Why does European Union need its own army?
[b]The Lisbon Treaty came into force on December 1st. The new EU Presidential post is more symbolic than practical of course; the elected heads of the 27 member states are still the ones making the decisions. Brussels is steadily gaining authority and may one day boast not only the single European currency but a single army[/b] Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini recently told the British Times that, at the forthcoming EU summit, he is going to ask his colleagues to think over the possibility of establishing a united armed force. Having a general visa is wonderful and a single currency is even better but, if Europe fails to conduct a shared foreign policy, it will count for little. “If the USA and China unite in G2 and establish a Pacific Ocean axle, then the North Atlantic Alliance could be forgotten,” Mr. Frattini warns.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini recently told the British Times that, at the forthcoming EU summit, he is going to ask his colleagues to think over the possibility of establishing a united armed force. Having a general visa is wonderful and a single currency is even better but, if Europe fails to conduct a shared foreign policy, it will count for little. “If the USA and China unite in G2 and establish a Pacific Ocean axle, then the North Atlantic Alliance could be forgotten,” Mr. Frattini warns.
Of course, it’s no surprise. The Germans, British, Italians and French, among others, have been considering this move for several decades. ‘The fathers of Europe’ — French diplomats Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet and Renй Pleven — planned not only a union of coal and steel, but also of armies.
Soon after the WW2 ended, the ‘cold war’ began. In 1948, a military block was established in Brussels, later named the Western European Union (WEU). A single military uniform was worn by 14 French, 12 German and 11 Italian divisions, in addition to three divisions represented by each Benelux country. However, their business never went further than the sewing workshop.
The WEU still formally exists but is known only to diligent international law students. A year later, NATO was set up (collecting all the laurels targeted initially at the WEU). According to the first General Secretary, Hastings Ismay, the North Atlantic Alliance better managed ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans inside and the Germans below Europe’. Napoleonic plans were forgotten until the fall of the ‘iron curtain’. The United States’ caution seemed no longer necessary. Additionally, in the early 1990s, Europe created the business minded European Union. Far-sighted politicians predicted that it could become a Colossus on clay legs. Meanwhile, the Maastricht Treaty was signed and a Eurocorps of 60,000 appeared. Only the above mentioned French-British brigade was truly international. Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg were represented by national subdivisions ready to join the common line-up if necessary.
The Eurocorps has failed to gain much fame in its battles. Military experts criticise its structure for being too bureaucratic and inefficient. By the time all the supreme commanders manage to liaise, a war could be over. Moreover, an initiative of five states can hardly be called a true army of the whole European Union.
Generally, Europeans were not too worried by the situation. In the 1990s, the EU had no serious grounds to feel anxious about its security. The West felt itself under America’s ‘umbrella of security’ and Europe was able to save money for its own economic projects. NATO, meanwhile, successfully settled any challenges.
Only after the Kosovo crisis emerged, did Europeans seriously consider their defensive capacity. In December 1999, the EU Security and Defence Policy was outlined in Helsinki, aiming to create an armed service of 100,000 (including 400 aircraft and 100 ships) over a five year period.
“Although the rapid reaction force was the first all-European military initiative, it was far from a single army,” explains Belarusian international relations specialist Denis Melyantsov. “Each national subdivision of the rapid reaction force is subordinate to the head of its own country; EU members only offer their troops at Brussels’ demand.”
The mission of new forces was limited to conducting peace keeping operations sanctioned by the UN. Importantly, the ‘right of first refusal’ was outlined for NATO, with European troops only taking part in action if the Alliance refused to participate.
One might think that the United States was a contradictory force but, in reality, Washington supported European initiatives which didn’t conflict with the North Atlantic Alliance. American interests are as transparent as a Coca-Cola bottle: primarily, it is happy when more money can be allocated to the country’s own defence. The European Union produces no fewer weapons than the USA — and far more than other market participants — but, unlike America, exports most of them.
Since the ‘cold war’, most EU states have steadily cut their military budgets. Even the creation of a single army is curtailed by economics. German newspaper Sьddeutsche Zeitung stresses that the presence of national armed forces in each EU country only scatters funds. It compares the efficiency of military budgets with those of the Unites States. The cumulative military budget of EU member states comprises 60 percent of that of America. However, Europe’s military potential is just 10 percent of that of the USA.
The problem is rooted not only in a lack of political will. A mere 38 percent of the EU’s population supports a single European army (in comparison, 67 percent of Europeans are ready to empower Brussels to fight crime). European politicians have to take this into consideration in making decisions. The saying about people not wishing to feed their own army but being obliged to feed that of a foreign nation springs to mind.
The creation of the EU’s rapid reaction force was hopelessly overdue. The Iraq campaign has played a negative role in splitting Europe into ‘old’ and ‘new’. In its foreign policy, Eastern Europe was oriented towards the USA but it has only been since Barack Obama’s inauguration to the White House that those in Brussels have seriously started their military planning.
In early 2009, the European Parliament voted to re-establish joint forces, subordinate to the EU’s central bodies, acting in line with its statutes. This is a significant step forward (in comparison to past attempts to protect themselves with their own forces).
By Igor Kolchenko
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