The European Union has been discussing the creation of the European Army to a more significant military role. The plan has made little progress, but recently the EU released a new draft of “Strategic Compass for Security and Defence,” which outlined defense cooperation mechanisms in Europe. One of the main scenarios is a plan to build a Rapid Development Capability (RDC) of up to 5,000 thousand troops in an emergency for the EU by 2025. The draft of the strategic compass that Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, prepares will have further discussion in March 2022.
Though the plan is expected not to be in force until 2023, the discussion is still on the floor. The high representative at the EU stressed that the EU needs an EU army for the sake of EU long-term defense capability and strength. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, also stressed the importance of European military power to strengthen the role of the European security force both on a domestic and global scale. The lack of political will and internal disagreements are still a substantial burden for the plan to be in force.
The proposed thousands of soldiers of the “European Army” have similarities with the United Nations Peacekeeping, which will consist of the troops from the member states. But how would it progress, and why has the discussion been rising, again, now?
The EU should develop its own ‘capable’ military forces.
The EU’s decision-making body, the European Council, will discuss, develop, and agree on the foreign and security policies, which require consensus from all member states. All member states need to consent as it will be binding legally and financially according to policies. Strategic Compass, which focuses on improving troops’ capacity, proves a forward move by the EU, but the lack of unity within the EU will obstruct the plan. Strategic Compass regards the geopolitics theory, which focuses on an interrelation between the politics of a nation with its geography. Geopolitics tries to examine how foreign policy is created regarding the geographic features in the international system.
A joint EU army is needed now that the geopolitics focus has changed. Several factors need to be focused on, such as the EU political surrounding, EU-US relations, domestic security issues, and EU global vision to promote stable and secure international order. Historically, the EU has no army and relies most of its security purposes on NATO and contemporary or ad-hoc forces from the member states. Many EU member states, especially in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, always reject the idea of an EU army.
The need for building common basic understanding and goals regarding the EU army is critically needed. At the same time, the political dynamic and interest of national and global actors are changing, so does the EU-US relations. The political relations between the EU and the United States have dissented since the former US President, Donald Trump. Now the leadership changed, some agreements were back in force, but some visions are still the same. The geostrategic competition between US-China made Biden focus more on the Indo-Pacific, looking at the creation of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the current nuclear submarine plan with Australia and the United Kingdom (UK), AUKUS. The feeling of ‘left behind’ drives the EU to build its own ‘self-defense,’ such as the chaos of the troops’ withdrawal from the US-led mission in Afghanistan and the Poland-Belarus border crisis.
Geostrategically, the European region is also highly concerned about the stability in the Baltic and its neighbor, Russia. Unpredictable moves made by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who is currently ‘testing the water’ of the EU and the US using the Ukraine border crisis. The provocation by Putin reflects a clear warning of a security threat to the whole European region. Putin stated that the aggressive and reckless moves would only happen if they felt threatened. Only zero to little possibilities of Putin’s next actions in Ukraine. Therefore, the open military threats from the neighbor need a response. EU’s autonomy and collectives move while cooperating with the US for support measures. The potential of using military force at the border is necessary for deterring the Russian military capability. Solid and high-capable army forces and defense systems within the European Union need to develop from now.
The European Army Needs to Keep Progressing
Building a country’s military force will not be easy, instant, and cheap work. The problem is not every EU member state is willing to spend more on the military budget, as in NATO, the biggest military spending came from the US. One way or another, the EU needs to pace its security capability for its security interests. Germany and France have the highest military spending with $52.8 (billion) and $52.7 (billion) in 2020. Eckhard Lübkemeier (2020) argues that Europe has four essential requirements to develop its self-defense: sufficient military capability, effective strategy, political leadership, and a broader and greater European integration.
According to the data from Eurostat, in 2019, the member states of the EU have only spent up to €168.5 billion, which represents only 2.6 percent of total government expenses. The expenditure is only an equivalent of 1.2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is lower than NATO expected to be around 2 percent. The amount is only a slight increase every year. Generally, the percentage remained the same; therefore, the expectation of increasing the average of spending on the military budget will not change a lot.
The idea of building an EU army will also raise concern on the current US-led NATO, as the army for the EU army and NATO will overlap, and the government budget will also increase and divide. It might raise a ‘competition’ or conflict among armed forces to secure the European region’s political and security interests. The cooperation between EU-US within NATO has expanded. The NATO officials’ welcome’ the EU ambition to increase its military ambitions while stressing that the ‘EU Army’ should not duplicate the current NATO structures. The concern relates to political leadership and practical strategies, as in a military context, there is a line of authority that affects the chain of command.
Internally, the lack of European forces’ capability and weapon defense system raises skepticism. The need to develop military capability is a long-term project and process. The President of the European Commission, Ursula Leyen, has numerous domestic and global challenges to advance the idea of an EU army. For sure, all member states’ political will and consensus is critical to develop and build a strong and effective military strategy and capability for the EU Army.