to around half of the sum the US spends on its military. But because European spending is fragmented and each country essentially maintains a full-service army, a far smaller share than in the US flows into investment, including research and development – €42 billion in Europe and €166bn in the US, according to 2008 figures from the European Defence Agency (EDA). By contrast, the EDA’s 26 member states (all the EU members except Denmark) spent more in absolute terms on personnel than the US, €106bn compared with €93bn. This suggests bloated armed forces that are equipped by an armaments industry that is not as competitive as it could be.

Such figures reinforce the logic behind the EDA, whose projects aim to promote co-operation on research and development and, in the long run, to create an internal defence market. But the EDA and project-based co-operation more generally are still hampered by the engrained habit that the EU’s 27 member states conduct their own threats assessments and strategic planning. The 2003 European Security Strategy, updated in December 2008, is far too general to serve as a strategic guide. But such an overarching guide is sorely needed because EU member states set their defence priorities in strikingly different areas with very little thought given to complementarities and economies of scale. Some member states focus on territorial defence against an imaginary enemy; others are shifting their resources to new kinds of warfare, such as cyber-attacks; yet others see the main task of their armed forces as peacekeeping or state-building, and so put more emphasis on deployability and on ‘softer’ skills and capabilities.

The development of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) over the past decade has been driven in large part by the member states. But in the absence of a proper assessment of the member states’ defence capabilities and how they might complement each other, the ESDP will continue to be hampered by ad-hoc solutions and national policies that are far less efficient than they ought to be. Afghanistan is just the kind of crisis that makes the costs of this approach visible.


Des soldats des troupes françaises de l’EUFOR RCA à leur arrivée à l’aéroport de Bangui, le 30 avril 2014.

As the discussion on a European defence is back on tracks, especially under the impulse of France and Germany, the time has come for creating a common army under the authority of a High Security Council, says journalist and former MEP Olivier Dupuis.

When we talk about a European Army what exactly do we mean? A single or common EU army? An intergovernmental army, or an army under the command of European institutions? An army that is composed of national contingents or an army made of European soldiers? Depending on the answer to these questions, the scenarios that emerge are very diverse, whether it be an (improbable) configuration of 27 States, or a model that combines few select Member States by way of Permanent Structured Cooperation.

A single, intergovernmental European army

This would be a more or less organic alliance among all or some of the national armies of the Member States, a sort of second version of the European Defense Community (EDC) where authority would remain in the hands of the states themselves. In this updated scenario, the whole of each national army would pass under an intergovernmental European authority yet still remain under its own country’s authority for all practical purposes (decision-making power, organization and budget on the one hand, and veto power at the level of European intergovernmental institutions). Integration would be limited, which is to say, non-existent.

Moreover, it is easy to imagine several States, particularly the “smallest” ones, that are not about to give up a bird in hand (NATO with all that it means in terms of a guarantee of security – Article 5, the deterrent of a powerful backer that the US’s presence guarantees, the strength of the regular American army, and so on) for two in the bush, a single European army that would basically be at the service of the old-school alliances.

A single, joint European army

According to this scenario, national armies would be incorporated into a larger European army placed under the authority of common European institutions: the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, and, for the authority to intervene, the European Council of the Heads of State and Government meeting as the European High Security Council. The finished product would be a decidedly more European army.

But this scenario is not without its own particularly problematic issues. To begin with, it presupposes being able to join national armies whose traditions, modes of organization and engagement are often very different, especially when we are not able to count on the power or harmonizing support of the United States, as is the case with NATO. It also implies managing, on the one hand, the great tension between a common European decision-making structure and, on the other, the means (the armies themselves) that continue to take their orders from their respective Member States. Moreover, it requires immediately dealing with the delicate question of the political and military structuring between France’s deterrent ability and the common army, as well as the question of the security and defense of overseas territories that are not part of the European Union.

Some of the EU’s recent decisions, such as preparing for the creation of a European “general staff”, or of a fund for military research, stem from this scenario to the extent that they are part of a common framework. But the speed with which these types of initiatives are being put into place suggests that the development of a European army will be indefinitely postponed.

A common and intergovernmental European army

Unlike the two previous scenarios, this “European” army would be made up of segments of national armies rather than the armies in their entirety. The recent proposal of creating European “Battle groups” is part of this idea, whose two main drawbacks are that it is subject to changes in the governing majority in the relevant Member countries, and that it opens itself to the risk of threats of blackmail in times of intervention. As numerous experiences of armed intervention in recent history show (Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), it is extremely easy (through hostage taking or suicide bombs) to put pressure on countries participating in an international initiative (here, a European one) to get them to withdraw their contingent.

Moreover, rather than attenuate them, this type of army would intensify national rivalries with regard to questions of command and, more importantly, the choice of arms, which is currently in the hands of national industries.

The different experiences of incorporating armies with respect to security and defense over the last twenty or thirty years also fall into this category: Eurocorps and the Franco-German Brigade, among others. The operational deployment of these armies has been virtually non-existent, precisely because each of the different members in question maintains its national affiliations. Lastly, and though it carries more of an imperial than a European connotation, Germany’s policy of incorporating the Dutch, Romanian, Czech, and shortly even Finnish and Swedish brigades into the Bundeswehr must be seen in the same light.

A joint and common European army

Unlike a single, joint European Army, the joint, common European army we are proposing would set itself apart from national armies. Placed under the exclusive authority of European institutions (the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament and High European Council on Security made up of the heads of state and government of the participating Member States), this army would be made up of European officers and soldiers. In other words, this army would be created from scratch.

Curiously, this option is the one that is least often discussed, and when it does come up, it is the one that is eliminated from consideration the fastest and with the greatest casualness, which is precisely the reason that we will develop it most thoroughly here. What truths are used to denigrate this option? For its detractors, the absence of legitimacy of the European political institutions called upon to make decisions of life and death is a deal-breaker by itself.

Which is no less surprising in an institutional configuration where all decisions concerning engagement proposed by the President of the Commission would be ratified by the majority of the High European Council on Security made up of the heads of state and government, which, moreover would adopt its decisions based on a qualified majority. Another concern that is mentioned is the mammoth task involved in creating a new army out of nothing. This argument dismisses the expertise of the soldiers from different national armies, as well as two recent experiences: the creation of the Croatian army in 1991, and more recently, the creation of the Ukrainian army almost entirely from scratch.

The last objection is the intrinsic impossibility of being able to count on European patriotism, i.e. the soldiers’ and officers’ willingness to engage in combat as Europeans and no longer as citizens of this or that Member country. This argument is not the less surprising given that we know that the majority of several of the most prestigious units (and the ones most often used in external theaters of operation) of some Member States are made up of citizens from other countries.

Nor is it less surprising when we recall all of the foreign soldiers who made up the majority of the troops who liberated Western Europe in 1944. And still more forgotten by history are the tens of thousands of North Africans and Africans who died in Europe during the First and Second World Wars. This argument is all the more astonishing when we consider that the history of the construction of Europe has shown that the national “neutrality” of civil servants of the European Commission has, by and large, been a success, as was the neutrality of the Judges of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, for instance.

Lastly, a definitive argument: the lack of financial means in a Europe plunged in economic crisis. But unless we are beginning with the assumption that the only factors we need to consider are the ones that threaten our “internal” cohesion, whether economic or social, and unless we’re also considering that these have no relation to external factors, it is imperative to examine the real ability of each of the Member States of the Union as a whole to respond to outside threats at the moment. And while not all of Russia’s vengeful encroachments up to our borders are military in nature – quite the contrary – they still rely on the threat of military action to call into question the borders of European States (Georgia, Moldavia, Ukraine).

Moreover, the weakness – we might even say decay – of States in close proximity to Europe (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Mali, etc.) and the rise of terrorist elements that precede, accompany or result from them, combined with the United States’ growing isolationist stance all put into radically new focus the question of the security and defense of the Union.

Already at the Cardiff Summit in 2014 and in response to this new situation, the Member countries of NATO put forth the objective of devoting 2 percent of their GDP to defense by the year 2024.

European defense and German rearmament

Like the other member countries of NATO, Germany has pledged to devote 2 percent of its GDP to defense. Although this promise has no legal status, it was entered into before and with the other members of NATO, which confers a strong political meaning upon it. Concretely, it means that German military expenditures could reach upwards of 62 billion euros in 2024.

France, which, according to SIPRI, already devotes 2.2 percent of its GDP to the military, could see its own military costs rise to 50 billion euros by the same time, with 3.5 billion set aside for nuclear deterrents and 2.5 billion to updating these deterrents. In other words, 44 billion would remain for its conventional forces. Similarly, Italian and Spanish military costs would likely rise to 34 and 22 billion euros, respectively, in 2024.

These numbers are a much stronger argument than any lengthy discourse, and they are not the only ones striving to foretell the future. The Bundeswehr policy of incorporating large portions of the national armies of other Member States, a policy that is necessarily imperial and intentionally mercantile, does in fact have strong implications on the choice of weapons of these “incorporated” armies. Moreover, it is a source of significant benefits to the German defense industry, which some already consider the dominant defense industry in Europe.

“The only European army is the French army”

Jean-Luc Sauron, Il estime aussi que la seule défense européenne concevable, c’est un financement communautaire de l’effort militaire de la France, ce pays ayant la seule armée apte à combattre au moins pour quelques années.

While France unquestionably boasts the most effective army among the 27 European nations, enjoying the highest level of autonomy, this does not in any way make its army one that can single-handedly counter the threats that Europe currently faces. This was amply demonstrated by France and Britain’s muddled intervention in Libya, which required NATO assistance, as well as by the sad fiasco of the aborted mission in Syria following the American president’s about-face and France’s “retreat”. Or, in more prosaic terms, a part-time air and sea force, and a deficit in satellite information are here to remind us that simply being better than all the others does not mean being up to the task.

But unless we are prepared to have certain Member States make the decisions while others pay, this still does not make of the French army a European army – far from it. No more than the Deutschmark could be the basis for the euro. Which it is not, as can be seen by the functioning of the Council of Governors of the European Central Bank, where Germany is more often than not in the opposition. A European army cannot be a national army, nor a derivative of one of them.

Last but not least, France faces strategic choices on a tight timeline that presages no-win budgetary decisions: modernizing nuclear deterrents, building a second aircraft carrier, investing in cyber-warfare, developing and building the successor to the Rafale… only to name a few of the sectors where significant investment will or would be necessary.

A priceless army

Taking into account General Perruche’s indispensable white paper on European defense, and thus also the deployment of the varied skills in the domain of security and defense of the twenty-seven nations of the EU, and based on the principal threats mentioned above, we can envision what the first core of a common army would look like: three rapid intervention divisions (consisting of 45,000 soldiers) based in the Baltic region, Slovakia and Romania; three air and sea groups based in the Baltic region, Greece and Portugal; a military information service with strong satellite capabilities; a service dedicated to cyber-warfare; and all of this with a budget equivalent to 0.3 percent of the GDP, or some 30 billion euros, which is more or less what the Financial Transaction Tax brings in.

The undeniable advantages of a joint, common European army

The first, and indisputable, merit of this army is that its mere presence would contribute to the cohesion of a European construct in dire need of cohesion. Through the institutional process that it would be a part of, it would represent an opportunity and means of creating a space for building trust among Member States in an area rife with suspicion, mistrust, long-standing rivalries and consolidated national interests.

Without impinging upon NATO membership, the mere existence of this army would bolster our defense against our great neighbor to the East, while also reassuring the countries in the European Union that share Russia’s borders. This army “would help to establish a foreign policy and policy of common security”, as the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said, and as a result, to regain footing in the “hot” areas where we currently play – in the most charitable terms – a minor role (Syria, Iraq, the Gulf States, etc.).

This army would contribute to the emergence of a generally self-sufficient European arms market, and as a result, a more integrated European defense industry, which is a source of considerable savings, as the European parliament pointed out in 2015. By so doing, it would allow us, as General de Gaulle recommended, to eventually marry foreign policy to arms sales, and no longer base foreign policy on the possible sale of arms, which is currently so often the case.

It would make it possible for us to protect military and technological expertise, especially in the areas of most conspicuous expense (satellites, air and sea forces, IT, aeronautics, etc.). It would provide – only partially, of course – an answer to the thorny question of the European budget, boosting it by 30 percent.

It would represent the beginnings of a response to the feeling of powerlessness instilled in European citizens by decades of inability to respond politically and in good time to the crises, wars and genocides perpetrated only a short distance from Europe – in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Chechnya, and now Ukraine, Syria and Iraq.

Therefore, unlike the many initiatives that make sense only to experts, and like the euro that, despite all the defects of its conception, continues to be approved by the citizens of Europe, a joint, common European army would represent a tangible realization whose usefulness they can concretely measure and that they could make their own.

Translated from the Italian by Anis Memon

france_elections_markus_grolikTHE EU AFTER THE BRITISH AND FRENCH ELECTIONS: Things are moving in Europe

The political crisis in Britain and the victory of pro-European Emmanuel Macron in France heralds a new dawn for Europe, and will only make it stronger.

The Channel has never seemed so wide. The popular mandate which Theresa May failed to consolidate on Thursday has been obtained by Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, and spectacularly so.

While May is on the decline, and will find it difficult to keep hold of power, Macron – record abstentions or not – is taking charge of things. Beyond the personal destinies of these leaders, this means two things.

The first is that while Great Britain has dug itself into a deep political crisis, France clearly wants to pull itself out from the quagmire and get things moving. The second, even more important, is that this reinvigoration of France gives it a weight in the EU that the UK has lost twice over: by voting for Brexit and then refusing, less than a year later, the “hard Brexit” threatened by May, and thus entering negotiations without any clear idea of what it wants to obtain or avoid.

In three days everything has changed in Europe. No longer will there be British politicians holding the brakes on economic and political integration. Those in other member states who hold similar attitudes will no longer be able to lean on London for help. Power relations have already changed in the Union, but, from Thursday, the sovereigntists and the new far-right will no longer be able to claim that Brexit is a good example for other states, since not even Britain itself seems certain of that.

Not only are the defenders of European unity strengthened, but this is happening at a time when the new French president’s main ambition is to put the Union back on track, and when Germany aims to adopt the French idea of European power – a political Union capable of playing an important role on the international stage.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron want to solidify this project. Their councillors and ministers have been tasked with developing common proposals. France and Germany are converging once again to move the European Union forward. Paris and Berlin may announce within a month the creation of a common fund to finance the first contours of European Defence.

When the French and the Germans are in agreement that things should get moving, the situation is certainly changing, but that is not all. There is Trump, whose unpredictability incites Europeans – all Europeans – to get their house in order. There is also the imperial nostalgia of Vladimir Putin, and the growing chaos in the middle east, a cause for Europeans to get a move on, especially when there’s no more assurance of American protection.

Everything is changing in Europe, because Britain has left, because France is back and because everything in the world is changing too.

18560      European defence in 2020

A force of 120,000 troops that can respond within 60 days, a fleet of military helicopters and cargo planes to transport them to conflict zones, an intelligence service to evaluate the political and military risks of missions, and an EU defence budget to pay for all of the above — according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), these will be the key provisions for Europe’s defence in 2020,” reports Die Presse.

In its study — What Ambitions for European Defence in 2020? — the European think tank insists on the fact that astute diplomacy and generous support for reconstruction and foreign development will not be enough to protect European citizens and economic interests. The Viennese daily concurs with the view that the European Union is lacking in resources. The rapid reaction force of 60,000 troops, whose creation was announced in Helsinki in 1999, has yet to be established — and there has been no deployment of fifteen 1,500-strong EU battle groups, which were also promised. On the contrary, European military missions have been preceded by “long winded negotiations on the number of troops each member state would contribute to deployments in the African desert or the Balkans.”

Ce sont des sommets d’attente avant les rendez-vous électoraux de septembre en Allemagne. Avant que le monde politique interne de l’Union ne soit à nouveau stabilisé, il ne faut pas s’attendre à décisions marquantes. C’est d’autant plus désespérant, que la présidence tournante de l’Union est exercée par Malte qui, ça n’est pas lui faire insulte, ne peut prétendre jouer un rôle sur la scène politique mondiale. L’Union est donc politiquement fragile alors qu’elle est confrontée à une donne géopolitique radicalement nouvelle, entre le libéralisme économique du président du parti communiste chinois, un pôle anglo-américain qui a toujours existé, mais qui s’affirme brutalement et la Russie qui poursuit un rêve euro-asiatique. En outre, le monde est devenu d’une instabilité époustouflante : qui aurait dit il y a trois ans que les BRICS alors vantés comme les phares de la croissance mondiale auraient aujourd’hui quasiment disparu ? Le Brésil est en pleine déconfiture, la Russie, même si elle fait très peur, n’a pas résolu ses difficultés économiques et politiques, l’Inde est instable, etc. Le monde change de trimestre en trimestre et il devient très compliqué de construire des alliances et des projets.

Dans ce monde instable, l’Union sait-elle ce qu’elle veut ?

Les rêves de refondation sont totalement aberrants, car les États membres n’ont pas de vision commune de l’avenir de leur Union. On ne relancera pas la machine européenne à Vingt-sept, il faut l’admettre une bonne fois pour toutes. Il faut reconstruire sur un socle interétatique, entre quelques pays qui acceptent de se mettre en convergence et en concertation, sans pour autant se substituer à l’UE. Cela peut se faire soit entre l’Allemagne et la France, soit entre ces deux pays et le Benelux soit, enfin, entre l’Allemagne, la France et la Pologne. Cette consolidation d’une partie de l’Union stabilisera toute la construction européenne.

Cela veut dire qu’on négocie une série de traités bilatéraux ou multilatéraux à l’intérieur de l’UE ?

Pas nécessairement. Paris et Berlin peuvent simplement décider que leurs gouvernements auront le même nombre de ministres, dotés des mêmes attributions, afin de travailler ensemble sur une série de dossiers et de législations convergentes afin de coordonner les politiques suivies dans les deux pays. Si ces deux pays qui représentent 50 % du PIB européen parviennent à harmoniser leur droit fiscal, leur droit de la consommation, leur droit social, par exemple, tout le monde suivra et cela redynamisera l’espace européen. Aujourd’hui, c’est le moins actif qui bloque tout le monde. Le grand schéma à Vingt-sept, ça ne marche plus : on n’arrive plus à exécuter les politiques annoncées. Si on n’arrive pas à relancer la machine européenne, nous serons le champ de manœuvre du reste du monde, soumis à des stratégies d’influence contradictoires. Au passage, et contrairement à ce que croient les déclinistes, l’Europe reste le centre du monde : c’est à travers nous que les puissances s’affrontent. Il faut donc que nous tirions parti de cette force pour influencer le monde.

Le fait que l’administration Trump souhaite la disparition de l’UE ne va-t-il pas aider l’Union à se renforcer ?

La brutalité du discours de Donald Trump recouvre une réalité américaine qu’on a souvent occultée : les États-Unis ont toujours voulu un peu d’Europe pour contrebalancer les Soviétiques et éviter l’émergence de régimes révolutionnaires, mais pas trop d’Europe pour qu’on ne vienne pas leur manger la laine sur le dos. Or l’euro, par exemple, est vécu comme une contestation de la suprématie du dollar, ce qui est inacceptable pour eux. Trump dit clairement que l’Union aujourd’hui ne peut être qu’un marché et non un acteur politique et économique.

Les Vingt-sept veulent faire de la défense européenne un nouveau projet mobilisateur. Est-ce sérieux ?

Je ne crois pas à une armée européenne. Pour envoyer des gens combattre et mourir, il faut un gouvernement légitime. Or aujourd’hui il n’y a pas d’autorité européenne légitime en dehors des États. En Europe, il y a deux armées et demie, la Britannique, la Française et un peu l’Allemande. Mais une vraie armée est une armée qui se bat sur le terrain, ce qui n’est pas le cas de l’armée allemande. Avec le Brexit, il n’y a en réalité plus que la France qui se bat, non pas pour mener des opérations post-coloniales comme on a pu le dire ici ou là, mais pour protéger le continent européen, que ce soit au Mali, en Centrafrique ou en Syrie. Il faut donc que les Européens financent l’effort militaire de la France et que la France accepte dans son armée des citoyens européens : la colonne vertébrale militaire de l’Europe est française, c’est la réalité.

Est-ce que l’Europe est prête à accepter que la France remplace les États-Unis comme garant de sa sécurité ?

Y a-t-il une alternative ? Qui nous protégera ? Les Russes ?

Si les Européens financent l’effort militaire français, ils voudront pouvoir participer à la décision d’envoyer des troupes…

On ne peut imaginer que ce soit le conseil des ministres de la Défense à Bruxelles qui décide d’engager l’armée française, il faut être sérieux. Et ce n’est pas parce qu’on paye qu’on a son mot à dire. Si les Allemands veulent décider, il faut qu’ils aient une armée en capacité de combattre.



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