Is Europe Ready to Form Its Own Army?

The idea of creating a European army is not new. During the Cold War, there was a real threat to the existence of the Western European countries and their security could not be ensured without the United States. Therefore, the idea of a European army in the form of the Western European Union (WEU) and timid attempts to develop the European Defense Cooperation (EDC) remained in NATO’s shadow.

In the last decade of the 20th century, the second phase of NATO’s enlargement (its expansion eastward to the post-socialist countries of central Europe) also pushed the talk of a European army into the background. This situation changed in the beginning of this century. After September 11, 2001, NATO entered the third phase of its development, globalization. In other words, it started pushing beyond the limits of its traditional zone of responsibility, that is, Europe and North America.

NATO’s globalization, as well as the marginalization of the OSCE made room for the European Union (EU) as a security actor in Europe. The increasing intertwinement of foreign and domestic security is also enhancing the EU’s security role. The EU has become the main provider of security in the western Balkans instead of NATO, and the main authority in issues of crisis management, humanitarian relief etc. This phenomenon is known as the diversification of European security, where NATO is in charge of only its “hard” aspects that cannot be regulated without the US participation, while the EU is responsible for the “soft” varieties. In the 21st century, trans-Atlantic relations have become less dependent on security problems, which is making the talk of a European army all the more topical.

The Treaty of Lisbon (signed in 2007 and entered into force in 2009) is a most important document for EU defense integration. It finally converted the Treaty on the Western European Union to the EU and the WEU itself ceased to exist. The European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) became the Common Defense and Security Policy (CSDP). Any CSDP member-country (except Denmark) is obliged to provide any necessary military assistance to another CSDP member that has come under an attack.

After Donald Trump became US President in 2017, he made numerous statements to the effect that the United States would not pay for Europe’s security. These statements compelled European politicians to pay more attention to EU defense integration.

The European Defense Union (EDU) is now the main concept in the process of defense integration. Its creation will lead to a very important consequence: the current CSDP provisions committing the member-states to render aid to an ally under attack by any available means will be replaced by a collective defense of the territory, which is similar to what Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty says. According to the European political mainstream, the creation of a European army must start with the integration of the EU countries’ defense industries. The European Defense Agency (EDA) established in 2004 will be in charge of this process. Military and military technical specialization of a country or group of countries must be developed within the framework of the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

EU countries with an advanced defense industry are primarily interested in the development of permanent structured cooperation and the integration of defense industry potential because this integration will guarantee defense orders and jobs in the long run. Moreover, the creation of the EDU will not necessarily lead to an increase in defense spending. Probably, in time, PESCO and EDU will even make it possible for the participating states to reduce their military spending somewhat. This is a positive distinction from current EU defense commitments to NATO that set the goal for its members to increase their defense spending to 2 percent of GDP.

At this point, a European army still remains a remote and vague prospect. However, specific areas of European defense integration have been mapped out in the past few years. The legal foundation of EU military cooperation has been prepared within PESCO framework and projects for training the interoperability of the armed forces of the member states are being carried out. But it is difficult to predict the final results of EU defense integration and when the EU will have a full-fledged army.

Traditionally, the United States has had a mistrustful attitude toward defense integration attempts in Europe. Potential overlapping of functions (dichotomy) of the EU and NATO remains a serious problem in any attempt to implement EU defense integration. EU officials call EU defense integration “the strengthening of NATO’s European pillar, which consolidates rather than weakens the Trans-Atlantic solidarity.”

It is possible to assume that differentiating European security will make it possible to avoid a conflict between NATO and the EU. If the EU is faced with a “hard” security challenge, its member-states will act within the NATO framework. But when it is more expedient to resolve the problem on their own, they will act within the EDU format.

In the long run, European defense integration will strengthen Europe’s defense autonomy from the United States and reduce NATO’s role in Europe. Successful development of the CDSP will guarantee that neutral European countries – Austria, Ireland, Finland and Sweden – will not join NATO. Therefore, Russia stands to gain from the development of the EDU and European defense integration.

How to Interpret the Idea of a European Army
Viktor Litovkin
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag that the time has come for Europe to have an army of its own. “A joint European army,” he said, “would show the world that there would never again be a war between EU countries.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.