A few years ago, General Sir Richard Shirreff wrote a book called “War with Russia”, about a war started by Russia in the Baltic States. As a recently retired general who had served as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, his main job was to try to ensure that at any time the various components of NATO’s committed forces were actually ready to go as the situation demanded. So it is not surprising that a major element of his book was a thinly-veiled warning that, although many NATO (for which read European) nations had committed impressive rapid-response force levels, the reality was (and is) rather different.
In the book, Russian forces are able to deal with the West on a piecemeal basis as there is little initial, unified-response and politicians are unable to find the strength to deal with the reality of what is going on under their noses; the ending will have to remain a mystery for now in order not to spoil General Shirreff’s story. However, the main takeaway point is that there are generally serious doubts as to whether NATO is fit for purpose in the context of a limited Russian land-grab in Eastern Europe or the Baltic States. And that is where the European Army comes in. Or at least that is what they would have us believe.
A European Army would be a more formal extension of the current PESCO system which stands for Permanent Structured Cooperation. This, in turn, is “euro-speak” for:
“a practical EU framework that enables participating Member States to pursue cooperation amongst each other on concrete projects in defence and security….The respective Member States now work together concern, for example, military training and exercises, military capabilities on land, air and sea but also the ever more important area of cyber defence.” European External Action Service paper: Towards a stronger EU on security and defence, published on 19th Nov 2018.
By a process of almost imperceptible merging of security interests, the members of PESCO now engage in a Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), which is described as a “defence cooperation platform. Member States share their defence spending plans to identify shortfalls, increase coherence and benefit from significant potential gains in effectiveness and cost savings”. Even beyond this, “the creation of a European Defence Fund (EDF) will for the first time co-finance joint research and development of military capabilities.” But why stop there? “The new arrangements will help to develop more effective common capacities and put them to more effective use.”
In other words, if you have a joint security policy and collective operations, a joint defence spending plan and collectively agreed on R&D, then why would you not have a single defence force to take advantage of all these wonderful pan-European systems and processes. As mentioned in an earlier TMT article, “The UK defence industry, Brexit and beyond” published on 3rd August 2018, the complete harmonisation of the Europe defence industry is a major aim of some senior European bureaucrats. But many have admitted that they want to go beyond and bind all European states into a common European defence policy.
Given that the European External Action Service is, in fact, the European Union’s diplomatic service, and that its aim is to “help the EU’s foreign affairs chief – the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – carry out the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy”, it is not much of a stretch to see this as the building of the final pillar in the construction of a United States of Europe – a European Army under central command.
In fact, this is already going on at a pace – and is actually effectively run by the EEAS. They have set up the European Union Military Staff which is subordinate to the EEAS; according to some reports, it “contributes to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) by providing strategic advice to the High Representative (HR/VP) and commanding operations through its Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) operational headquarters”.
The EUMS also reports to the European Union Military Committee, which currently “represents” the various European national defence chiefs. It is headed up by 4-star Chairman. It must provide member states with a lot of confidence that one of the smaller countries of Europe, Greece, was able to justify a four-start post for its huge armed forces – because a little-known Greek general filled that post for three years to November 2018, at which point an Italian general took over. The point here is that one has to ask whether the UK could ever see its forces being commanded and deployed by people and organisations that we do not have the power to monitor and replace if necessary.
At some point very soon, therefore, Europe will have a semi-elected governing body, a single currency with strongly aligned fiscal regulations, a common foreign policy (run by the EEAS), and a unified armed-forces. Backing this up is the intent to have a harmonised defence acquisition plan which will exert increasing control of national defence budgets, as well as centralised control of defence R&D (as described in the TMT article, “The UK defence industry, Brexit and beyond”).
In effect, Brussels will control the whole process of defence from start to finish. Which leads to the very interesting question: exactly who will be in command? Who will be making those decisions? Will this be another largely unaccountable, unelected European body? Will Euro-politics demand that each country, regardless of their competence, have a crack at commanding a European Army? And if so, how long before the French and Germans quietly agree to take it over and turn it into something they always wanted to have in the first place?
Some might comment that some of the points made here are alarmist. However, the British have raised a number of similar issues and received few solid answers. One of these is the nature of any relationship between a European Army and NATO. This has not exactly been helped by a recent exchange of pointed comments by Presidents Macron and Trump. Just before the recent Armistice Day ceremony in France, Macron stated: “We (in Europe) are being shaken by hacking attempts in our cyberspace. We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” in order to prevent Europe from becoming “a plaything of great powers“.
To which Trump, not surprisingly, tweeted: “President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
According to other recent Trump comments, that “fair share” is 4% of GDP, a figure so remotely achievable that it is tantamount to saying that the US will effectively pull out of NATO and return to its former isolationist policy, something Trump touted in his election campaign and which he considered in the months up to July of this year. In some respects it is hard not to feel some sympathy for the US position. When wealthy countries such as Germany do not have the political will to raise their defence spending even to 1.5%, it must really gall the Americans to be sending over trip-wire forces to prevent Putin from moving west into the Baltics or Ukraine.
All this leaves the UK in a tricky position. If “push comes to shove” and we are forced to choose between the US and Europe, in which camp should we park our tanks, subs, and aircraft? Do we feel a natural alignment with European Forces whose leaders have been quite reluctant to “get involved”? Would a decision to align more closely with the US create an even stronger bond between the two nations and guarantee that they would support the UK whenever we needed them?
Gavin Williamson, our Defence Secretary, recently confirmed that the UK will not join a European Army. He made it clear that the UK regards NATO as the only viable and effective international military force. However, by doing so, he has in effect nailed our flag to the US mast – for NATO in many ways is now “America”.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!