Forget talk of an EU army, the West needs NATO more than ever
With Andrew Foxall, The Telegraph, 24 January, 2019
Much has been made of Angela Merkel’s announcement yesterday that her and Emmanuel Macron’s signing of an update to the 1963 Elysee Treaty could “contribute to the creation of a European army”. But where the future of Europe’s security is concerned, a much more significant event happened in Washington, D.C. on the same day: the House of Representatives passed legislation that seeks to bar President Donald Trump from unilaterally withdrawing the United States from NATO.
While it is true that the bonds of the Transatlantic Alliance are loosening in the current political climate, it is also true that neither the US or Europe can do without the world’s largest and oldest defence organization — and the less said about a European army, the better.
The original Elysee Treaty set the seal on the post-war reconciliation between France and Germany. With the updated Treaty, France and Germany agreed to establish common positions and issue joint statements on major EU issues in order to bolster “Europe’s capacity to act autonomously”. More than this, however, they committed to a “common military culture”. Practically, this means not only developing Europe’s military capabilities, but also exploring the possibility of joint military deployments and the establishing of a Franco-German defence and security council.
The idea of a European army is not new. There is even a nascent experiment in the form of the Eurocorps, which exists as a 5,000-man brigade in Strasbourg, France.
However, any European Army will have to overcome the same hurdles as previous efforts – such as the Eurocorps. British military strategists referred to it as the “Frankenstein Corps” in the early 1990s, disdaining its cobbled-together nature. Their aversion to it then – and indeed now – will be that any Franco-German attempt will simply be a NATO-lite. The bureaucracy will taste the same, but it will lack the actual military carbs.
European militaries lack the high-end capabilities and weapons systems to deter authoritarian regimes like Russia or China. Replacing the US systems that are currently shared through NATO would force European states to dramatically increase their defence spending. It would also require France to share its nuclear capability – through the extension of a nuclear umbrella rather than through technology-exchange – something that Paris has been thus far, unwilling to do.
While Trump’s behavior has been boorish, he is an elected official with a limited time in office. The Europeans could merely wait him out.
After all, the US establishment showed its support for European defence this week. In Washington, D.C., the Democrat-led Congress sent the Senate the NATO Support Act, in a bipartisan 357-22 vote. The Act would prohibit the use of federal funds to withdraw from the US from NATO, effectively barring Donald Trump – and subsequent Presidents – from doing so unilaterally. It also affirms support for NATO and its mutual defense clause, for the “robust” funding of the European Deterrence Initiative, and for the goal that each member nation spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defence by 2024.
It comes at a time that Transatlantic ties have been badly frayed by intercine debates over defence spending, trade, the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, by Brexit, and by President Trump’s personal style. In the run-up to last summer’s tumultuous NATO Summit in Brussels, concerns abound in European capitals that Trump wanted to withdraw the US from the Alliance – concerns seemingly confirmed by senior officials from within his administration. That did not happen, however, and last week Trump emphasised that the US “will be with NATO 100 percent”.
In a summary report of a NATO event hosted at our think tank last year, it was clear that the West needs the allliance now more than ever. Despite Britain’s detachment from the EU, despite Trump’s rhetoric, defence-spending free-riding by Germany and others, our council of experts re-iterated the importance of emerging threats like Russia’s threatening stance against the Baltics and Ukraine, migration from the south, and China’s encroachment on the South China Sea. The addition of technology changes in AI, cyber, and quantum mean that Western superiority in defence armaments can no longer be taken for granted. If we are to defend our free societies, we will have do double down on NATO.
Moves by France and Germany to enhance their military capacities and capabilities are to be welcomed – but not if they simply add duplication and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. If Germany achieves two per cent of defence spending on support rather than on equipment, capabilities and systems, then Merkel’s move will have set European security back.
NATO, it is important to remember, is not merely a military organisation; the NATO Treaty says that the Alliance’s members “are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of its peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” But it must do this by organizing a military response to external threats. And in the long run, this is what guarantees Europe’s security.