The European Army: Four Reasons Why the EU needs one

by Brunilda Shyti

After centuries of attempts, the EU is undoubtedly today the initiative that was most successful in uniting Europe under a common roof. It is remarkable, though, that this massive union still lacks an army. Dating back to 1953, the European Defense Community (EDC) was the first attempt to create a European Army. Despite the strong support from the United States, the French National Assembly rejected the EDC in August 1954. Since then, the dream of building a unified army has reappeared from time to time. Most notably, this happened during the 1990s conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, after Russia’s illegitimate annexation of Crimea in 2014, and, given its strong opposition to the idea of a European army, in the aftermath of the UK’s exit from the EU.  In the last year, moreover, NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the current Russian invasion of Ukraine boosted as well the likelihood of a common army. As all crises are a source of weakness, which is obviously not favorable to the achievement of the Union’s objectives, the EU must be strong to achieve both its goals and uphold its values. As a result, this supra-national organization requires a unitary defense for the following reasons.

First reason: Self-Determination

A concept that dates back to World War I and has inspired leaders such as US President Woodrow Wilson and Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin but is now considered a necessary principle of independence or autonomy.  As France’s President Emmanuel Macron stated, “We cannot rely on others to defend us.” In terms of defense and security, the EU is reliant on NATO and the United States. European leaders who want to act independently in times of crisis have begun to emphasize their desire to break free from this dependence and achieve their own “self-sufficiency.” It is clear that the EU and its member states with similar aspirations can seek to establish their own independent army in order to take control of their security.

Second reason: Investing in Hard Power

World’s most powerful countries clearly have both hard and soft power, which they use to their advantage. The United States is referred to as a smart power because it employs both of them. Hard power refers to a country’s ability, or, in our case, the ability of EU member states to use economic incentives to build military strength and provide stability. It is clear that fragmented nation-state defense policies as well as the fractious foreign policies that guide them are the source of the EU’s weakness and give rise to forces capable of tearing the Union apart. According to Eurostat, defense spending by the 27 EU Member States totaled €168.5 billion in 2019, representing 2.6% of total government expenditure. This is equivalent to 1.2% of GDP, which is a relatively small amount. With England’s exit from the EU, France is now the only member state with significant defense spending and nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, France was severely discredited by its refusal to create a common European Army. Now, it is the driving force behind the creation of the supranational military. If one considers the new counterbalance of power that will be provoked by China becoming the world’s second largest defense spender after the US (according to estimations), one can conclude that it is time to establish a regulatory framework and innovative efforts in hard power.

Third reason: NATO’s power is “fading”

Since its inception, the EU has stated that the CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) is intended to allow the EU to make decisions and conduct military operations “where NATO as a whole is not engaged.” NATO’s role appears to be limited. As a result of instability, particularly in the current situation, it appears that the establishment of an army is the primary goal. Washington has also shown its willingness to consider forming a military operating force within the EU. “We continue to feel that a stronger and more ready-to-act, united Europe is in our interest,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price. He did, however, emphasize the significance of the EU and NATO not wasting already scant resources and acting in concert to avoid a repeat. Unlike what Washington believes, French President Emmanuel Macron has described NATO as “brain dead” in 2019 in The Economist, arguing that a European army should be established to avoid dependence on the United States.

Forth reason: faster decision-making

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has become more complex in terms of bureaucracy and decision-making since the Cold War’s end. Because of excessive  red tape, it takes for members to reach a consensus. That is why a European Union with its own army, independent of NATO, would be more efficient in ensuring close dialogue and swift decision-making. EU member states would be able to communicate more effectively and have a positive impact on the world stage as a result of a united army. This would result in a faster management of international affairs. In other words, the free flow of information can be used to promote faster decision-making.