Since Brexit and Trump becoming president there has been much talk in Europe about the future of its defence. The UK and US are in fact the main guarantors of security since the end of WW2 …
Many people have argued that the repeated criticisms of Trump against NATO and the Obama pivot to Asia are clear signs of a gradual retreat of American forces from the continent. Meanwhile, Brexit could be seen as an end to the historical collaboration between London and the European capitals on matters of defence and security. Moreover, the rivalry with Russia and the growing instability of areas in Africa and the Middle East has brought back concrete threats to the peace and social stability of Europe. As a result of these geopolitical changes, EU members are being forced to cooperate and spend more on their militaries in order to fill the potential Anglo-American vacuum looming.
With Britain no longer in the EU to oppose the creation of a European army, and with doubts on the American commitment to the defence of the continent, there is a real chance to move forward in the creation of a pan-European army. Some progress has already been made in this direction, with more likely to come. The main achievement so far has been the formation of an international German-led army, anchored by the Bundeswehr, to which minor countries have joined part of their forces. The Netherlands have been the first and most enthusiastic, putting two-thirds of their soldiers under German command. Romania and Czech Republic have also merged an entire brigade in this inter-European army. Other countries are to follow, most likely from Scandinavia.
Moreover, on the 13th of November 2017, 23 EU members except for the UK, Malta, Ireland, Denmark and Portugal signed up for closer defence co-operation. The arrangement will enhance the military interconnection among member states, as well as increase the defence budget. A European Defence Fund worth $5.8 bn annually from 2020, was formed in July 2017 to back and harmonize the participants’ spending. This deal certainly represents an important step to a bigger European military union.
However, the latest push for an EU army was made by Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, who openly called for a European army and shared defence budget. The plan faces at least two obstacles. Firstly and most crucially, is that the EU members often have divergent interests and different perspectives when it comes to foreign policy. The Libyan case is the most significant one, with France and Great Britain acting for their own advantage but to the detriment of the Italian’s economic, energy and security interests. Given that the main goal of any armed forces is to protect its country’s interests, it is difficult to imagine a military system acting against the interests of the nation-state it’s supposed to represent.
Secondly, both the United States and the United Kingdom will certainly try to prevent a European army from being created. Especially if under German control. In their minds, there must not be another dominant military power in the continent. This is the main reason for which Britons fought two World Wars and Napoleon. For the US, it would add to the EU’s economic might a fearsome military dimension, thus creating a geopolitical giant capable of challenging it on a global stage.
If at the moment a truly European army seems problematic, in the future Germany and more recently France, could lead the way. If Berlin continues in its project, and if central and northern European countries are willing to cede part of their sovereignty, a truly inter-European army may be born. Should this happen, it would be difficult to predict the Anglo-American response to that. With Brexit, London will no longer have a say in the EU’s development; it won’t be able to veto proposals it doesn’t like. A push for a bigger and exclusive role in NATO would probably be the next step, in order to undermine any alternative military partnership and show that cooperation with the UK and US is far more practical and beneficial.