“We will not protect Europeans unless we decide to have a true European Army”.
President Emmanuel Macron, 6 November 2018
The European Acronym Soup Troop
Alphen, Netherlands. 26 November. Friendly-Clinch's First Iron Law of European Defence is the more the acronyms the weaker the force. Indeed, if aggregating acronyms was the mark of military might then ‘Europe’ would be a superpower. Since 1996 when I completed my doctorate on European defence at EUI (European University Institute) we first had the NATO-friendly ESDI (European Security and Defence Identity) for the WEU (Western European Union) the same year. In 1998 the Franco-British St Malo Declaration paved the way for ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) whilst in 1999 the Headline Goal came and most definitely went before the ESS (European Security Strategy) was penned mostly by refined hot air in 2003 before we arrived at the unfortunate misnomer that is CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.
In the past year alone we have had PESCO 2 (Permanent Structured Co-operation - PESCO 1 was part of Lisbon) and E2/EII (Macron’s European Intervention Initiative) to be partly funded by the EDF (European Defence Fund) armed with a ‘massive’ defence investment pot of €5bn per annum from 2020 onwards. Being an expert on ‘European Defence’ sometimes feels like being a bit-part actor in that old Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day as another load of stuck-in-time, bad politics dressed up as good strategy leadership BS (another military acronym) about Europe, the EU and defence is proclaimed over and over and over again. What makes Macron’s call any different?
Putting aside the Gallic elite penchant for drawing out Gaullist ‘grands dessins’ from the gilded cabinets of the Elysée whenever a French president suffers an outbreak of ‘les gilets jaunes’, President Macron might have a point, if that is he means what I hope he means. Over the many years I have studied and worked on European defence it has oscillated between incapability and ‘unuseability’ usually ‘achieving’ both. Serial and persistent underfunding of defence by European states has rendered most of Europe’s armed forces incapable in the face of the threats they face.
Two specific factors seem to be driving Macron’s thinking. First, he has fallen out with President Trump. In any case, Monsieur le president clearly understands that with growing pressures worldwide on US forces the danger is that the American security guarantee to Europe will become less credible over time unless Europeans can increase their own military might. Second, in the wake of the Brexit ‘deal’ Macron has decided to become a ‘frenemy’ of Europe’s only other military power of any note – Britain. Macron has made it clear he intends to lead the charge to punish Britain for Brexit in the upcoming negotiations over the future relationship between Britain and the EU. In so doing Macron will sacrifice the Franco-British Strategic Partnership that both London and Paris had once hoped would form the basis for a European joint future force. The French are even threatening to build windmills on the Agincourt battlefield, damn it! Once more unto the breach…?
‘True’ European defence?
The problem for Macron is that ‘True’ European defence if that is what he means, will not come to pass until a ‘true’ European government is in place and Europeans, most notably the French, are a very long way from sanctioning that. The prospect of an EU Army was always deemed unworkable by anyone vaguely sensible because without a European Government it would be unusable if all 28, soon-to-be 27, EU member-states did not agree. President Macron might wish to consult the history books and see why the first great attempt to create a European Army failed. In October 1954 the EDC (another acronym), or European Defence Community, was killed off by the French precisely because Paris could not bring itself to scrap a latter-day version of the ‘Grande Armée’ in favour of a genuinely federalist European structure. My sense of the French is little has changed on that score, not least because the French like many other Europeans still insist rightly on a final national say when it comes to sending their young men and women into harm’s way. In a democracy, one should only be sent to one’s death by people one had at least the chance to vote for.
There is also an apparent flaw in the thinking behind President Macron’s call for deeper ‘joint’ (i.e. nationally-controlled but collectively-applied) European forces in that the way forward he has suggested is first to pool defence budgets, particularly procurement budgets, which is also good for the French defence industry of course. The more one pools the more one integrates. One paradox of European defence is that only through defence integration would Europeans ever come close to generating the kind of military capabilities at the level of capacity they would need to be for Europeans to be ‘truly’ strategically autonomous from the Americans, as Macron has called for. The other paradox is that whilst such a force might act as an effective ‘common’ deterrent against any external foe planning to attack the EU, it would kill off at a stroke any chance that France could project force as an independent power in pursuit of what Paris deems it national collective security interests.
Future war, Europe today
What President Macron should be suggesting if his vision for European defence is gain any traction is that irrespective of the politics of the moment ‘defence’ is about strategic outcomes and in this case how to effectively defend Europeans against military and other dangerous megatrends. It is high time Europeans started to think properly about how they will defend themselves against future industrial warfare. As the world stands on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution the nature of warfare is likely to change profoundly. Future war will reach across what I call the 4Ds of disinformation, destabilisation, disruption and destruction with an added fifth ‘d’ deception added for good measure. Future war will also extend across a spectrum of domains from hybrid warfare, which weaponises information to cyber warfare that does the same in the digital domain, then onto the ultra-dangerous high-end of hyper warfare in which advanced, intelligent technologies inflict ‘intelligent’ destruction on structures, systems and societies. In other words, a new balance needs to be sought between people protection and power projection if the democracies are to retain the capacity to act in an emergency.
There is a third European defence paradox. Whilst Full Metal Jacket European defence integration might be a disaster for France it might make sense for a lot of other less powerful EU member-states. Whatever level of defence investment small European states commit their stand-alone forces will always be both incapable and unusable unless they are embedded within structures such as the EU or NATO. This is the reason why the NATO Defence Investment Pledge exists of 2% GDP per annum on defence of which 20% must be spent on new equipment. It is also the reason for the 17 collaborative projects of PESCO 2. In other words, if any group of states should lead the way towards an EU Army it is the smaller powers, not France.
Groundhog St Malo
There is a final twist to European defence in this Brexit week. On 3 December 1998, twenty years ago next week, President Jacques Chirac of France and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain agreed the St Malo Declaration. The Declaration states, “…the Union must have the capacity for autonomous actions, back up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises”. Amen to that!
However, for all of Macron’s ambition, my conversations of late with a range of senior Europeans confirms that few if any are willing to make the kind of defence or security investments that would replace the Americans and exclude the British or eclipse NATO with the EU. Indeed, the debate still remains focussed on what price the Americans will rightfully demand of their European allies to remain the backbone of an essentially Atlanticist future European defence.
Therefore, whilst Macron’s European Army is not barmy unless the Americans and British are on board Macron’s vision for European defence will remain more Bill Murray than Bill Moltke. Or, should that be Jacques Tati? Jour de Fete anyone?