⇒ The argument of this blog is: an European Army is on the agenda and it can be done.

By Wolf Achim Wiegand

Hamburg (waw) – The political maxim “divide et impera” (divide and rule) has never lost relevance since alleged inventor Niccolò Machiavelli has diednearly 500 years ago. Look at the European Union’s fragmented 28 (soon 27) national armies. Some Kremlin apparatchiks, as well as some guys in the White House, feel quite comfortable alike if they look at the jumbled European situation map. Neither Vladimir Putin nor Donald J. Trump has great interest in a unified Europe maintaining a common army.

But what about us -Europeans-? Should we and can we really afford many small and often diverging forces? Wouldn’t we be better off with soldiers acting under one command in the name of the EU en bloc?

My opinion: time is due and has come for a healthy European patriotism. Not in the sense of feeling superior to others, but willing to carry out our external safety with our very own European approach.

Open your eyes to the writings on the wall:

  • At our eastern flank resides a ruler who does not respect borders, promotes hybrid warfare, shows no respect to Western values, deploys Iskander-M missiles as near as Kaliningrad, and in fact is building an “arc of iron” around Europe by intervening first in Syria, than in Libya, few kilometers from European shores on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.
  • In the West we have a president who has openly raised doubts about his will to future commitments to NATO, has threatened his allies with unpayable “bills for defense”, and acts all in all incalculable.
  • We, the Europeans, are stuck in the middle of all that fuzz.

And there is more trouble in the making. Just think about challenges like the instabilities of nations in the Middle East, the insecure future of Turkey, the undeclared war in the Ukraine, or the troubles in neighbouring states north and south of the Sahara.

History shows that change of course often depends on a small window of opportunity – you grab it on time and become an influencer or you don’t and lose an opportunity. Now the time is just right to make a historical step towards a European dream come true that catches heads and hearts of decision makers since the early 1950s. It was than French prime minister René Pleven who led the forefront battalions aiming to establish a European Defense Community (EDC) as the core of a future European Army. Unfortunately, Pleven ran aground as early as 1954 when his own national assembly rejected the plan opposing the inclusion of German troops only a decade after World War II.

Today Germany is a beacon of democracy and the Bundeswehr is a not overall best euqipped but trusted body. Interestingly it has been again Paris pushing towards a decisive European defence integration, backed by Germany and Italy. “Europe must ensure its own defence, and France is certainly playing its role,” President François Hollande was quoted when meeting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aboard an aircraft carrier off the Mediterran island of Ventotene on 22 August 2016. There was talk of joint European military headquarters and increased cooperation among their armed forces.

The three leaders were inspired by the than fresh Brexit referendum. It meant the stop of the most pronounced brakeman of rapid EU integration, Her Majesty’s government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A European Army would “totally undermine NATO”, British defence secretary Michael Fallon had grumbled at the EU summit 2016 in Bratislava. Now – after Brexit – the way has cleared.

Better cooperation yes, common army no?

But could Fallon’s Brexit-caused absence create a new push? No, said Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite when hearing about the German-French-Italo advance: “Better cooperation on defence, yes, but not an army, we cannot replace Nato, we cannot duplicate Nato.” Caution was also voiced by Ireland’s Enda Kenny, who throbs on the green island’s neutrality, and by Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Lofven, who would not support such a move. Is the whole project a dead duck, as the EURACTIV network reported: “Big statements have been made at high levels, but analysts question the substance behind the rhetoric.”

Behind the lines, promising steps are meanwhile made and in the making. The first to throw a rock into the pond has been no less than European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who in March 2015 advocated a European Army as a deterrent against Russia.

The Luxembourgian’s thoughts were later echoed in the EU High representative Federica Mogherini’s EU Global Strategy, where defence is seen as “a package to enhance the Security of our Union.” The Mogherini paper promotes a European Defence Action Plan including a European Defense Fund which “will lead to a stronger European Union in defense, which ultimately means a stronger NATO.” The EU foreign policy chief wants member countries eager to integrate their armies to push ahead, without the need for treaty changes. This can be done smoothly by implementing a provision in the Lisbon Treaty, called “permanent structured cooperation”, which allows “voluntary” security integration like an EU headquarter or cross-border military planning.

OK, ok. All this still falls short of the creation of an European Army. But it points after all in the right direction of an integrated defence policy in the medium term. This was advocated most explicit by Italy in 2016, calling for a coalition of member countries willing to establish a joint permanent military force. “By pushing for a ‘Union of European Defense‘, that would include a permanent European force, the Italian proposal still goes further than many other countries have shown an eagerness to do,” explains Jacopo Barigazzi of Politico. The than Foreign Minister and now Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy spoke of a “Schengen of Defence“, an idea expressly supported by Spain.

Can it work…?

But would an European Army be really feasible? Many doubt that. 27 nations, 27 armies, 27 languages, 27 traditions, 27 chains of commands? Well, my answer is: This hotchpotch only enforces the argument in favour of a European Army because it symbolises the fragmentation valid in long gone times when our worldview was narrowed by fiefdoms and national states, a concept of the world that in a globalised world is outdated.

And do not forget: Europeans already have blueprints how to overcome fragmentations in the field of the military. Just three examples:

  • The German-Netherlands Corps takes part in NATO Response Force readiness rotations. At its base in Münster, Germany, soldiers from ten other NATO states are also stationed.
  • The German-French Brigade (brigade franco-allemande) is an up to 60.000 soldiers strong binational Infantry Brigade, integrated into the Eurocorps, a military headquarter of Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, and Luxemburg open to all EU and NATO associated states. Every two years the commander is a French or German officer.
  • In Lithuania, the German army leads a heavily armed and rotating battle group. It forms with soldiers from Belgium and the Netherlands part of the so-called enhanced forward presence (EFP), NATO’s military build-up on the border with Russia. Three further battle groups are deployed in Estonia (led by Britain), in Latvia (led by Canada), and in Poland (made up of US forces).

…promising projects – and there could be listed many more – proofing that multinational troops indeed can be put together and really do function.

No project by finger snapping

All this said does not mean that the European Army could be created by a blink. The Battle Groups mentioned are not centrally controlled. They still obey their home countries commanders who also pay the bills. But the examples are a nucleus of what could be achieved. They are a basis to start with.

One can also take courage to the recent European Union heads of government’s decision to create the first joint military headquarter – a real revolution. Sure, this HQ will only be small and is limited to manage training missions in Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic. But the agreement on unified military planning and common conduct capabilities allows the EU to jointly run military operations abroad—the first time this kind of joint command exists in modern military history.

The decision to create the headquarter tears down a “psychological barrier” against EU centralization efforts. Its impact on future decision makings in the EU should not be underestimated because it is a clear boost for the pro-integration camp. And do not forget: not only big EU countries like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are pushing for a far-reaching defence integration. The idea has strong support in East European countries: the Czech and Hungarian leaders call hearable for the formation of an EU Army, Slovenia and Poland as well.

So: there is some hope for an European Army to come true. No more fighting in confusing colourful uniforms. No candy shop of weaponry. Not nine different fighter planes and 16 types of frigates. Thinak about it.

Forward march!

Europe should act with determination and bring to an end the patchwork resembling coexistence of forces. Let us spare costs, confusions, and coordination problems. It is time to change course. Former German Defense Minister Peter Struck once said: ”Our security must also be defended on the Hindukush.” Now even more distant borderlines appear on the EU military’s radar screens, i.e. the Indian Ocean Region which is home to over thirty states and one-third of the world’s population…

Machiavelli‘s maxim “divide et impera” (divide and rule) should not apply to us in good old Europe. Let us better follow Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Verein und leite!” (“unite and lead”). Or, as German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel puts it: “Handling of those many crises and conflicts can only be successful if we Europeans undertake common efforts in all of Europe.“

Fellow Europeans, proud EU citizens: let us take our fate much more in our own hands and let us begin to create The European Army. The window of opportunity is open now!