With the general consensus in Europe being suspicion toward the US, they’ve started quietly forming their own combined army via a joint bank account.
Have you noticed that in this post-Trump world, nobody talks about ISIS? Only a few months ago, we were all going to be crucified by blood-thirsty Muslims, but now that we’ve got Trump to be scared of, talk of a new Crusade has disappeared off the pages of the newspapers. That does not mean, of course, that “we” are not being threatened anymore. According to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the danger now comes from an America under Trump; unpredictable and therefore volatile. To the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, it is Russian President Putin’s aggression that we have to be careful of. Happily, both gentlemen are united in their solution: a European army, that can take on the big powers in the world and go it alone if need be. NATO is so 2016, right? And who needs diplomacy if you can be “a military superpower” instead?
At the end of November, the European Commission decided that it would be a good idea to invest more in European defence technology. The plan is for European countries to band together and put money in a joint bank account to buy nice toys like attack drones, cyber warfare systems and satellites that guide bombs and rockets. Now these are mostly owned by the US and with Trump soon at the helm there, that is a little unreliable. At the moment, every European nation has its own military and buys its own hardware, mostly from the American weapons industry. With the US now an unknown quantity, Europe is scrambling to protect itself and make sure it owns and is in charge of not only a fighting force, but its tools as well. In 2017, €25 million will be invested in research into new weapons. In 2020, it will be €90 million, and between 2021 and 2027, between €500 million and €3.5 billion out of the European Union budget will be spent. But this is just money for innovation. The aim is to come up with an annual combined European defence budget of €5 billion. Not only is that good for the European weapons industry, but it also necessary in a world where “we face multiplying threats and we must act”, according to EU Vice President Jyrki Katainen. In fact, “in a changing global landscape”, said Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security policy, Europe has to act as a “principled global security power”.
Brexit will remove its biggest opponent, the UK, from the EU, and countries like Italy, the Czech Republic and Hungary can’t wait to take the first steps en route to a proper combined army.
This idea of more European military cooperation is not new. In 2003, there was the European Defence Initiative between France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, and in 2009 the European Parliament voted in favour of something called SAFE, the Synchronised Armed Forces Europe, as a first step towards a European army. That same year, the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, with its famous Article 49, which says that “when the European Commission, acting unanimously, so decides, a common defence” will be the result. SAFE has so far been mostly dormant, because the UK has been very much against it, fearing that it would undermine NATO. Since then there were some treaties, policies and strategies, as well as the European Defence Agency, that harbours a military staff with a four-star general and an EU Battlegroup, with 3,000 soldiers always at the ready. This force has never been used, but it could be deployed tomorrow, if need be. Brexit will remove its biggest opponent, the UK, from the EU, and countries like Italy, the Czech Republic and Hungary can’t wait to take the first steps en route to a combined army.
So what are the problems?
First of all, with Right-wing and even almost-fascist leaders like Marine le Pen (in France) poised to take over governments in Europe, one question becomes urgent: who decides where European soldiers go, where to buy the weapons, how to spend the money, and whether this army will be a peace force or an attacking militia? What happens if there are genuine moral and practical disagreements between the countries on whether and when to go to war? Also, with the EU and Russia in a stand-off over Ukraine and both Putin’s fleet and planes regularly making incursions into European waters and airspace, will Russia take a “superpower” with a super-army next door as a call to back off or amp up the pressure? And what about relationships with China, the US, a post-Brexit UK, or Australia, for that matter? What will the future of NATO be if Europe goes it alone, and will that undermine the already fragile balance in the world? And will that mean conscription for Europe’s men and a build-up of boots on the ground and drones in the air? These are questions we have no answer to, and that worries me. Personally, I have never seen a moment in history where more weapons have made the world a safer place. When we look at the US and its gun laws, we shake our heads: don’t they see that more weapons exclusively means more security? There is no reason to believe that this law will work out differently in the case of a European army.