The proposal of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to create an army that provides strategic autonomy to the European Union has aroused some signs of support. However, those who are skeptic towards the proposal, which does not necessarily mean they reject it, still overpass those who are more in favor. Skepticism arises for the difficulty of submitting such a complex project that affects the States hard core sovereignty to decision processes that require unanimity in the Council. And rejection, on the other hand, come from both: those critical of a strong Europe in terms of its external action, who see the project as a threat to NATO, and the staunch defenders of the national army model, who still do not have very clear that of dying for the old continent.
Nevertheless, Macron’s idea could move forward due to opportunity and political necessity motives, in this order. In terms of opportunity, a European army is a natural consequence of deepening in the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). There is no need to think about a traditional army, keeping in mind current national armies, but something closer to a multinational force structure assigned to a command and control system tat, in addition, would be directed and financed since peaceful times by bodies created through mechanisms of permanent structured cooperation. In fact, it would be a matter of extending over time the usual mechanisms that enable military operations carried out by any coalition, so that the allocation of forces would not imply more cession of sovereignty than the States themselves want to assume.
Full of potential for opportunity, a European army could become a catalyst of the first order to deepen the integration process, and there are some small-scale examples that suggest that it is a feasible possibility. One of them is the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, raised with the support of NATO after the civil war that devastated the country in the nineties. According to the polls, the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the inter-ethnic institution that generates the most confidence among citizens, in contrast to the governments and parliaments of the different entities in which the country is divided, and it has the potential to become a solid axis of the national construction. Going back to Europe, reverse engineering sometimes works and in this case, the external action of Europe could be a reflection of its inner policy.
As for reasons of necessity –political, not military-, it turns out that a European army contributing to NATO could be the only way to avoid breaking the Union by sewing the CSDP. Indeed, European defense, as it is currently articulated, is a matter of zero sum: either it is based on NATO or it is based on the CSDP. In other words, deepening the CSDP in the current circumstances necessarily implies entering into conflict with the commitments with the Alliance, no matter how much some deny it. And if we were to choose, the European bid may be clear in countries such as Germany or France, but Eastern European countries – such as Poland or the Baltic republics – will hardly relinquish NATO protection in favor of a still uncertain CSDP. However, the recently cleared mechanism of permanent structured cooperation does provide the ideal interface to contribute to NATO jointly by those Member States that wish to do so, while at the same time deepening autonomous defense capabilities and even enabling coexistence with contributions made in a traditional way.
In short, a European army is feasible, useful and could even contribute to solving a problem already inherent in the European security. In this sense, countries like Spain – which try to combine their traditional Atlantic and European vocations – could be especially interested in deepening the idea. All this requires to rethink the terms in which we conceive armies and defense as a whole, without a doubt. On the other hand, we must be aware that rethinking this concepts does not imply a total relinquishment of the current model of national armies – which will continue to exist in a smaller scale – but their reconfiguration and adaptation to current times and circumstances. After all, it seems that Macron’s proposal might not be as non-viable as some claim.
Miguel Peco, PhD in International Security and analyst of geopolitical issues
Responsibility for the information and views set out in this publication lies entirely with the author.
Originally published in “Heraldo de Aragón”, 29th Dec. 2018 (HA)