By Penza News
The unstable situation in the Middle East, numerous conflicts, threat of terrorism and migration crisis has forced European politicians to come back to the issue of the potential creation of joint EU force, aimed at the effective protection of the EU external borders.
“We need a common European foreign policy, security policy and common European defence policy with the aim to create a European army, to be able to fulfill our role in the world,” said the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker on the forum Alpbach in Austria.
The discussion of the EU joint armed forces creation to defend European interests began in spring 2015. But then the idea had not received further development, as it was strongly opposed by the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile Brexit has renewed the debate on the need to strengthen foreign policy cooperation between European countries, and the idea of a unified army creation has been already supported by many politicians from different EU countries.
“We need to create a common European army to protect the EU external borders. […] I am convinced that in the long term we won’t be able to do without a common European army,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka stated at a meeting of Czech diplomats in Prague.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also reignited calls for closer cooperation in the defense sphere.
“We should list the issue of security as a priority, and we should start setting up a common European army,” he said at a briefing before the meeting between Visegrad leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Moreover, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has also supported the idea of creating a European army. Such common structures would save money and let us act more rationally, he said.
However, according to the experts, the issue is complicated, and it will be extremely difficult to bring the idea to life in the near future.
According to Evgeniya Voyko, Research Fellow at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, today all the external problems of the EU are solved at the level of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.
“The idea of creating a unified army is not new, but as we see, it is still unrealized, despite the great security challenges the European Union faces. At this stage, all the needs of the EU are covered by NATO activities. The only purpose that lies behind this idea is perhaps an attempt to weaken the connection of European armies with the army of the United States, which are closely integrated in the framework of NATO,” the expert told PenzaNews.
In her opinion, this idea seems not to be realized in the medium term, since it requires the consensus of all EU Member States on this issue, as well as their willingness to finance the project.
“It is doubtful whether there is this potential in Europe today, as the creation of a common army will require all European countries’ consolidation, which the EU lacks even in other issues, not to mention the question of the unified armed forces. Moreover, it will take quite serious financial costs and this burden will fall on the central EU authorities, as well as key European countries – Germany and France, which are not yet open supporters of the creation of joint security forces,” Evgeniya Voyko explained.
Meanwhile, in her opinion, the potential creation of the EU army would ensure more effective protection of European interests.
“Creation of such an army would mean the division between the European Union and the United States which seems quite unlikely taken into account the current political elite in Europe. At the same time it will allow the EU to solve its security problems more quickly, distancing itself from the ‘eastern vector’ proposed by NATO. One of the key threats according to the North Atlantic Alliance today is a mythical threat from Russia; however recent attacks in Europe have shown that they not always throw their efforts on what is needed,” the analyst said.
According to Rohan Gunaratna, Professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, global security requires coordinated work of not only European armed forces, but also armed forces of other countries.
“The US security forces are ten years more advance than EU forces. EU forces are 10–20 years ahead of the security forces in the developing world. To stabilize the world, advanced nations should work together and with their partners to promote peace, security and harmony,” the expert said.
Moreover, in his opinion, the main obstacle in solving security problems today is the differences between the United States and Russia on a number of key issues.
“The geopolitics between the west and east should end. The US should take the lead and work with the Russians and the Chinese, superpowers. The disputes between Russia and the West is an obstacle to creating world peace,” Rohan Gunaratna stressed.
In turn, Anthony Glees, Professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham and Director of its Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS), said that EU needs are not the same as NATO’s and defending the EU will in the future be the task of EU members.
“EU Commission President is not wrong to start thinking seriously about how Brexit impacts on the EU’s status on the one hand, and whether a NATO led by a USA itself under new leadership, will continue to be the ‘sword and shield’ Europe needs. Everyone in Europe knows that NATO is an instrument of defence and in that sense an expression of power. It defends Europe but it does not give Europe and in particular the EU any operational power. […] In particular the EU needs to defend its Mediterranean borders against a massive influx of people from Arab North Africa, from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the analyst explained.
Meanwhile, from his point of view, the EU army would have considerable resources, of fighting personnel but also of intelligence capacity.
“Four of the five largest intelligence communities would feed into it. An EU army could also rely on the EU’s satellite center SatCen, Galileo. With the political will to achieve it, the EU could indeed develop an armed forces to deliver defence and security and an intelligence-led response to terrorism,” Anthony Glees said.
These would be stronger with UK participation and this may well happen: allowing the UK to cut back on EU migration in return for access to the single market could be the price that is paid in return for continued UK Security and intelligence cooperation, he added.
“The EU is now at a cross-road. It can rise to the challenge of Brexit, become even stronger and achieve power, of which an EU defence force could be a major game changer, in Europe and perhaps in the Middle East. Or it can continue to be reactive rather than proactive. […] What Europe needs now is not just good proactive management but strong effective leadership. […] I think and hope it will come. Because without that leadership, the EU would have no power however assured its success in economic terms will be. My own feeling is that a strong EU with its own defence force would in fact reverse the Brexit effect, indeed so much so that, in 25 years’ time, the UK would once again be knocking on Europe’s door, asking to come in,” the expert said.
In turn, Oleg Shakirov from PIR Center think tank, Russia, said another call for the creation of the EU’s unified army is an “ordinary event.”
“This is a good old tradition of European officials. Jean-Claude Juncker’s view is shared by politicians from different EU countries, including heavyweights. However, it should be borne in mind that the ‘European army’ is a stamp, and the supporters of this idea want to get rid of it. It is all about closer cooperation between the EU member states in the field of security and defense in European format, within the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), but not in the Euro-Atlantic format, that is, without the United States. This is the main challenge. The vast majority of EU member states are NATO members, along with the US, and their joint defense is carried out within the alliance. CSDP should take into account the NATO commitments of the EU member states, and it turns out that it is formed by a residual principle,” the analyst explained.
According to him, in practice, a series of military operations outside the EU are carried out in the framework of CSDP, and EU battle groups are formed as part of it.
“These EU battle groups are often referred to as the prototype of a European army. This is the division of up to 1.5 thousand soldiers from one or several member states of the European Union, and sometimes third countries. Currently, there are nearly two dozen of such units, two of them are on duty for six months and should be ready for rapid deployment. However, these battle groups are more famous for the fact that they had never been used, although such possibility was discussed. Some observers believe that the situation may change after the United Kingdom leaves the union, as the country was the main opponent of using the battle groups, but it is oversimplification,” Oleg Shakirov said.
In his view, the EU strategic security will seek greater autonomy, but there are no preconditions for a real change in the situation surrounding the European army.
“As before, the joint defense in Europe will be carried out under the auspices of NATO and the European cooperation will actually fitted into this effort, but will not set the tone,” the expert added.
In turn, Fernand Kartheiser, Luxembourg Parliament member for the Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), said he does not agree with the idea of creating an EU army.
“Especially for a small country such as mine, this could mean to be drawn into military conflicts for the egoistic interests of larger member states. The EU is not a state and has as such no mission in the world. Jean-Claude Juncker’s statements are neither realistic nor worthwhile considering. Creating an EU Army could in fact lead to even greater tensions within the EU,” the politician explained.
However, he welcomed the opportunity to strengthen cooperation between European states in the field of defence.
“I support an intensive cooperation between the armies of the EU member states as a confidence-building measure and a way to prepare for joint military operations on a low level, such as peace-keeping operations. I do also support common acquisition programmes and common training facilities for cost-saving reasons,” Fernand Kartheiser said.
According to him, the EU leaders did not foresee Brexit and have no real strategic thinking on Europe for the time being.
“The idea of the EU army is a federalistic project that, in a similar way as the common currency, would help forcing the path to political integration. But in no member state there is a clear political will for such integration,” Luxembourg Parliament member stressed.
The EU Army – if it existed – could of course lead some operations and be helpful, including in the fight against terrorism, he said.
“However there is no such army. Realistically, I expect only an increase in the number of multinational units. Their use in an area of conflict can however create many diplomatic and political tensions,” Fernand Kartheiser added.
However, from his point of view, Brexit will weaken the opposition in the EU against duplication of structures with NATO.
“Hence, we might see the creation of embryonic EU command structures but this is only political gesticulation. The military issues are far too sensitive to be effectively delegated to multinational structures,” the politician concluded.