The idea of a common European defense is not new. It is, in fact, as old as the post-war European project itself. In 1950, the ”René Pleven Plan”, after the name of the then French Prime Minister, aimed to establish the European Defense Community in response to the United States’ intention to re-arm West Germany. The six founding states of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the precursor of the European Union today, signed a treaty for this purpose in 1952, but its ratification failed after its rejection in the National Assembly of France (controlled by a bizarre alliance Between Gaullists and Communists) in August 1954 on the grounds that an integrated European army would lead to the loss of national sovereignty of the Fourth French Republic. Thus, the post-war security of Western Europe was virtually guaranteed by the United States through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization established by the Washington Treaty signed in April 1949. This treaty signaled the firm strategic interest of the United States not to militarily leave the European peninsula after the end of the war, and to defend the Western-European liberal democracies against the expansionist threat of the communist regimes.
After the Cold War, although the United States has acted decisively for NATO’s expansion to Central and Eastern Europe, the interest of Western European allies and European public opinion for the North Atlantic Alliance has steadily declined. In Western Europe, there is no longer any fear of a nuclear war, nor the aversion to post-Soviet Russia, but the feeling remains, for obvious historical reasons, only in the former Communist states on the periphery of the Alliance, states that geopolitically mark the regional border between the European peninsula and the Eurasian continent.
The resurgence of the idea of the European common army began with the voice of Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, a “gatekeeper” of Berlin, as early as 2014, amid a clear cooling of the transatlantic relations and of the different Western approaches to the relation with Russia (amid the crisis in Ukraine), especially Germany and France, towards the United States, but has so far encountered the categorical rejection of Great Britain and other Atlantic states. Now, when the Brexit is no more a fantasy and after the victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential elections, the process for the establishment of a common European army and a Common Defense Strategy could become more accelerated. Germany and France will be practically forced to speed up their efforts to build common military structures and normalize the relations with Russia. This fact could also mean the weakening of NATO, or even worse, its disintegration.
There will crystallize either a NATO 2.0 between the English-speaking Atlantic powers (US, Canada, UK), and the Eastern Flank of the current Alliance, to counter Russia’s influence in the border region between the peninsula and Eurasia, or the European common army, led by Germany and France, designed to eliminate the Anglo-American military supremacy in the peninsula and to balance as much as possible the military power of the Russian Federation.
Brexit has indirectly helped the Franco-German project, which has been underground for some time, to emerge. Just five days after the June 23, 2016 British referendum, the project was already mentioned and publicly discussed by senior European officials. Preliminary versions of this project existed for at least four or five years, probably before the conflict in Ukraine emerged, and the project was just waiting for an opportunity to become public. It will begin, symbolically, but extremely perturbingly at the level of public opinion, with the establishment of a European Major Staff (we do not know where it will be located), which will double the NATO Staff in Brussels, generating a predictable confusion in the security equation of the European peninsula. Relatively fast, other components of the Defense Union will be created on seemingly secondary, non-combatant dimensions, such as military medical assistance, military scientific research, import of military technology, etc. It will advance on the idea that the European Union cannot become a genuine global actor if it remains only a soft power.
The invitation to join this “Schengen of Defense”, as it has already been called, will be made to all EU member states, the participation not being instead mandatory. But I can anticipate that, for diplomatic reasons, a large number of member countries will decide to join the project even if the most “Atlantic” ones prefer to say that they will opt for minimal involvement and will remain loyal to the North Atlantic Alliance. The number of European Union member states joining the European common army will inevitably be considered a test for the Franco-German capacity to mobilize the peninsula around them.
In the long run, things seem to advance towards a separation. This potential separation will not be a real American-European conflict, but it will definitely represent a strategic separation. Until that moment, there is no stronger security guarantee for the NATO members and the global order than that provided by Art. 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and from this point, all future reasoning must begin.
- Defense Data Portal 2012-2017: http://www.eda.europa.eu/info-hub/defence-data-portal.
- Juncker calls for an EU army: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/08/jean-claude-juncker-calls-for-eu-army-european-commission-miltary.
- The Lisbon Treaty Text.