There is no subject that will more rapidly inflame the jowls of a Euroskeptic than that of the EU Army. It is often employed as the trump card that will instantly and irrevocably end all discussion of further European integration.
The basis of this antipathy has never been fully established but seems to be founded, in the first instance on misguided fealty to NATO and, in the second, to the exceptionalist view that no other European nation than the British can field an effective fighting force. However, the fact remains that, for a significant proportion of the British population, the notion of EU owned and operated armed forces causes revulsion and symptoms of physical distress.
So in light of the UK’s troubled relationship with the EU it is worth examining the EU’s currently military disposition, its future intentions and how that might affect the UK.
Army of One
The notion of an autonomous EU defence policy was created in the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the Maastricht Treaty. At that time the EU had a civil war with occasional outbreaks of genocide erupting on its southern flank in the form of the Yugoslav civil war. It was felt that the existing security framework of the ECP was ineffectual and not suited to the febrile times in which Europe now found itself.
The original notion of the CFSP was that EU and NATO forces would be ‘separable but not separate’. NATO would remain responsible for the territorial defence of Europe while the EU would eventually take the lead on peacekeeping and police actions with member state forces being assigned to each entity as necessary.
This situation obtained until the Lisbon Treaty which created the position of the High Representative and the External Action Service. There was no longer going to be a common security policy there was going to be an EU security policy – an important difference. Since then we have had the establishment and rapid growth of the EU Military Service. This organisation is headquartered in Brussels and is currently running six separate operations outside Europe. It is intended that the EUMS will be capable of brigade level executive action by 2020.
Thus the idea that the armed forces of the EU have been developed in secret and only now sprung on the the British people is entirely false. The strategic goals and the direction of travel have been readily apparent since Maastricht.
To its critics the development of the EUMS and the associated structures is a sign of the EU wishing to mantle itself with the trappings of the nation state. This may even be true to a minor extent but it is a happy byproduct rather than the main motivating factor. There are two driving forces behind EU military integration: the strategic and the economic.
Call of Duty
There has always been an influential strand of thought in Europe that may be crudely termed ‘Gaullist’. This philosophy holds that NATO constrains European strategic autonomy and that, instead, there should be a strong and independent Europe de la défense. This school of thought has flowered again since the end of the cold war. For post of the post-war period the US and Europe shared a common strategic goal of opposing the Soviet Union. This allowed Europe to benefit from the presence of significant US forces in Europe.
The strategic interests of the US and Europe no longer align in the same way. The US is now looking anxiously west, across the Pacific, for its rival while Europe looks east where a tattered yet belligerent and unstable double headed eagle hones its talons.
The US is no longer as heavily vested in the defence of Europe as it once was and that effort is rapidly sliding down the scale of American priorities. In a decisive break from the separable but not separate policy the EU is going to have to take responsibility for its own territorial integrity.
The situation has been described with typical erudition by the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Dans ce travail, nous devrons suivre un fil d’Ariane : celui de l’autonomie stratégique de l’Europe et des Européens. Car il nous revient, au sein de l’Union européenne, d’assurer la sécurité de notre continent et de nos concitoyens.
In this effort we must follow the thread of Ariadne: that of strategic autonomy for Europe and Europeans. Because it is up to us, in the European Union, to ensure the security of our continent and our fellow citizens.
Money for Nothing
The second and equally important compelling factor for European defence integration is financial. Modern weapon systems are fantastically complex and expensive. They require large numbers of technically adept personnel to maintain and operated. With a few exceptions no European nations have the capacity to design and field these systems outside multinational cooperative structures. The result is that no single country can provide a full spectrum of defence capabilities. Each must therefore bring something to the EU military alliance that can strengthen the whole.
Combined EU defence spending is second only to the USA but the fragmentation of that investment across 27/28 (delete as applicable) countries means that resultant military force produced is not of a similar scale.
We Happy Few
Notwithstanding its neurotic gyrations over Brexit the UK shares, perhaps to an even greater degree than some of its continental neighbours, these two issues of strategic autonomy and effective defense spending. An EU military alliance, if effectively funded and operated, is a far better defender of British strategic interests that NATO which utterly dominated, to a degree that is not readily apparent to most, by US interests.
The EUMS is not geographically limited in the way that NATO is by Article 6. This was a provision inserted by the US as it had no appetite for defending the colonial possessions of the UK and France. For a salutary example of how NATO membership does not always serve British interests remember that the Falklands War would never have happened if Article 6 did not exist.
The defence challenges and strategic goals of the UK have more in common with Denmark than Hawaii. Membership of a European defence structure recognises this in a way that NATO membership never can.
There is not going to be an ‘EU Army’ in the sense of a unitary force structure and forces with no chain of command back to national governments any time soon or perhaps ever. There is, however, going to be increasing and accelerating integration of defence efforts through EU institutions.
The UK is going to be involved in the EU defence structure after Brexit because its strategic situation compels it to be so with shared imperatives and goals. It’s is just going to have a much reduced voice when it comes to shaping those structures.
Dura Ace is a pb.com regular and ex-RN officer who was censured for stealing a tuk-tuk while on active duty.