Svetlana Maksovic: Creating an EU army, the end of NATO?

Svetlana Maksovic

An initiative for the creation of EU defence forces has been launched several times, but so far it has not been realized. The EU attempted in the 50’s to establish a military structure through the European Defence Community and the Western European military alliance, but that plan failed. The EU security and defence policy is strategically dependent on NATO, and the forming of a new special military structure was understood as a duplication of competencies and as diminishing of the role of NATO. After the Second World War, a foundation of the security architecture of Europe was set, where NATO has taken a key role. That role became important over time, and along with the enlargement of the EU, the capacity of NATO increased. Most of the EU member states are at the same time members of the NATO organization, namely, only six of the twenty-eight EU member states are not members of NATO. What we must have in mind when we talk about the security of the EU, is that America, as the leading country in NATO, has a key role in the European security. It was the United States that braked the creation of an EU military structure independent from NATO, but also the United Kingdom.

The new European reality

However, some progress has been made. A European Defence Agency was established in 2004 (1), and the Lisbon Treaty established a framework for the military and security cooperation, as well as the possibility for a defence integration within the Union. These steps have resulted in the formation of the battle groups for a “quick response.” These battle groups can be the basis of any future EU army.

After UK leaving the EU, the German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen said: “Britain has been persistently blocking for years all EU proposals on the military. The exit of Great Britain from the EU opens up new possibilities for intensifying military cooperation among the member states.” She pointed out that Germany and France were planning to “take the initiative on future military cooperation.”

Recent decisions of the European Parliament provide the basis for strengthening the defence policy and for a possible creation of an army. In mid-November 2016, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the European Defence Community (2). According to this resolution, “Europe needs a political will and determination supported by a broad spectrum of appropriate policy instruments, including strong and modern military competences.”

After indications of its new president that the US will redefine the relationship with NATO, and leaving Britain from the EU, the issue of the formation of EU military forces  has gotten a new dimension.

Also, Macron’s victory in the French elections, according to some opinions, should speed up the decision-making on the establishment of the EU defence forces (3). After UK leaving the EU, France remained the only nuclear power in the EU and is the only permanent member of the UNSC. In addition to this, France is one of the most vulnerable EU countries because of internal ethnic and religious conflicts. The fight against terrorism is the main topic of the French security. It is bad that the French society has a largely distorted view of the causes of the terrorism threat in the country, not understanding its own role in it.

The tasks of the European army

The question is whether the EU army would be able to meet all the requirements of the European security and what would be the role of NATO after the creation of an EU army?

The tasks of the future EU army would be linked to external and internal threats.

EU army?

The main role of the army is the territory defence from an external armed threat. The first task of the future EU army would be to control and defend the borders of the EU. The destabilization of the Middle East has caused large population migrations from the Middle East to the Western Europe which have demonstrated the vulnerability of the EU. Not only the EU did not control the migrants, but there is no intelligence about who is staying in the territory of the Member States, and there is no communication between the member states regarding the potential dangers. The EU countries have not been able to agree on quotas for migrants and how to distribute the migrants to the different countries.

Organized control and protection of EU external borders require the formation of border troops. In addition, the EU should establish intelligence structures that could handle external, and especially internal threats.

As for the armed external threats, the EU has a special problem with the rise of Islamic terrorism, arriving to the EU from the Middle East via Turkey. However, it cannot be considered as external but as an internal threat, given that terrorist cells act within the territory of the EU. The EU will certainly not be attacked by a conventional terrorist army, but it is realistic to expect that terrorist groups are actively operating within the EU. Establishment of EU borders control will prevent from new individuals linked to terrorism entering the territory, but it will not solve the problem of those who are already in the EU, who have asylum or live in the territory of the EU on other grounds. It is essential that the Brussels bureaucracy stops ignoring real threats and further responding to non-existent threats, which means stopping the creation of conflicts with Russia. Obediently following the US foreign policy, has already placed Europe in a very risky position, but today’s new security problems in Europe are directly caused by such acts. Further continuation of such a policy could cause an escalation of civil conflicts in the European countries or a conflict with Russia, which is persistently supported by Washington. The EU needs a new defence concept, but it is important for this concept to be established on a sound basis and to include not only the United States as a partner, but also Russia.

Nobody needs NATO

Basic internal threats in the EU are linked to an increased risk of terrorism, which has led to new security challenges. NATO army is not trained to fight terrorism, which is why the EU is extremely vulnerable. The question is to which point would the new EU army be trained and how it will deal with new problems. It should be borne in mind that the clashes turned into a new form of struggle, which is also called hybrid war, and it involves the use of not only military competences, but of much more advanced technology, electronic, intelligence, information, etc. In this sense, armies trained for conventional wars, are not qualified for new forms of battle. In order to cope with contemporary challenges in the EU, a highly-trained army specialized in combating terrorism in urban conditions is required.

It is especially dangerous that the terrorist threats in the EU can develop into a civil conflict, mostly in countries that are burdened by ethnic and religious conflicts. In this sense, the most endangered country is France, but also the situation in Germany is not simple. France is a country with a high percentage of immigrants from former colonies since many years, and Germany has a lot of immigrants from Turkey and a large number of migrants who came from the Middle East.

The armed forces of European countries are definitely need reforms and modernization, and NATO itself is not able to respond to the new challenges. The European countries spend a less money on defence than the US, and Donald Trump’s comments were precisely related to that fact. He also stated that NATO is an obsolete organization, not able to fight terrorism, which was confirmed several times by the absence of reaction to the terrorist acts carried out in many cities in the EU and in Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.

If an EU army was formed, NATO would lose its purpose and won’t be needed anymore. This organization has certainly lost its role with the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, because its main task was the defence against the communist threat. Instead of being dissolved after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO was then transformed from a defensive alliance into a conquering one. Today’s security problems in Europe are directly related to NATO’s actions in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa after the collapse of the USSR.

And finally, one more thing should be said. The political and military power potential of the EU, compared to the superpowers such as Russia, America and China, is negligible and that fact will not change with the formation of an EU army, simply because in the current situation, Europe has no capacity to become a superpower.

Svetlana Maksovic, Centre for Geostrategic Studies – Serbia



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