The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty and the economic and financial crisis fuelled expectations about the development of a Common Security and Defence Policy that would prompt EU Member States to finally move into a more coordinated, efficient and financially smart use of military and security resources. That is, indeed, the kind of “homework” that EU governments need to compel their military and political establishments to make, before any talk of an “European Army” is to be minimally credible. But very little progress has been achieved in that direction: political will is yet to materialise to make an integrated European defence a tangible scenario in the near future. Much at the expense of security for Europeans and for Europe’s neighbourhood.
Europe is losing military capacities
Indeed, history, tradition and national sovereignty should not be obstacles to a truly common defence capability, since only through shared sovereignty can Europe face the present transnational security challenges and assert any ambition of becoming a force for peace and stability worldwide. And for those EU Member States also belonging to NATO, they no longer have any excuse: since 2008 NATO top officials and the USA have been stressing that there are no contradictions between strengthened defence in Europe and a stronger NATO, urging Europeans to get their act together and step up defence capacities and efficiency.
It is also not a strategic security concept that is lacking in Europe, identifying threats, challenges, risks and capacities available and missing: since December 2003, as a means to heal the serious wounds left by the Iraq war division, a European Security Strategy was adopted and later reviewed in 2008. And a European Defence Agency was also then created to develop defence capabilities and enhance European armaments cooperation.
Is it the financial means to embark in the necessary reforms and institutional changes that Europe is lacking? Actually the pressure on national defense budgets due to the financial and economic crisis could have made Europe leap forward in pooling and sharing resources to maintain and step up defence capabilities. But that is not what is happening. In fact, Europe is losing military capacities: in countries under financial adjustment programs – like my own, Portugal – the loss is severe and not just confined to reductions of forces and their equipment. The defence industrial base is being destroyed, companies are being closed, high-tech segments are being sold off to buyers from China and elsewhere…
European army seems like pure utopia
Europe is missing the opportunity to get better value for the money that its Member States still spend in defence and security. They continue to resist the development of a European defence and armament strategy that pools and shares resources: two of them, France and UK, still spend huge sums in keeping up nuclear arsenals which do not serve deterrent purposes anymore. And the duplication and fragmentation of the defense market persists for certain equipment, while other crucial capabilities are still not met.
In this framework, envisaging a European army in the near future seems pure utopia: the underpinning political context is currently one where an europhobe prone United Kingdom blocks each and every attempt to upgrade the CSDP (with Prime Minister Cameron, reportedly, crossing the reference to “European armed forces” from last December Defence Summit conclusions); where the Danes, and sometimes the Swedes, easily side with UK to deny any furthering of EU political integration; and where in Germany the unchallenged “pacifist” populism actually discourages any significant support (including financial) for CSDP operations.
And this explains why the last EU Defence Summit (December 2013) failed to produce decisions even on the most urgent questions: the High Representative for External Action was asked to produce a report on the reform of the financing rules for CSDP military operations. That is something badly needed to ensure a fairer burden-sharing to encourage CSDP force generation, instead of deterring it, as now happens: some MS could send more military to participate in CSDP missions such as those in Mali and CAR, if it did not need also to pay in full the inherent costs, while those MS who do not contribute with forces also do not share the financial burden of the operation.
The EU cannot continue to neglect its own military preparedness
What is lacking is the political will, the political courage and the wisdom on the part of EU leaders to make it clear to their citizens that maintaining peace and security in Europe requires preparedness to defend it at home and abroad. And that no single country can do it alone, in view of the transnational risks and threats faced and in view of the high investment in technology and research that defence capabilities nowadays require, be it to project forces to stop genocide or terrorism take-over in Africa or to stop cyber-attacks and other provocations coming from the East, such as those now developing with the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
No matter how much a European army will be a desirable tool and a crucial step in moving towards the Federal Europe I believe Europeans need, the fact is that embarking in discussing it at this stage can be quite frustrating and, even worse, counterproductive: European army waiving often ends up fuelling europhobe scaremongers.
Instead of embarking in such a discussion, we need to press EU Member States to deliver an efficient, comprehensive and pro-active Common Security and Defence Policy, making full use of the tools that are already there, just waiting to be utilised. At a time when our immediate neighbourhood is in turmoil, with armed conflicts soaring and more looming – from Mali and CAR to Libya, from Syria to Ukraine – the EU cannot continue to neglect its own military preparedness: “Si vis pacem, para bellum” European history teaches. But the answer at this stage still lies in a CSDP yet to fulfil its promise.