hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

European Defence Juncked?

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 March. He is at it again. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, JC to his friends, called this week for an EU Army to a) stand up to the Russians; b) demonstrate that Europeans are serious about defending their values; and c) pave the way to a genuine Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).  JC is clearly employing a classic Euro-Federalist tactic known in the trade as neo-functionalism. This is where external crises are exploited politically by federalists to wrest power from the member-states in the name of efficiency with the aim of creating an EU super-state by dismantling the state step-by-step.  And yet for all that JC might have a point, although as per usual for all the wrong reasons.  If Europeans are to balance strategy, affordability, military capability, but above all credibility, they either spend more, integrate more, or find a credible balance between the two. Indeed, Russian military adventurism has clearly been encouraged by European military weakness and the appeasement of reality it implies.

It is not the first time a Russian threat has led to calls for a European Army. With the Korean War straining US forces and with over 300 Soviet divisions facing NATO, the European Defence Community (EDC) Treaty was signed on 9 May, 1952.  The Treaty called for the creation of a European military force overseen by a European Commission.  Moreover, on 10th September, 1952, it was agreed by the then six signatory states to move towards a European Political Community (EPC), which in time became CFSP.  Indeed, on 15th December, 1952 then West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer said that a common defence policy without a common foreign policy would not work.  Roll on 63 years and the issues are not that different.  US forces are stretched thin the world-over, Russia poses a resurgent military threat to both NATO and the EU, and Europe is just beginning to emerge from a financial cataclysm. 

One of the many complex reasons for the Eurozone crisis is that its members are in denial about the political logic of the single currency and the single governance such a structure needs.  The logic of the Eurozone was and is ever closer union, and such union includes foreign, security and defence policy. And yet, most Eurozone members are in complete denial about the consequences and contradictions of their stance.  The result is Europe’s strategic paralysis.

Furthermore, with some 16 EU member-states spending less than €4bn per annum on defence (and badly) JC is also correct when he asserts that an EU Army would lead to economies of scale, particularly when it came to defence procurement.  By making each euro go further through defence integration the “significant savings” he claims would indeed be realised. 

However, behind the apparent logic of JC’s call (which is not at all new) is the same divide that ultimately killed the EDC – collective defence versus common defence.  Collective defence is a gathering of like-minded nation-states that decide collectively over the use of force, i.e. NATO. It is not efficient, rarely fully effective, but it is legitimate because the forces involved come from national members and remain under national control.

Common defence means, implies, and would require a common government.  Indeed, one could not have an EU Army without a common government and any attempt to create some form of hybrid governance would probably mean force could only ever be used in absolute extremis.  To put it bluntly, who would send my fellow-Sheffielder to his or her death who was part of such a force?  Without an EU government such a force would look pretty but in effect be useless – much like the euphemistically-named EU Battle Groups.

However, if European nation-states continue to cut their defence budgets or fail to meet their defence-spending commitments the logic of a common defence and by extension an EU super-state will become irresistible. Indeed, it would be the only way to balance military effectiveness with military efficiency in a world in which illiberal military power is fast out-stripping liberal military power.

This week the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Power also called on Europeans to spend more on defence.  The message was clear; Europe’s retreat from defence-sanity will not only force Europeans to live with far higher risk, it also risks in turn the effective end of a meaningful transatlantic security relationship.  The US taxpayer will not go on endlessly subsidising the defence of the European taxpayer. 

So, JC is right.  Europeans must decide – either their states spend more on defence or they integrate their forces more closely and abandon any pretence to defence sovereignty.  For some defence integration makes perfect sense, for others not.  Therefore, the balance to be struck between ‘collective’ and ‘common’ defence is Europe’s quintessential twenty-first century strategic challenge.

As for the European Defence Community it collapsed on 29 August, 1954 when the French Parliament refused to ratify the EDC Treaty unable to accept the end of French defence sovereignty and concerned that German power would be significantly enhanced.  However, Adenauer was right then as now; a common defence cannot work without a common foreign and security policy, and that in turn means a European government.

Plus ├ža change, plus la meme chose!

Julian Lindley-French

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