Debate has begun to heat up in Europe over the proposal to create a united European army separate from NATO. Isolationist sentiment has carried the day this year, as indicated by both the British exit from the European Union and Trump’s presidential win.
The growing threat from Russia has provided further impetus to the need for independent European defensive capabilities.
The winds of change are growing strong and the EU is on course to increase its defensive capabilities, whether through the more dramatic proposal to create a wholly independent EU army is realized or if the EU simply decides it needs to supplement the defensive capabilities of NATO.
Arguing in favor of European military independence, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, cited President-elect Trump’s pledge to demand other NATO allies to pay their fair share and his isolationist policies as a reason to rebuild Europe’s defensive capabilities.
The EU’s diplomacy head carried the argument further as he called for Europe to transform itself into what he called a “superpower” that could act as a “global security power”.
Mr. Juncker, who plans to push for an independent EU army capable of competing as a world power, went on to say, “the Americans, to whom we owe much … will not ensure the security of the Europeans in the long term.
We have to do this ourselves.” Just this summer, the EU representative in global politics, Federica Mogherini, released detailed plans describing the establishment of an EU army.
She had waited until Britain’s referendum to exit the EU had been decided and now has she has stated that the EU must grow its military might in response to Trump’s election win.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has also presented a plan to build a EU army. In mid-November, she published a piece in the German media in which she laid out her arguments for forming a European army in response to the new course that she believes both Brexit and the US election have set.
Britain has been a long-time opponent of plans for a European army, and its exit from the EU has confirmed its rejection of plans for a shared military force separate from NATO.
In September, it became known that France and Germany had already been engaged in high-level talks to create a common military force. The current proposal to create an EU command center and bring back joint EU battlegrounds may still fall short of a fully independent army, but it is an important first step.
Also on the table is the idea of a European investment fund for defense. Possibly managed by European banks, this fund could begin small and grow in size as member nations contribute. Backed by the European Investment Bank, the new force would gain both financial and strategic independence from NATO.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, has criticized the proposal to create a separate European army. Mr. Farage was quoted as saying, “You’ve got Jean-Claude Juncker using the election of President Trump as a means of trying to destroy NATO by pushing his ridiculous dream of a European army.”
Mr. Farage, the first British politician to speak with Trump after he had secured the presidency, went on to agree with the new Republican president, “I have to say when Trump says America should not continue to pick up such a big bill for NATO – I think he’s right. The other members do need to pull their weight, and frankly there has been no proper reassessment of what NATO is ever since the Berlin wall came down over 25 years ago.”
He added that he would like to see a meeting between NATO member nations in which they discuss their commitment and the future of the alliance.
Jens Stoltenberg, former prime minister of Norway and current secretary general of NATO, has also roundly criticized the proposed EU army by calling it “a ghost of the past” and declaring that it had been put to rest.
He dismissed calls for creating a new military structure and stated that after he attended the European Defense Ministers meeting in Bratislava, “It was clearly stated that there is no intention to create a European Army; or establish a military headquarters similar to that of NATO’s shape.
And it was also made clear that NATO remains the foundation for the collective defense of those countries that are part of the Alliance.”
While the debate continues as to whether Europe, through the leadership of France and Germany, will create an independent EU army, what is clear is that EU member nations will increase their investment in defense.
Perhaps all it took was the push from Britain and some hard talk from Trump about allies pulling their weight, but the message has been received and all sides seem to agree that NATO allies in Europe need to contribute more for their common defense in an increasingly dangerous world.