The EU Will Not Create Its Own Armed Forces

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – French president Emmanuel Macron said it right. In his speech at the Munich Security Conference he argued that “We need a European strategy that renews us and turn us into a strategic political power.” Indeed, there is no reason why Europe should not be a world power.

The EU has a lot of assets

The European Union has a significant size, a large population, (512 million), and the second largest economy in the world, ($ 18 trillion), just a bit behind he US, if we add the GDP of all its member states.

Long gone are the dark days of the beginning of the Cold War, when a destroyed Europe had to rely on American protection, delivered via NATO, to guarantee its own security, vis-a-vis a menacing Russia.

The dark days of the Cold war are over

In 1949, the year NATO was created, Germany was a vanquished and semi-destroyed country. It had lost its eastern provinces, (to Poland), and the Soviet Zone of Occupation had morphed into a separate, and hostile, Communist State under Soviet control. The rest of Europe was also heavily damaged by WWII and fairly poor. Europe needed the security protection that could be provided only by a strong and confident America.

70 years later, we have a completely different scenario. First of all, the Soviet threat vanished with the implosion of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Germany was reunified, and is now the fourth largest world economic power. The rest of Europe has also grown significantly.

There is no European core

So, what’s preventing an economically strong EU from playing a much bigger role on the world stage? Very simple. the European Union has no political core, no clear identity. It is not a federal state with an established identity and a clearly defined national interest for whose protection armed forces have been created and sophisticated diplomacy is used on a daily basis.

The European Union is an unprecedented experiment linking sovereign states that have agreed to surrender some sovereignty to supranational, EU institutions that operate according to rules defined by a complex web of intra-European treaties.

Hard to say what the “European Union” really is. It is certainly much more than a Free Trade Area. But, for sure, it is not a state. Nor is there any agreed upon road map, plan, agreement or anything else that binds members states to create a European Federation at any time.

Macron’s suggestions will go nowhere

This should be enough for anybody to conclude that Macron’s exhortations, while justified in principle, will go absolutely nowhere. Lacking the glue of shared identity and shared destiny, complex associations agreements among sovereign states are just not enough to create a new, major power that will play a significant role on the world scene.

Size, population, GDP and overall development are important prerequisites, of course. And Europe arguably has all of them. But Europe is not a state. There is no democratically elected, centralized, federal European government representing the European people, with the clear and undisputed mandate to define the national interest, while allocating the necessary economic resources to create the armed forces, (along with the command structure), necessary to protect it.

Talk but no actions

Therefore, expect some talk about Macron’s idea of a more assertive Europe. But not much more than that. Sure enough, Macron’s concerns will be addressed in some measure by creating ad hoc committees gathering EU policy-makers, elder statesmen, and military leaders. These committees can and will meet, discuss, propose, and what not. But there is no way that this Europe, as currently configured, will be able to create a sizable EU defense budget, and then field modern, credible armed forces operating under a European Command.

While diminished, NATO is still there

So, is Europe defenseless? Not really.

Europe can still rely, or at least most Europeans hope this, on good old, US-led, NATO. Yes, after all these years, NATO is still there. While most American troops are gone, there are still thousands of U.S. soldiers in Europe, and there is still an impressive infrastructure of old and tested joint NATO commands, regular NATO meetings, NATO military exercises, and an established practice of discussing most Western security issues within the framework of the Alliance.

Of course, the major problem is that NATO, today just like 70 years ago, is mostly a US unilateral security guarantee to Europe. Everybody knows this. Today many question the continuing need for this old Alliance, decades after the end of the Soviet threat that justified its creation. But the truth is that inertia dominates.

NATO is there, so let us keep it, even though there are good reasons to questions its purpose and viability, considering the much reduced defense budgets (and therefore military capabilities) of all its European members.

European defense without NATO

What Macron proposes for the EU is something like a Europe-only NATO, without the US and Canada. Again, nothing wrong with that. A relatively prosperous Europe could and should finally be autonomous and self-sufficient on fundamental security issues.

There is no Europe

Except that there is no Europe, if by “Europe” we mean a strong state, with a legitimate European Government in charge of fundamental issues, including defense and foreign affairs.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that this European Union, with its unelected leaders running armies of bureaucrats, can have the authority and the credibility to raise expensive armies and organize defense strategies under a unified EU Command.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.