Since President Donald Trump has taken office, the EU has come closer and closer to creating their long cherished armed forces. Despite the traditional French blocking which began in 1952, it has been the UK more recently who has almost singlehandedly lead the campaign to mine this project in every step of the way. With the UK now completely out of the picture, ironically it has been Trump’s Administration who has indirectly contributed to the acceleration of this creation process, possibly the opposite effect of his initial intent. Suggestions of US forces withdrawal from several theaters of operations, well founded accusations of low defence budget or the withdrawal of the 2015 nuclear treaty have been major catalysts to the EU armed forces fulfillment. Commerce has also been at the root of US’s discontent, as has been proved by the serious constraints imposed on German companies involved in the Russo-German oil pipeline of which former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is the current chairman.
An unprecedented call for unity on behalf of most EU member states has emerged from this complex political scenario with a clear warning to others: unity or dissolution. Despite the initial frosty welcome of Germany to the creation of a EU Armed Forces, it has now found itself welcoming it with open arms. With barely 3.600 troops deployed in second rate military theaters of operations, and an almost virtually inexistent Navy, Germany has had no alternative to embrace this ideal if it`s going to have a saying in foreign policy.
But despite the number of capacity building in support of security and development (CBSD) based missions, the EU arguably lacks the will, and to an extent, the know how to wield an armed forces structure. Not possessing an operational level within its military structure is ample proof of this incapacity, even if the UK’s blocking it at every stage has also had an impact in recent years. In addition to this, some member states are reluctant to allow Brussels to take control of their Armed Forces. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently commented that “NATO is our best guarantee of peace and security”, a comment shared by many, but conceded that the EU could do much more than it currently does with regards to defense. Interestingly he defended an increase in defense expenditure, but stood fast when it came to supporting a EU Armed Forces.
It seems clear that the lack of a common EU foreign policy lies at the heart of the problem, as each EU member state has very different views and pursues different goals. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded that Europe is in the very early stages when it comes to a common foreign policy. In recent months, Chantal Lavallée, from the Elcano think-tank, said that “the EU Commission has found its way into the European security and defense sector”, a statement difficult to understand in view of the highly questionable handling of all EU military missions, from the unbelievably complex and unproductive funding mechanisms which rarely manage to equip their forces deployed overseas adequately, to the conduct of ATALANTA Operation, in which there has been no rotation in its command at the OHQ (always a UK officer), and with only one nation providing forces on a continuous basis (Spain). Ironically, the UK has never provided with forces, but only manned the OHQ, and FHQ to a certain degree, which seems like a meagre effort in comparison with its so called European partners. These, however, are issues which should be relatively easy to resolve within the EU as many belong to NATO. Surely some lessons learnt have transpired which can be incorporated to this new European scheme.
Now, with no stone left on the path, there is hardly an excuse for the fulfillment of this European ideal, and whoever leads this enterprise will certainly secure a place in the history books.
.Author: Lt Cdr. Juan Del Pozo Berenguer (Spanish Navy)