In defense of an EU army
Since 1949, NATO has been a cornerstone of European security and of the transatlantic alliance. Yet with two North American members and 80% of its spending coming from non-EU countries, the need for an independent European army is dire.
Calls for this capability came loudest from the French president Emmanuel Macronbut also the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borel and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
In fact, support for an independent European defense has consistently garnered more than 70% of EU citizens since 2000.
Need for a single European military response
Many European problems require a European military response.
Take, for example, last year’s migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border. A unified European army may have deterred the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko to use migrants to attack the EU in the first place and could provide logistics and resources to Poland.
Currently, 6,000 Polish soldiers are defending what is essentially the EU’s external border – and they are doing it alone. Similar scenes occur with the military and at the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Most pressing is the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. An EU army could train Ukrainian forces in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia or Romania, supply equipment and support the mass migration of Ukrainian citizens to the EU.
The Russian Federation spends only 55.5 billion euros ($62 billion) on its military. Combined EU defense spending amounts to almost 200 billion euros ($223 billion).
A collective EU force would radically change the balance of power and forces in Europe Russian President Vladimir Poutine to recalculate its power projection on the continent.
Architecture of a European army
Fortunately, the framework for a unified European army is already in place.
The Eurocorps is a multinational force for both NATO and the EU, forming part of the command and control of the former but available for the missions of the latter. It is headquartered in Strasbourg, France, and operates under the authority of its own Joint Committee, made up of its current Member States.
Today it numbers just 1,000 soldiers, a far cry from a real army corps, which typically numbers between 50,000 and 300,000. To put that into perspective, the Russian forces massed on the border with Ukraine just before the invasion were about 150,000 men.
Associate members on the continent to join the Eurocorps, namely Turkey. Some European states, such as Sweden, have so far ruled out joining NATO to remain neutral in a possible European conflict.
An EU defense force could provide them with the political cover to do so, while offering defense guarantees. Finland, another EU country that has yet to join NATO, was an associate member of Eurocorps from 2002 to 2006.
Expansion of Eurocorps
The Eurocorps should be expanded to the size of a real corps, with personnel from all EU states, and enter into the common defense and security policy of the EU. This would allow the force to be placed under the authority of the European Council.
An enlarged Eurocorps is not meant to replace NATO’s transatlantic alliance; it is intended to strengthen it. Twenty-one of the twenty-seven NATO countries belong to the EU. Four other NATO members (Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Turkey) have applied to join the union.
The Berlin Plus agreement, signed in 2002, allows the EU to draw NATO equipment for operations in which NATO refuses to participate. Thus, a unified European defense force would only strengthen NATO’s interoperability.
Like Article 5 of NATO, the EU already has a mutual defense clause.
Section 42.7 of The Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that if a member is the victim of an attack with a weapon, the other members are obliged to assist him by all necessary means.
In addition, Article 222 of the Treaty of Rome stipulates that members must mobilize military resources in response to terrorist attacks and natural or man-made disasters.
EU military cooperation
If the nation states of the EU were able to pool their resources within the framework of an enlarged Eurocorps, the opportunities would be limitless.
If EU states shared strategic airlift capability, for example, they could have continued the airlift in Kabul last summer. Many European armies wanted to continue evacuations and other operations in Afghanistan, but had no choice but to end them as the more capable US military withdrew.
This too has already started through the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO.
This voluntary program allows EU members to cooperate on defense acquisition projects such as the European Attack Helicopter or enabling capabilities such as Cyber Rapid Reaction Teams. Nearly 80% of PESCO member states belong to NATO.
The creation of an EU defense force could be seen as creating a potential gap between the United States and Europe. The opposite is true. Both sides of the Atlantic would benefit from European strategic autonomy.
Critics might see the creation of an EU defense force as creating a potential wedge between the United States and Europe. However, the opposite is true. Both sides of the Atlantic would benefit from European strategic autonomy.
The EU would have the flexibility to respond to crises without Washington’s approval or financial support.
In turn, American policymakers would no longer have to intervene in Europe or justify intervention with a population exhausted by two decades of misadventure abroad.
Wesley Satterwhite is a captain in the US Army Reserves. He has served in various assignments including NATO Special Operations Command Afghanistan (2016-2017) and US Army Europe (2019-2020).
He is currently a candidate for a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, focusing on United States national security policy.
The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official positions of the United States Department of Defense, the Department of the Army or Georgetown University.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflectand the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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