Christos Mouzeviris takes a fresh look at the ongoing debate surrounding the issues of European military alignment or what’s more commonly known as the ‘European Army‘.
Ever since his election in May 2017, France’s President Emmanuel Macron has been very vocal on several necessary reforms on pan-European level. His overall view is seemingly keen on deepening the European integration process in the future.
And while some of his plans found strong opposition from Germany and many smaller EU member states, there is one which President Macron is eager to push ahead; the formation of a European single army.
Go it alone
He has repeatedly called for Europe to establish its own defence mechanism and limit the reliance on USA’s military for its protection. Something of course that has the support of the European federalists in our continent and has been long been discussed in these circles. Undoubtedly, there is a strong sense of movement towards this direction and goal. The renewal of the Franco-German treaty recently signed in Aachen, pledging deeper economic and defence ties between the two, as well as commitment to the EU, plus the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen as EU Commission President, a German former Minister of Defence and strong supporter of Macron’s plan are seen by many as a prelude.
However, no one can ignore a few problems in this plan. First, what will Europe’s relationship with America be after such development. The two continents have been the pillars of the most powerful military alliance on this planet, NATO. A rift between them according to many Euro-Atlanticists, would considerably weaken the West and leave it exposed to threats from Russia, China and others.
Secondly, many EU member states have been neutral since WWII or even before that. How could they compromise their neutrality and join a military alliance?
Yet, the first step towards a single European defence mechanism has already been taken and it’s called PESCO, which even neutral EU member states like Ireland, Finland, Austria and Sweden have signed. All remains now is to see how this will be developed, progressed and deepened. A lot of people fear or are sceptical of Europe’s intended militarization, especially in these traditionally neutral nations but until we have a clear view on what the Franco-German alliance is aiming with this plan, we can only speculate the outcome.
Europe needs a debate on its future defence, although it should not be one of its priorities right now. How can Macron convince the European population that struggles with unemployment, a divided EU with an increasing Euroscepticism and an overall lack of enthusiasm, populism, xenophobia and an environmental crisis that the future he promises for them relies on a single EU army?
Well, the USA and Europe have had enough differences lately and Donald Trump’s presidency has considerably undermined their alliance for one. From tax wars and tariffs, to disagreements on NATO’s budget, the Western alliance either many like it or not, has reached a turning point. Can Europe always rely on America for its protection and with what political and economic cost? If our continent is ever to become a global player, it will need to stop being under America’s shade and that includes its defence.
To achieve this goal, Europe needs its own foreign policy and to do that, it needs to stop relying on the USA for its protection. Besides, it is unclear if Americans themselves are willing to pay for it any longer, as President Trump’s remarks on NATO’s budget often suggest.
Another point is the need to demilitarize and cut down on arms expenditure throughout Europe and ultimately the world. Realistically, there are few enemies that can seriously harm our continent, especially if we stay united and establish our own collective defence mechanism.
The worse threat that we are faced with now is not a military one, rather cyber-attacks or internal security and perhaps that is one field that we need to spend money on. There is no need to use bogeymen like Russia, Turkey, China or some Arab and Middle Eastern states still, in order to excuse large military expenditure and industries. And if we use better diplomacy and trade ties instead, Europe could eliminate any potential threat. Why keep Russia for example always as an enemy that we need to protect ourselves from-with expensive missile purchases and instalments of course- while it is unclear if Russians really want to destroy Europe, one of their largest trade partners for their oil and gas.
The Greek question
In addition, it is questionable if we truly need NATO currently. This alliance has been unable to protect Greece from another of its members, Turkey. The two countries have been in an ever-increasing arms race, to the detriment of both nations’ economies and the benefit of those arms industries of their allies. For decades the two countries were ‘encouraged’ to buy more arms to protect one from the other, while belonging to the same alliance. Even when Greece was seeking a bail-out from its European partners and the IMF, some of its EU creditors allegedly offered their help in return for arms sale deals. While under its bail-out programme, Greece still purchased two dozen F-16 fighter jets from USA, two submarines from Germany and several helicopters and frigate ships from France. All at the cost of billions of euros.
One could wonder how Greece’s allies could be happy with those transactions, then have the nerve to lecture the country on its ‘irresponsible’ expenditures. At the peak of the eurozone crisis, when words exchanged between the Greek and German government officials turned sour, a lot of allegations were made about dealings and corruption that involved Greek arms purchases from Germany. The indebted country is one of the largest military equipment importers of the world, behind only India, China, UAE and South Korea. It has double the number of tanks than that of Britain and one of the largest submarine fleets in Europe. All that, with the excuse that it needs to protect itself from its NATO ally, Turkey.
It is evident that this military alliance, serves no other purpose anymore than a huge market of arms, that weaker countries are encouraged, forced, coerced or bribed to buy military equipment that they do not need, in order to make the richer countries, well even richer.
Greece’s three main arms providers are USA, Germany and France, with Italy, Britain and the Netherlands following; all its NATO allies. Greece is coming second only to USA in the alliance, of the countries that fulfil the 2% NATO guideline on its members GDP share on expenditure. Most others, even much richer countries like Luxembourg, Norway, Germany itself, Belgium, Denmark or Canada fall short of this guideline, with only Britain, Estonia and Poland contributing to the alliance’s expenditure requirements, their agreed share.
So if you asked me if I would like to maintain Greece’s NATO membership the answer would be a resounding no. Many Greeks see the formation of a European army as a hope, a NATO alternative to which perhaps we would not have to contribute as much and spent a large share of our GDP on weaponry that we don’t need, only to maintain this alliance and enrich its most powerful members.
But would a European army offer Greece such relief, or we could end up paying double, maintaining two alliances for ‘protection’? One of the main reasons that many of my Irish friends are sceptical of a European army, is that they see it as Europe’s militarization attempt and a trap set by the Franco-Germans to make them pay more into their arms industries.
If what President Macron has in mind is another European version of NATO, with the only difference being, the French or the Germans are in command instead of the Americans, forcing smaller nations to enrich their arms industries-just like they have been doing to Greece all of these years, then naturally no one should support such idea.
Balance the moral books
However, Europe needs a new or alternative defence plan and that is impossible under the current arrangements to achieve. With strong US arms industry interests involved, plus the competition they face from their European counterparts, our continent is doomed to this circle of high military expenditure, that we don’t, or we should not need.
While I stand with the neutral EU member states in opposing further militarization and arms expenditure, they also need to understand that other nations were not as lucky as them during the post-war arrangements in our continent. Besides, how could they enjoy the stability and peace in the continent, if others did not secure Europe’s borders?
Greece found itself in NATO for better or worse, which in the past served as a buffer zone for the expansion of the Soviet threat. Now that the Soviets are gone, why do we still need to invest so much money on weaponry?
Since our EU partners want to appear as good Europeans, they should understand that helping Greece and other nations at the borders of Europe is crucial, yet not with more bailouts. Countries like France and Germany should stop using smaller nations to support their own economies, while neutral nations like Ireland, should allow-even if they opt out in the end- the consideration of a NATO alternative, if it is beneficial to the economies of their partners.
And if you question why should you help Greece, if it wants to spend its money on German submarines, then accept the fact that the next time that its economy will fail because it is forced to support the NATO arms industries, it will be your money that will be used to bail it out and ultimately you will be inevitably contributing to the purchases of US F-16s.
Once PESCO and the Franco-German plan offer an alternative defence mechanism for Europe, a renewed version away from the outdated, riddled with corruption and arms sales NATO, which coordinates the existing European armies rather solely forces them to increase their expenditure, plus it focuses on cyber security and policing, then it gets my vote.
We should not fall for scaremongering about forced conscription and ‘militarization’, upcoming wars and expansionist invasions, that many of the plan’s dubious opponents often use as arguments to stop such development. There is no evidence that such things are on the agenda. We need to think rationally and preferably collectively on what is best for our future.