Whilst at DSEI last week I had missed the speech delivered by European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen during which she called for the EU to “beef up its military capabilities to confront security threats and global crises”.
Speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg she is reported to have said that the EU military force would be “part of the solution” and that following the Afghanistan pull-out “the EU needed the political will to intervene militarily without US-led NATO”.
I cannot actually recall even the most vehement fan of creating an EU ‘army’ or ‘military force’ using words ‘intervening militarily without US-led Nato’. The US may well be the largest financial contributor and it is surely right that the supreme allied commander Europe, who is responsible for overseeing all NATO military operations, should be a senior US flag or general officer.
Sadly, the European Commission President clearly seeks to push NATO aside. Ignoring all the important values of this being the transatlantic alliance and one that while it has an integrated command structure allows most forces to remain under their respective national authorities until a specific NATO operation commences.
To my mind and many others of like mind across the western world NATO, which was founded in 1949, remains the pillar of US and European military cooperation and one that has ensured peace and stability within Europe for 72 years. Nothing, in my view, should be allowed damage it or hinder its progress in doing the work that it was established to do and has done so well.
Reading Ursula von der Leyen’s address one is left wondering whether she actually knows that NATO even exists let alone what it has and continues to do. Has she ever even been to NATO Headquarters in Brussels I wonder let alone to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and put the effort in to see and understand how NATO works? The EC president speaks in riddles on the subject of defence and presents a case as if all EU member states are behind the notion of creating an EU military force. Well, they are not all behind her and as far as I am concerned, she appears to have little if any understanding of what strong collective defence is all about and what North America and Europe as a whole need. The future for European collective defence is far too important to be messed around with by EU politics.
Unlike what the EC president is proposing, NATO is a consensus-based alliance, one in which decisions must reflect the membership’s unanimous collective will. Would an EU military force supersede the ability allowed under the NATO structure for an individual member state or subgroups of allies to initiate actions outside of an EU military structure as the NATO’s existing structure does?
Eighty years on, it seems to me that just as many past French presidents have, the European Commission President prefers to ignore history and the absolute crucial role that the US, UK and other allies played in re-establishing peace in Europe. NATO is the very foundation of European security and it has served its member states well through the Cold War and beyond.
Does the European Commission President not understand the mantra of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and in particular what Article V states “an armed attack against any one or more [member states] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”.
That the whole EU military force concept is designed by its French and German authors to move the EU closer toward back door political union is less well understood and not for me to discuss here. But my view remains that creation of a separate EU military force structure can only but weaken Nato whilst at the same time potentially destroying confidence of millions of European people across the whole Continent no matter whether they live in an EU member state or not. NATO is the constant in all of our lives and long may that be so.
Whilst I accept that many of the security issues that have impact on Europe today have their roots outside of NATO borders that is no different to what any new found EU military force would find itself up against. Could an EU military force ever command the same respect amongst the people, of Europe than NATO does? I doubt that it could. Could the EU as one body command the same diplomatic respect and strengths that some of its individual members already do? Could they even agree on policy and action?
And where would Germany’s legitimised constitutional rules on deployment of German forces (outside the NATO area) fit within a EU military force when, admissible under a United Nations mandate but at the same time, each individual case for deployment is subject to the approval of the German Bundestag? One wonders what criteria would be used to decide? How would Germany approach such issues and how long would it take?
More importantly, having been led for so long to believe that while the German military has since its 1949 Constitution been allowed to participate in multi-lateral peacekeeping and combat operations subject to parliamentary approval, that Germany would not involve in combat operations, how would members of the many German political parties react – indeed how would the people react when asked if German troops can fully participate in EU military deployments outside of the EU zone?
OK, so arguably, deployment of UK military forces outside of NATO borders must also be approved by Parliament here in the UK. As far as I am aware (elections that will decide who succeeds Angela Merkel take place this Sunday) and although it has voiced reservations, Germany remains supportive to the eventual creation of an EU military force. But at the same time, Germany appears to be far more committed to NATO than other protagonists seeking to create a separate EU military force. Naturally I welcome that but I remain uncertain as to how serving two military masters could work?
Leave aside views of other member states who are opposed to formation of a separate EU military structure (as with the Euro Currency an opt out of any proposed EU military force would more than likely be allowed) and the issue of how long it might take for those member states who support a separate EU military structure and who may be asked to allow their troops to be deployed, to decide on a stance.
Then there is the vexing issue of cost, not just whether the EU can afford to move forward on this but also whether each and every EU member that supports creation of an EU military force would be prepared to significantly increase spending on defence?
Of course, whatever I might believe and hope, one can be reasonably assured that France and other EU members who are behind creation of a separate EU military force will eventually force it through.
NATO’s structure is there already and serves us all well. The EU does not even have an agreed military force structure and while I am aware that France will host an EU defence summit next year, I dislike the tone of the EU presidents annual State of the Union address. In particular I dislike her words “It is time for Europe to step up to the next level” – the EU has historically relied on the Nato alliance for military action but the rapid collapse of the Kabul government (Afghanistan) has raised questions about the EU’s ability to drive its own defence policy.
Adding fuel to her own fire the EU president said “the EU had to provide greater stability in its own neighbourhood and elsewhere, taking part in missions that did not include Nato and the UN. It also had to share intelligence and become a leader in cyber-security. What had held the EU back until now” she said “was not just a shortfall of capacity – it is the lack of political will – you can have the most advanced forces in the world – but if you are never prepared to use them, of what use are they”.
I am in no position to call whether the idea of creating an EU military force will become a reality or not but unlike others, I am not prepared to be complacent. It may well never happen in my lifetime – it may well be that the EU itself struggles – but I am not prepared to bet against it happening as geo-politics is turned on its head.
I note to that the Daily Telegraph article this morning there is a suggestion that an ally of the French president has gone so far as to suggest that Macron may even be willing to pass France’s seat on the UN Security Council on to the European Union in return for an agreement to establish a common European Army! With France being a nuclear power, I think that very unlikely although, following on from its expressed anger at the Aukus deal, the elephant in the room remains as to whether France would once again leave NATO – something that I sincerely hope does not occur.
CHW (Birmingham – 22nd September 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785