The concept of a unified European military force separate from NATO is starting to gain momentum in EU capitals. However, greater military cooperation within the EU won’t address deeper integration challenges facing Europe.
Pictured: French army soldiers in Paris, France, Thursday June, 16, 2016. Photo: AP
For an alternative take read: "Is a European Army coming soon? Don't bet on it"
One of the most striking points of discussion at the unofficial EU summit held in Bratislava on Sept. 17 was the question of a European military power, united under one command: a European Army. It was primarily France and Germany that instigated this discussion. The reaction of many other participant countries at the summit to this idea was cold to say the least.
However, the lack of any representatives from Great Britain meant that the discussion of the plans was now on the summit’s agenda, as the UK had for a long time been the main opponent of an EU military force separate from NATO. It is assumed that at the next summit in December 2016, EU leaders will agree on creating a headquarters for a united European military force.
To the average Russian observer, the news about the creation of a new military organization in Europe smacks of blatant Russophobia and an attempt to step up the arms race in Europe. What is more, many pro-Kremlin experts have seized upon this and used it as a chance to discuss the latest Western plots against Russia.
However, upon closer inspection of the reaction to plans for a European Army, specifically among those members of the EU who are worried about the unpredictable behavior of their giant eastern neighbor, there is clear skepticism and a lack of enthusiasm for the plans. Leaders of the Baltic States spoke out in unison for further strengthening NATO as a method of containing Russia.
It is clear to see that in drafting plans for a European Army, France and Germany are merely using fear of an unpredictable and dangerous Russia as a way of realizing their ideal, which has really nothing to do with strengthening the EU’s eastern borders.
Yet, of course, the European army is now necessary as a way of breathing new life into an integration process that is rapidly stagnating, even perhaps regressing, by emphasizing the creation of a new pan-European structure. If one looks at German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her French counterpart Francois Hollande’s idea from this perspective, a different picture emerges. This is hardly a case of militarism or Russophobia, rather mere political calculation and an attempt to find a way out of a very difficult situation.
However, the problem is not the effect that the European Army would have on the situation once it is put in place. The problem has to do with the political costs that would inevitably occur in the wholly probable instance that the given project fails. There have been many attempts to create a European security force before but they have all turned out to be unsuccessful one way or another, due to NATO’s incompatibility with such parallel organizations.
A further political failure during this current crisis could turn out to be fatal for the EU. Besides, the very fact that the EU is turning towards a united military command as the last hope for saving itself cannot help but cause some serious concerns.
In recent years both Europe and Russia have been gradually and persistently moving towards a change in their basic ideals when it comes to defense and security. Narratives of disarmament and easing tensions have been replaced by narratives of conflict and militarization. It is possible to argue forever about who began such a process: the West, with its ideals of expanding NATO - or Russia, with its political intrigues in Ukraine.
Also read: "Russia and the four European crises"
The fact remains true, however, that developing alternative types of military organizations is not the best possible sign of progress in this modern, international world.
The EU plans to save the European attempt at integration by creating a single general headquarters. In contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that only by developing the arms industry can Russia raise itself out of economic stagnation. In both cases, the outlook for these determined strategies looks wholly unclear.
However, it is not possible to see any other attractive alternatives to Russian or European policies. In such situations, the most favorable outcome would be dismissing these military projects as unviable and ineffective.
It is worth remembering that the crisis leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War began with countries demonstrating the effectiveness of a wartime economy and military aggression in the face of economic and political problems.
Italy, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, the U.S. and Britain went beyond what could be called “productive militarism.” Because of successes in the army, which improved the economic situation, each nation’s income grew, thereby strengthening the growing feeling of nationalism. The result: a war, the bloodiest war in human history. It is possible learn from this experience and refuse to believe in initiatives for militarization as a way of spurring on development in politics, the economy or integration.
The plan for a European army seems unviable, furthermore, because it is based on the false notion of turning the EU back into a “normal state,” with all the attributes of a normal state. The history of European integration has taught the world many lessons about what to do and what not to do when it comes to the successful growth of the EU. It is only necessary to look at failed plans for the acceptance of a common European constitution to illustrate this point.
Europe clearly did not achieve its most outstanding successes in creating a unified European state. However, it did succeed in removing obstacles to a common European market in the form of a unified scientific, cultural and educational space. This Europe is not noticeable for its movement towards a single state but rather for its promise of development, according to supra-national standards that as of yet have not been fully conceptualized.
Unfortunately, the current international situation does not allow for bold experimentation and innovative approaches. The economic and military-political crisis has forced all those dealing with international relations to turn to old tried-and-tested methods, and the end is nowhere in sight.
Everyone has forgotten about “the New Russia,” and everyone has lost hope in successfully continuing integration in Europe. The fundamental reason for a European Army shines through: to protect and secure what is attainable, prevent isolationist tendencies and attempt to find a baseline for unity in Europe.
Yet, if it turns out that the Europeans have lost their momentum for integration and need a break in order to understand current events, no European Army will bring about new consolidation. Furthermore, nothing can guarantee the safety of the Old World like NATO, especially if U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump – who is not a fan of this organization – becomes the next U.S. President.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.